Observability: Your Eyes in Cloud

Published 13.06.2021

Categories Engineering

Observability is all around the cloud. You might come across the term while exploring the vast stretches of documentations or blog posts, maybe videos or streams too.

Well, from far you might have seen that this is a very broad term, and it’s expected. The topic is huge. This post would cover the topic in a beginner-friendly way so that you’re ready to teach your friend anytime you’re having a breakout discussion.

So, let’s dive into the ocean!

What is Observability?

By definition, we see that observability is the main phenomenon by which we can see the internal condition of a system through the external outputs

In cloud computing, too, we can see observability sticking to its English roots.

Observability helps us analyze the performance of the data we are streaming from the application running on a server and on the hardware to debug, monitor and troubleshoot the application more effectively.

Pillars of Observability

If we look into how we observe things in a cloud platform, we can see that it mainly revolves around the four following pillars, and here they are:

Observability
Pillars of Observability Source: Xenonstack

Monitoring

Monitoring is observing the performance of the data, which is driven from the running application or instance for a period of time in a dashboard.

Logging

Logging is the recording of operation data from a running instance in a cloud server. For example, the following is a log to record a users success while he logged in.

{"date": "2021-01-01 02:00:01",
"severity" : " INFO",
"msg": "Hrittik logged in"}

There are two kinds of logging mechanism – active and passive.

Active Logging – Here, the logs directly go to the backend/database without external log aggregation tools like fluentd or splunk.

Passive Logging – Log messages are collected using STDOUT& STDERR where the logs are sent to shell. After that with the help of log aggregation tools (fluentd or splunk), the messages are stored on the backend.

Passive logging is way common if compared to active logging.

Visualization

Visualization is the layer on which you can see stats and dashboards. Think of it as the user faced component where you draw inferences.

Observability Visualization
Observability Visualization Source: Medium

Tracing

Tracing is useful when a user wants to find any errors, latency or requests happening in his/her project. You get a holistic picture (high-level overview) of the application, and it’s usually implemented through a library at the application layer that allows the developer to record when a specific service is used.

Individual service records are referred to as spans. A trace is defined as a collection of spans that recreates the whole lifecycle of a request.

Simply, Tracing helps you to recreate the request lifecycle.

Why is Observability Important?

There are several reasons we can understand because of which observability plays a very vital role in cloud computing. Let’s watch a few.

  • Observability helps us to get a very transparent & detailed look at our project.
  • Observability helps in getting proper documentation of our production environment (virtual environment of the project) and helps us to improve it.
  • It is important because it gives us a proper understanding of the backend situation of the project.
  • Observability becomes highly important when it comes to catching unknown issues and handling them in time.
  • Without observability, detecting issues are challenging. Otherwise, we have to find logs manually, which will take a lot of time and energy at the same time.
  • Observability comes in handy when it comes to proper alerting when any downtime of the server appears. Also, it helps us in preventing any future downtime or server crashing.

Advantages of Observability

While we have seen how observability is critical in the cloud environment, we can take a look at the advantage it brings to the users. Let’s have a look at those.

  • The main advantage of observability is that it helps to understand the things that go on in the production environment and helps to make it better for the end-users.
  • Through observability, we can eliminate the need for debugging in a production environment.
  • Another advantage of observability is it helps us in the early warning and alerting system.
  • Observability is advantageous as it helps in the enrichment of data and providing faster information.
  • Another advantage or rather a benefit a user gets from observability is that it allows self-healing infrastructure, which means that it helps a robust cloud application to run smoothly during any failure or downgrade.

Disadvantage of Observability

The thing under this section doesn’t undermine observability as there are no disadvantages of it. Observability is highly and probably the most important aspect to an extent in running a cloud application.

But, as observability contains lots of elements in a bundle, its payment also comes separately as an add-on. So, it’s not a disadvantage but rather a downside to a person who will not be having a proper budget and as a result of which he/she will not be able to set up proper observability.

Observability Tools

There are various tools that helping you with observability. We are going to take a look at some of the tools.

  • Tools for Logging – There are several tools for logging, and we are going to see a few examples of those, such as FluentD and Logstash.
  • Tools for Monitoring – Monitoring is one of the prime aspects of observability and hence what can be a more powerful monitoring tool than Prometheus and Graffana.
  • Tools for Deployment – Deployment (Enablement of SaaS, PaaS or IaaS depending on the service) in the cloud is very important, and a successful deployment needs tools like Docker and Kubernetes.
  • Tools for Alerting – Alerting is highly useful while reporting a server failure or network outage, and hence we can use Slack or Pagerduty for this.

Value Proposition for Observability

From the above discussion, we can easily understand how observability can help a customer or an end-user with his/her projects. So, the question that comes to mind for a person is that whether observability is cheap.

To be very honest, it will not be a cheap for businesses with small capitals as it contains a bundle of services that helps you in a lot of ways in your project. There’s a huge time and talent investment needed.

For that case, you can take some part in observability like monitoring, for example, and implement it in your project. It will help you lower your cost and help you give a stable environment to get a dashboard to analyze your data.

For mid-cap and businesses with high stakes, a full package of observability will be really useful because it will help you enable the infrastructure and make things a lot easier for you. A proper observability package, including logging, monitoring, alerting in the proper place, will be highly beneficial for the long term and daily operations.

Final Thoughts

From all of the above discussions, you should know what observability is and how it works. I hope by the end of this post you’re keen to learn more. So start exploring, and if you want to explore some more in-depth, beginner-friendly articles, feel free to check these out:

Happy Exploring!

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