The Definition of Observability
There are many different definitions of observability that have been offered by many different organizations. These definitions generally play to the strengths of the solutions and products in which their creators offer. Thankfully, observability isn’t just another buzz word. It’s a truly innovative concept with immense potential in the cybersecurity and IT space.
Observability – in its purest form – is a quality possessed by systems and software that allows them to be perceived in detail and in their entirety.
Why Is Observability Important?
Possessing this capability makes it easier to identify where problems could potentially be arising in your IT environment as well as the source of a problem that has already happened. This is particularly useful in a modern digital landscape that is widely distributed.
The perfect execution of this capability would create the possibility for a flawless end user experience as well as a complete elimination of internal downtime. This is especially useful for organizations that are rapidly expanding or diversifying – as this process is generally messy and creates the potential for massive vulnerabilities and bugs to manifest completely undetected. Observability eliminates these unknown variables and puts out fires before they can begin.
Observability vs. Monitoring
In an observability solution, observability and monitoring go hand in hand. However, they are two very different concepts.
Monitoring is the ground floor of observability. It includes the tracking of the performance of specific items across your environment. Its purpose is to gather data that is then used to create valuable insights as well as alert key stakeholders of any technical issues or poor performance.
Observability is an actual quality that a system may or may not possess. A completely observable system’s internal states can be totally accounted for using a combination of external data feeds as well as internal monitoring.
The History Behind Observability
This push for observability is the progression of a previous movement surrounding monitoring and the assessment of the health of a digital system by collecting and analyzing high cardinality data outputs from the system itself. By doing so, IT professionals can effectively monitor the infrastructure that their services and applications are built on.
Unfortunately, it’s not as helpful anymore to be notified when a problem has already occurred. In our fast-paced digital world, vulnerabilities can be exploited in minutes. We need to be able to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Monitoring is the inside looking out. Nowadays, we need to be on the outside looking in as well.
Employing User Monitoring
For example, let’s say the end user of a music streaming service is experiencing lag. This user might take to social media and vent to their network about the application’s shortcomings. Meanwhile – if the administrators of the application are only monitoring their infrastructure – they will have no idea that this end user is experiencing problems. This phenomenon is an extension of observability and represents why it is so important to be looking for information in more places than ever before.
The Silo Effect
Unfortunately, we are conditioned to only examine our own areas of expertise. The technology stack surrounding modern digital services is becoming increasingly complex, and therefore siloed. It is nearly impossible for any one person to understand their entire technology stack to an extent where they could effectively diagnose every problem that their service faces. This is the reason that many companies have deployed their own “tiger teams” that consist of experts representing all areas of the technology stack. Their goal is to come together and diagnose the epicenter of specific problems, but more often than not, an accurate conclusion cannot be reached.
What Is the Future of Observability?
So where is this push for observability taking us? What would the ideal observability solution look like? There are many organizations that claim to have developed observability solutions, but generally these only apply to the highly specific definition of observability that fits within the capabilities of their solutions or services.
A true observability solution could never be siloed. It would pull in as many data feeds as possible, exhausting every single one of its internal and external sources. From there, automated analytics would be responsible for sifting through this enormous amount of data and reporting – in real time – where problems have the potential to form as well as the sources of problems that have already formed. The solution would, in essence, gather all pertinent data, sift through all potential explanations for a particular problem, and eliminate possibilities until the true explanation is revealed.
A true and perfect observability solution would serve as the all-knowing protector of your entire digital environment – ensuring a seamless end user experience as well as a thoroughly secure infrastructure with little to no risk of experiencing any downtime.
Where Do We Stand Now?
The industry has a long way to go before we’re able to obtain this ideal observability solution. For one, the identification of all relevant data feeds, internal and external, is an ongoing conversation subject to the arrival of new sources as well as new methods of gathering the data itself. On top of that, we are a long way off from the development of automated analytics capable of extracting a conclusion from such a massive quantity of input data in a timely fashion.
The good news is the sheer weight of the benefits of such a solution will inevitably push us to this desired conclusion. Therefore, it is up to us – as members of the IT and cybersecurity community – to continue to educate ourselves on the importance and the principles of observability – and to push for innovations that will lead us to this revolutionary outcome.
Take a Step Towards Observability With Capacity Management
Although we’re far from achieving the ideal observability solution, there are some individual components of observability that could greatly benefit your organization in the meantime. Capacity management utilizes a holistic and detailed view of your digital environment to create plans that will prevent you from overspending or underspending on future capacity. Download the guide to get a taste of what observability can offer your organization.