As digital transformation has advanced, IT infrastructures have become increasingly complex. It’s critical these days that your systems are high-performant, reliable, and resilient.
Observability helps you measure all these factors and provides valuable insights so you can understand where your system is lacking and make whatever changes are necessary. A robust observability strategy enables organizations to gain a holistic view of their systems, identify issues before they escalate, and maintain a high level of service quality. Having an effective strategy in place ensures smooth operations.
In this article, we’ll explore what makes a good observability strategy and how you can implement one.
Understanding Observability Strategy
An observability strategy helps you collect, interpret, and analyze data from different sources within your system. This can help you see how your system is performing and identify potential problems. Unlike traditional monitoring that focuses on predefined metrics, an observability strategy embraces a more dynamic and adaptable mindset.
Observability differs from traditional monitoring in its approach to causality and system metrics. Where monitoring only gives you a surface-level view of your system’s overall health, observability dives deeper. It allows developers and engineers to track how data flows through an application. This further helps developers narrow down issues, bottlenecks, and performance downsides.
The critical components of an effective observability strategy include the following:
- Logs: Detailed records of events and activities in a system, which are invaluable for tracing the history of processes and understanding their sequence
- Metrics: Quantitative measurements of various aspects of a system’s performance, such as CPU usage, memory consumption, and network latency
- Traces: Distributed traces that track the journey of a request or transaction as it passes through different components and services within the system
Assessing Your Organization’s Needs
It’s imperative to evaluate how your organization implements monitoring practices. This will help you figure out what you’re really missing from monitoring that observability can help you with. First, you’ll need to answer some questions. Do you have any blind spots? Do you struggle to narrow down the root causes of bugs and other issues? Once you answer these questions, you can define clear and concise goals that observability can deliver. Developing the right observability strategy requires an awareness of what observability needs to solve.
For example, you may want to reduce the mean time to resolution or optimize your system’s resource utilization. Both goals directly affect your system’s behavior and performance, and if monitoring doesn’t cut it for you, an observability strategy might be just the thing you need. Note that it’s important to be as specific as possible here since this directly determines the tools, processes, and frameworks you’ll need.
These goals will also help you understand exactly which observability strategy you need. An overengineered strategy is easy to imagine, difficult to implement, and almost impossible to reverse.
Defining Observability Requirements
Once you’ve assessed what your organization needs, the next step is understanding what data to collect and monitor. You need to determine the types of logs, metrics, and traces that are most important and relevant. It’s also helpful if you can categorize this data into logs, metrics, and traces up front for better visibility.
This may vary, depending on the type and usage of your system. For instance, for some systems, you may want application logs, infrastructure metrics, user interactions, etc. The level of granularity required depends on your goals. For instance, identifying latency issues might require highly granular traces, while resource optimization might demand broader metrics.
After you’ve clearly defined your requirements, you can identify tools, platforms, and technologies that you can leverage for your observability needs that align with your data collection needs. You don’t necessarily need to double down on specific tools. Rather, you just need to be aware of which tools can help you get what you need. There are various observability platforms available, and they offer a range of capabilities. However, at this step, you should at least be sure of which tools will not fit your bill.
Building the Team and Processes
Figuring out which tools to use is a crucial step. However, behind these tools are your team and the processes that eventually deliver observability and make use of its results. Your processes will define each step of your observability, and your team will use the output generated by these tools to improve your system. So, make sure you have a cross-functional team that shares interests and has expertise in monitoring and observability. Your team members could be traditional software developers, reliability engineers, or even QA engineers.
Once you have your team, define roles and responsibilities for everyone clearly. This will ensure that your team collaborates effectively and efficiently and that everyone meets their responsibilities while maximizing knowledge sharing.
With a great and efficient team in motion, you then need to define the processes that make up your observability. For instance, your first step could be an efficient data collection process. Knowing how, when, and where to collect data is essential. Then your process should cover which relevant libraries, instrumentation frameworks, and observability agents you’ll use to capture the required data. Finally, your process should also dictate where your data will be stored, ensuring safety and easy accessibility for everyone on the team.
Selecting Observability Tools and Platforms
The recent advancements in observability solutions provide comprehensive support for collecting, analyzing, and visualizing observability data.
Selecting the right observability tools and platforms is critical. Each comes with its own strengths and features. SolarWinds® Observability, for example, is a comprehensive platform that offers real-time monitoring, troubleshooting, and intelligent insights across applications and infrastructure. Its scalability, compatibility, and ease of integration make it suitable for organizations seeking to enhance their observability strategy.
Besides evaluating your requirements and checking if the selected tools are the best fit for those requirements, you can also consider some common factors. For instance, you can look at how these tools and platforms compare in terms of data retention and deployment. Moreover, alerting and integration with your technology stack could be important factors.
Most importantly, the tools you choose should align with your organization’s goals and provide a seamless experience for your observability team.
Challenges and Best Practices
It isn’t easy to develop a robust observability strategy. You will definitely run into many challenges and hurdles that will set you off. However, it’s important to understand those challenges in advance and to follow some best practices to minimize the amount of time it will take to overcome them. An effective observability strategy will help you navigate common hurdles such as data overload, tool complexity, cultural resistance, etc.
- Start small: Begin with a focused approach, targeting specific applications or services. This minimizes the risk of overwhelming your team with data.
- Collaboration: Foster collaboration between development and operations teams. Observability’s success relies on both sides working together to analyze data and resolve issues.
- Automation: Leverage automation to streamline data collection, analysis, and remediation processes. This reduces manual effort and accelerates issue resolution.
Continuous Improvement and Evolution
The final step is often the most neglected. There is no perfect observability strategy that once adopted will never need any iterations or improvements. It’s important to understand that an observability strategy is not a one-time endeavor. The technology landscape evolves and rapidly advances, and so do your organization’s needs.
Hence, you should regularly reassess your observability approach. Ask yourself if there are any new tools or techniques that could enhance your strategy. Has your system changed considerably since you last implemented observability? Has your organization’s structure changed drastically enough that you need to reassess your observability processes?
By continuously improving your strategy, you can make sure that it remains relevant and effective over a longer period of time. This will also help you minimize the alterations and modifications your original observability strategy will have to go through. In turn, this could help you upgrade and improve your observability much faster.
In today’s complex IT environments, an observability strategy is more than just a trend—it’s a necessity. The benefits of gaining deep insights into your system’s behavior are undeniable. By implementing an observability strategy, you can equip your organization with the ability to proactively identify and address issues, optimize performance, and provide a seamless experience for your customers. Tools like SolarWinds Observability can play a significant role in simplifying and amplifying the observability implementation process. Embrace observability, and unlock the potential for enhanced performance, reliability, and customer satisfaction in your organization.