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Debunking observability myths – Part 1: Why you can’t skip monitoring and rely only on logs


DevOps, SRE, Platform, ITOps and Developer teams are all under pressure to keep applications performant while operating faster and smarter than ever. One area that has seen significant advancements in recent years is observability. It has revolutionized the way IT teams approach incident prevention.  

Some outdated concepts persist, however, that limit the productivity and success of modern software engineering teams. 

In this blog post, we will shed light on a myth surrounding observability: “You can skip monitoring and rely on logs.”

Why is this a myth? 

The quick answer is that logs can be tedious, prone to errors and time-consuming due to their manual nature. While logs have long been used to understand system behaviour, they’ve been less helpful when teams need to resolve issues or make real-time adjustments. For example, in production, QA or staging environments, running the debug mode poses challenges with logs. Without proper instrumentation in the precise location with the necessary data in advance, it’s impossible to make real-time changes or observe them in action. That means significant manual effort that involves not only implementing the code but also reconstructing the context while simultaneously examining the actual code.

The cost of logs

Using logs to track individual transactions (like how it was done with monolithic web server request logs) typically means you need to factor in the expenses for application transaction rates, all microservices, network and storage, and weeks of data retention. This, of course, all equals way too much money.

Fact: Relying solely on logs implies that you are progressing at a slower pace

You don’t need to stare at logs when there are advanced observability solutions that deliver an exact roadmap to problems.

The bottom line is that using just logs means you are going too slow. Monitoring your systems is critical, and advanced solutions now exist that provide real-time monitoring capabilities that incorporate the perfect blend of monitoring data, traces and logging information. These solutions not only ingest all the critical information but also capture all the other necessary data automatically. Real-time observability removes the necessity for extensive logging, which presented various challenges like debugging and pinpointing root causes of issues. Additionally, the cost of storing transactional logs requires high analytical efforts to comprehend all the data.

While log monitoring tools were once considered fundamental for tracking individual transactions, they face significant challenges in a microservices environment. Chris Farrell, VP, Automation Value Services at IBM, recently described how the landscape of observability has evolved in his LinkedIn article, “Logging is the New Floppy Disk.”

What is real-time observability and why it is the more modern approach to application health?

Real-time observability emerges as a pivotal factor in driving efficient development, proactive troubleshooting and effective monitoring. By shifting from extensive reliance on logs to real-time observation, organizations can unlock significant benefits. Advanced observability platforms selectively ingest critical data, leveraging performance metrics, configuration data and events directly from the systems being monitored. 

Real-time monitoring provides timely insight that traditional log analysis does not provide. Implementing real-time streaming and analysis solutions helps enhance observability by enabling timely monitoring and alerting.

Real-time refers to the ability to capture and process data instantaneously, providing immediate insights and visualization. In the context of observability, real-time capabilities offer a more modern approach that delivers numerous advantages.

The advantages of real-time observability 

While metrics, logs and traces are important components, they are merely implementation details within a larger strategy. Hence the need to shift our attention towards effectively utilizing various types of data and exploring new dimensions of observability. Real-time observability can significantly enhance development processes and operational outcomes. By embracing this approach, organizations can experience the following:

  • Massive efficiency gains: Real-time observability enables developers to reclaim valuable time, with potential efficiency gains of up to 50%. By eliminating the manual effort involved in retrofitting code for debugging, teams can focus more on actual development tasks, accelerating their productivity.
  • Enhanced monitoring and swift troubleshooting: Real-time observability provides more robust monitoring information, offering immediate insights into system performance. Troubleshooting becomes quicker and more effective, allowing for rapid identification and resolution of issues. This streamlines operations and minimizes downtime.
  • Improved execution by Dev and Ops teams: With real-time observability, both development (Dev) and operations (Ops) teams can align more effectively. Real-time insights bridge the gap between these teams, fostering collaboration and enabling smoother execution of projects. This synergy leads to better overall outcomes and enhanced delivery of services.
  • Cost reduction: Real-time observability eliminates the need for exorbitant quarterly ingestion and storage charges often associated with traditional observability solutions. By capturing metrics and traces, and incorporating just a hint of log data, organizations can achieve comprehensive observability without incurring unnecessary costs.

It’s time to redefine observability and harness the power of real-time insights to drive innovation and operational excellence.

Observability by the numbers with IBM Instana

IBM’s observability solution, IBM Instana, is purpose-built for cloud-native and designed to automatically and continuously provide high-fidelity data (e.g., one-second granularity and end-to-end traces) with the context of logical and physical dependencies across mobile, web, applications and infrastructure. Our customers have been able to achieve tangible results using real-time observability.

  • Granular, real-time insights: Rebendo uses Instana to deliver real-time visibility at the granularity of one second, helping hunt down unidentified inefficiencies. 
  • 56.6% MTTR reduction: ExaVault maximizes uptime and achieved a reduction in MTTR. 

Learn more about IBM Instana

What’s next?

Stay tuned for our next blog, where we debunk yet another common myth about observability. This time, we’ll be challenging the notion that observability is solely valuable to SREs. Get ready to discover the broader benefits and applications that await.

Product Marketing Manager, Instana

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