Observability vs Monitoring: What is the Difference?

Today’s information technology landscape is characterized by rapid changes to product development and network management. The complexity of network management is also on the rise. To keep up with this ongoing evolution, effective monitoring approaches are needed. However, monitoring by itself is not enough to keep up with the IT industry’s evolution. As a consequence, we’re witnessing a shift from monitoring to observability. It is not uncommon to find these terms used interchangeably in ITOps, but they are distinct from each other.

Monitoring refers to a process that gives insights about the data of a system, to be used as a guide towards various set goals. It is akin to a performance evaluation. On the other hand, observability refers to the ability of a system to identify what’s happening inside it by analyzing external information available to it. Here is how they are similar: 

  • Both play a part in anticipating problems. This is why these terms are often incorrectly interchanged sometimes. However different they are, they both play a role in discovering problems.
  • Both monitor a system’s health. They both aim to increase the reliability, availability, and security of the system. 

Also read: The Future of Network Management with AIOps

Observability and Monitoring Differences

Monitoring is a subset of observability 

Observability is the capacity of a system to perform monitoring. You cannot monitor a system that is not observable. An observable system is one whose internal states are easy to understand and benchmark. It also means that we can swiftly identify and maneuver to the key cause of problems.

Process vs. quality

Monitoring is a continuous action while observability is a quality. Monitoring being a continuous action means that it is something that you do. Monitoring shows us if a system is operating correctly. On the other hand, you have observability since it is a property.

Handling of errors

Monitoring flags known errors. Observability attempts to discover new ones. Monitoring draws attention to occurrences that a user is aware of. However, observability gives the system the chance to identify incoming occurrences well before the user is aware of them.

Key Roles of Monitoring

Network availability

A key responsibility of a monitoring system is to ensure that the system is available as consistently as possible. This means monitoring aims for maximum uptime. A monitoring system reports errors, slowdowns, failures, and anomalies in the network to allow the ITOps team to resolve them.

Network capacity planning

The IT infrastructure of an enterprise grows as the enterprise grows. Through monitoring, network administrators track network resources. They track the usage and consumption of these resources. From a management perspective, this eases the capacity planning process. Network growth can be anticipated and carried out when required.

Efficiency, productivity, and satisfaction

The ability to monitor a network increases the overall efficiency and productivity of the teams involved. These teams spend less time trying to identify issues and more time adding value to the enterprise. In doing so, users of the system benefit from a much more reliable experience. Service-level agreements become much more feasible.

Also read: Establishing Server Security Best Practices 

Key Roles of Observability

Network security

Keeping networks observable plays a key role in upholding their security. Since observability allows systems to repair themselves, threats, vulnerabilities, and odd occurrences can be found and mended. Attempted intrusions can be blocked as soon as identified. Threats can be neutralized before they act. Accidental network data exposure can be swiftly resolved.

Network reliability

Reliability is the capacity of a system to function without failure. The goal is to have systems that do not fail over a defined period. Observability brings to light incidents that can cause the unavailability of the network.

Network optimization

Observability is responsible for optimizing a network. Since the highest standards of security and reliability are ensured, the system shall offer high levels of performance consistently. Furthermore, since potential downtime, slowdowns, failures, or anomalies are dealt with proactively, the system is optimized.

How is Monitoring Used?

Network behavior

IT teams use monitoring tools to analyze networks. On the basis of this, these teams monitor the baseline behaviors of networks. Deviations from baselines signal that there are issues that deserve a closer look.

Configuration management

Altering the configuration of a system may result in severe network issues. IT professionals use monitoring tools to anticipate wrongful configuration changes. Unchecked, such changes may lead to intrusion, data theft, data loss, and gaping vulnerabilities.

Problem solving 

As network monitoring tools are used to identify issues, IT teams use them to pinpoint issues for them to fix. Through this process, these teams remain ready to troubleshoot and maintain system uptime.

How is Observability Used?

Debugging 

IT professionals use observability tools to debug systems, getting rid of current and emerging errors. They also use observability for root cause analysis, which is a problem-solving approach used to pinpoint the causes of errors.

Reporting

Network operators use network observability tools to produce reports on various facets of the network. For instance, the reports may be produced hourly and will reflect the changes in the network over the hour. This ensures that the state of the network is always updated periodically.

Network planning 

IT professionals plan and evaluate networks with the help of observability. They use observability tools to anticipate the growth of a network. 

Why Observability and Monitoring Matter

In an age where every cent invested counts, it is increasingly important to ensure systems are secure and make or save you money. Currently, security is one of the greatest concerns for network teams. It is also an issue for enterprises migrating to the cloud. The cloud broadens the scope of potential threats. More and more enterprises are adopting cloud strategies.

Security breaches and questionable activity on systems are often costly. As such, monitoring is more important than ever now in ITOps. Monitoring alerts us of any uncharacteristic activity. This in turn allows us to mitigate the potential threats, which in turn saves us from dealing with the fallout of security incidents. The monetary implication is that we get to avoid significant losses.

The current need for observability stems from the relentless need for enterprises to make sense of their system’s performance. The use of performance monitoring tools and solutions allows teams to spot and fix issues. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to a culture of collecting all data. The challenge here is that most of the metrics of such data may never be used. Therefore, it becomes difficult to gain insight from this data.

The above represents an inefficient approach to monitoring. Such approaches fuel the need for observability. As a result, the scope of the goals of monitoring has evolved to make systems more observable and the industry is moving away from standard monitoring tools and practices. This provides an opportunity for AIOps to work hand in hand with infrastructure observability to improve observability as a whole. However, this does not mean that monitoring is not of value anymore, as it is still a key component of observability.

Read next: Best Network Automation Tools for 2021

Collins Ayuya
Collins Ayuya is pursuing his Master's in Computer Science and is passionate about technology. He loves sharing his experience in Artificial Intelligence, Telecommunications, IT, and emerging technologies through his writing. He is passionate about startups, innovation, new technology, and developing new products as he is also a startup founder. Collins enjoys doing pencil and graphite art and is also a sportsman, and gamer during his downtime.

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