What’s The Difference Between Observability VS Monitoring

Observability and monitoring are probably the most confusing words in DevOps, How are they related? See the differences between terms here

Updated on February 2, 2024
What’s The Difference Between Observability VS Monitoring

Observability and monitoring are probably the two most confusing words in DevOps. How are they related? See the differences between these two terms of DevOps in this article. Does one rely on the other, or are they independent? Some will argue that observability is just a fancy word for monitoring. Nonetheless, the relationship, or the lack thereof, of these two elements is currently one of the most debatable topics in DevOps. Well, the truth is always out there, and it’s up to you to find it. This article will dissect the meaning of these two terms and what you need to know about them.

To understand the difference between observability and monitoring, you must know what development and operations (or DevOps) mean. It is the effective coordination and communication of three key aspects of any development sector. These areas include software development, IT operations, and quality assurance (QA).

They all must work together efficiently for any company to succeed. With such coordination, it is much easier to track down any possible problem before it occurs. Also, in the case of downtime or related issues, a solution can be found by combining ideas from all three departments.

Demystifying Observability And Monitoring

Before getting into the nits and grits of this topic, it would be prudent to define the two terms first. So, what is observability? 

There are many ways you could explain it. Perhaps the easiest one is the ability of a system’s internal state to be determined by the external outputs. In other words, the observer looks at how the outputs behave, and the results are then used to determine the possible state of the internal components.

Back when technology was still in its early stages, most systems had limited failure modes, which was an advantage to the users and repairers.

Why is that so?  Well, it was easier to trace the root cause whenever something broke down because there were usually only three possibilities. Yes, these systems failed repeatedly in the same three ways. You can see why there was no need to observe the performance of the output channels.

Difference Between Observability VS Monitoring In DevOps: Advancement of Technology

However, with the advancement of technology, systems were made more complex than ever before. As such, the number of failure modes increased, so it became quite overwhelming for those tasked with repairing. This is the time when monitoring tools were born.

Now, you might be wondering what monitoring means. In simple terms, this is a systematic data collection, analysis, and use of the information to guide the management process towards its objectives. It is usually done once a program is up and running, sometimes called performance evaluation.

A monitorable system has very few or no unknown unknowns. This means its operation is predictable, and future outcomes can be calculated using the collected data. As such, it is easier to prevent future failures or trace the origin of the current problems. Observability and monitoring have close meanings, but what’s their difference?

How Is Observability Different From Monitoring?

One of the main differences is that observability tends to answer the questions asked by the results obtained through monitoring. For example, monitoring will tell you if a system is operating as expected and will show any unusual performance behavior.

On the other hand, Observability will answer why this is happening and how it can be solved. Combining the two lets you detect any future problems and prevent them from affecting development.

Another difference is that observability is a system’s ability to allow monitoring. If a system is observable, it can receive monetization. So, what is an observable system?  It is one whose internal system data is available through external output channels. This information is collected by monitoring tools before analysis is done. As such, it can be said that the two aspects are dependent on each other.

However, they can only be productive if your analysis is on point, manually or automatically. A lack of effective analytical strategies will deem the whole process useless. Therefore, this will determine the fruits of your investment in observability and monitoring.

How Important Is Observability?

Controlling and monitoring any potential problems is pretty straightforward for a simple system or stand-alone application. For instance, you won’t require a lot of sophisticated tools to maintain the stability of a customized WordPress site. What you need are memory, networking, CPU, and database monitors. In such a system, you have known solutions for known problems. But what if you have many unknown unknowns?

Well, that’s a common characteristic of most systems today. Almost everyone is going for distribution systems where various components and applications are combined to perform a given function(s). As technology advances, the number of potential failures also increases. Thus, it becomes difficult to trace the problem when a system fails. Observability has been an essential addition to any product development process.

For the significance of observability, the system must produce some types of data. One of these is health checks that include custom HTTP points to maintain excellent system health. Metrics is another data set that the system of any monitoring equipment must avail.

These are numeric representations of the internal environment and regularly in the collection. End-to-end tracking is another set of information that captures an application’s flow through the system.

Why Do You Need Monitoring?

Although monitoring may sound old school, it is very crucial to the success of DevOps. Take, for example, a company that makes approximately $5,000 per hour. A downtime of at least one hour weekly amounts to 52 hours yearly.

Such a company can technically lose over $250,000 for one year. Whether a start-up or an established business, this is too much of a loss and could have serious ramifications. One reason why a firm would have this much downtime is that it lacks effective anticipatory strategies.

Of course, system failures sometimes happen in any industry due to unavoidable circumstances. However, the frequency of such breakdowns can reduce a significant margin through monitoring. One benefit that you’ll enjoy is the fact that any failure prediction before it even happens.

Having scheduled maintenance for your website is better than an abrupt downtime, which could inconvenience your consumers. As such, those who are planning to use your services. They will have enough time to reschedule their plans at that particular time.

Difference Between Observability VS Monitoring In DevOps: In Case of Failure

Monitoring will come in handy. This is why some downtime periods take longer than expected to fix it. The technicians may spend a lot of time trying to find the cause of the problem. More often than not, the issue fix is not usually conclusively due to the rush.

With monitoring tools in place. However, you can easily trace the problem using the metrics and other data you possess.

It is also beneficial for the DevOps team to use a monitoring service. Because it can meet the specific needs of the company. For instance, you can filter out some of the data if they are not an urgent matter on your operation.

As such, the system will only send alerts whenever a critical incident requires immediate maintenance. It can go a long way in improving your team’s efficiency by eliminating unnecessary alarm messages.

Closing Remarks

Monitoring and observability work hand in hand for the success of DevOps. Many debates have been on whether the two are separate aspects or mean the same thing. They are closely related but have different meanings regarding their operation.

Observation creates a platform on which monitoring can take place. As such, it is quite tricky for any monitoring process to occur if a system is not observable. In other words, if the aspects of the internal environment cannot be through the outputs. It is almost impossible to collect any data for analysis. It, therefore, means that they are dependent on each other.

Since DevOps depends on monitoring and observability to be effective, the vice versa is also true. Monitoring, for instance, cannot be efficient if DevOps teams are not working in unison. As such, it is crucial for any company to ensure that the IT, QA. Software development departments are all working together to achieve the same goal.

As such, in case of any problems, they can combine their ideas and develop a lasting solution. Technology can only do enough to help humans in achieving their objectives. It is, however, up to the management to ensure that the employees are observing the necessary procedures. To keep the work flowing.