Blog Insights Observability is key to cloud-native transitions and modern application development
Published on April 5, 2022
5 min read

Observability is key to cloud-native transitions and modern application development

Want better visibility into the entire software development lifecycle across environments? Learn how observability can help.


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Modern application development requires DevOps teams to be able to collaborate and react to what is happening across the software development lifecycle. Yet, as companies move away from monolithic code bases resident on a server or cluster of virtual machines to cloud-native environments, this goal becomes more difficult to achieve. Cloud-native architectures are more complex with more elements to configure, protect, execute, and measure. To ensure maximum visibility and responsiveness to issues early on in application development and throughout the lifecycle, companies are adopting observability.

Observability defined

Observability, which 451 Research defines as the collection and analysis of data logs, metrics, and traces, becomes critical and essential with cloud-native technologies and acts as a step beyond monitoring. “The need for such an approach has been brought to the fore by complex, distributed microservices-based applications where the variables are so numerous that it can be impossible to know exactly what metrics need to be collected for the gamut of potential events that could arise,” 451 Research’s “Voice of the Enterprise: DevOps, Organizational Dynamics - Advisory Report” states.

“A need to know what is happening with infrastructure and applications, particularly across hybrid and multi-cloud infrastructure, has driven broad adoption of observability,” according to the report.

How observability improves cloud-native tech adoption

More than half of organizations surveyed by 451 Research report either full adoption or some adoption at the team level of cloud-native technologies such as containers, Kubernetes, service mesh, and serverless computing. Another quarter to one-third of respondents plans to deploy cloud-native technologies.

The challenge is visibility across this new, more complex architecture. While cloud-native technologies offer more flexibility and cost efficiencies for computing resources, they can make it difficult to gain end-to-end visibility of software vulnerabilities, application performance, and quality assessments, and to be able to know where and how to affect change early on in the development lifecycle.

DevOps improvements such as security and analytics are driving the adoption of observability, as is the increased need for compliance. With observability, according to 451 Research’s report, “one can query the data they have and ask any number of questions about a system, and, ideally, get an answer without having to predefine the exact data collected or tagging applied to answer the question.”

In other words, observability can provide a more flexible toolkit and enable a more active drill-down into what’s actually happening in the development lifecycle. With properly implemented observability, DevOps teams can, in real-time, identify a problem, fix it, benchmark the improvement, and measure it going forward – even in a cloud-native environment that is abstracted from knowledge of underlying systems. Having the ability to observe and measure your end-to-end DevOps efforts can reduce risk and provide greater control of cloud-native environments.

Digital transformation leaders and laggards alike understand the need for observability. Nearly two-thirds of all respondents say they have adopted observability (41%) or have it in discovery/proof of concept (23%). Nearly a third plan to implement it within 12 to 24 months.

“While it is great to see these adoption rates, the ultimate goal is to evolve observability’s inputs into actionable insights that positively impact the business,” says Sebastien Pahl, principal product manager at GitLab and co-founder of observability start-up OpsTrace (which was acquired by GitLab in 2021).

The benefits of observability

In modern application development, dev, sec, and ops teams share the responsibility of software development and delivery. In mature organizations, DevOps can extend to include stakeholders from compliance, legal, finance, and other departments with a direct stake in value delivery. Observability provides DevOps teams greater flexibility in how to utilize and share data across an organization.

Pahl likens observability to a flight crew being able to see, learn from, and react to all the data from instruments and dashboards on a plane as it is flying. “With observability, everyone can look at the same data through a different lens,” he says.

Observability has significant benefits, including the following:

  • Developers can add code early in the development lifecycle for events they want to observe.

  • DevOps teams can move faster because they know when something is wrong and exactly what is wrong. They can fix problems once and move on.

  • Organizations can detect problems before customers do.

  • DevOps teams can assign certain alerts to specific individuals or teams so ops teams won’t be burned out responding to general alerts.

  • The inputs and metrics written through observability lay the foundation for AI and machine learning.

Observability and the DevOps Platform

GitLab believes that observability is foundational to a DevOps platform, and will make the capability available to all GitLab users. Our vision is to make every GitLab project observable by default, with features that are easy to operate without specialized, expert skills. Teams can connect the dots between every deployment, incident, and other noteworthy events using and collaborating with telemetry data, which ultimately decreases the frequency and severity of production issues.

GitLab’s observability capability is completely open-sourced and relies on open APIs such as Prometheus and OpenTelemetry so users don’t have to worry about vendor lock-in from instrumentation to alerting. It’s built into the GitLab DevOps platform to help you use the capability right away within your native workflow.

Learn more about observability and the DevOps Platform.

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