Best Practice

Observability: achieving system transparency by design

Reply shares its best practices and lessons learned on the culture of observability, offering a holistic approach to system monitoring that includes the integration of observability platforms and the creation of mature observability teams.

Distributed systems and greater unpredictability prompt a need for Observability

As distributed systems, containers, and micro-services become more commonplace in modern businesses, the need to observe the behavior of the entire system has increased. Traditional monitoring approaches fail to produce the level of introspection needed to reduce mean time to detect, repair, and correct the behavior, and they also neglect to broaden their focus and consider how User Experience may be affected by these incidents.

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From a ”black box” to ”white box” approach

A main shift in newer observability models is the consideration of the monitoring approach. Before, the system was seen as a “black box” with inaccessible internal content. Therefore, monitoring was focused on signals and manifest effects that could be collected and evaluated from outside the box. Now, the goal is to make this box fully transparent, a “white box” that offers an internal view of the system.

The three pillars of observability

The three essential forms of data crucial to observability must be collected by tools that are capable of collecting, correlating, and showing data in a meaningful way, utilizing a singular platform that is easy to configure and use for all stakeholders.

Logs

Timestamped, immutable records of the discrete events that have occurred over time in a software environment.

Metrics

Numerical representations of the various aspects regarding of the state of the system.

Traces

Representations of events and their causal relationships in the end-to-end flow of a request in a distributed system.

Key factors to consider

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An Observability Platform


The foundation of building a robust observability approach is choosing an effective observability platform, with the ability to acquire and process raw and heterogeneous data from different sources, convert them into one (or more) of the three pillars of observability and provide useful knowledge to all the stakeholders in the form of dashboards and alerts on a single tool. We call this platform the “single source of truth”.

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Integration with DevOps


Just as with DevOps, holistic observability involves considering observability at all stages of design: during analysis and design of a new application, implementation and testing, and performance monitoring. Including observability in a pervasive way throughout the software lifecycle reduces the time spent identifying where to focus investigations.

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The Human Factor


A holistic observability approach also requires a dedicated observability team, the structure of which may vary depending on the resources and organization of the company. In general, these teams support the installation of the observability platform, assess the system, collect feedback, and update and evaluate the adoption of the guidelines and principles of observability.

The Role of “Site Reliability Engineering” (SRE)

Reliability engineers aim at building reliable and scalable systems by automating administration tasks sufficiently enough so they can focus on higher priorities, such as identifying points of failure or ways to improve infrastructure. SRE and Observability work in tandem to reduce human effort, human errors, and human latency.

Their roles are complementary, with SRE teams then providing suggestions for relevant elements to be observed and observability teams ensuring that they are made observable and that the subsequent data is made available to to every stakeholder, additionally coordinating with the business & DevOps teams to ensure that observability is included in the development phases.

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Reply’s experience with Observability

Reply’s knowledge, based on extensive experience in the field in various industry sectors, gives us the unique insights needed to assist companies with choosing reliable technological solutions (i.e., observability platforms) which meet their needs, as well as aid in the design and implementation of observability solutions.