In today's digital era, distributed systems have become the norm. Organizations opt for microservices to boost developer productivity. But how can teams manage the operational challenges of cloud native applications, distributed systems, and the relevant cloud technologies?
Customer experience is key to the success of any tech company, whether it's a startup, mid-sized firm, or enterprise player. You need to solve issues around the availability and performance of your applications in production.
And that is where observability comes in.
A robust observability tool for monitoring and analyzing system behavior enables you to collect, process, and emit telemetry data. This, in turn, allows your team to spot issues faster, troubleshoot them more effectively, and enhance customer experience, which is critical for success in any business.
Keep on reading to find out everything you need to know about observability tools and get a curated list of proven solutions.
Table of contents:
- Quick recap: What are observability tools?
- Observability vs. monitoring: What is the difference?
- 7 top observability tools you should know in 2022
- How to choose the right observability tool for your team?
Quick recap: What are observability tools?
Observability tools enable businesses to monitor and log systems and applications. They allow DevOps teams to receive continuous feedback from their systems easily. This approach to monitoring and logging provides actionable information to businesses faster than tools focusing on only monitoring or logging can.
To accomplish this, an observability platform aggregates three types of system-wide telemetry data:
- Metrics – performance-related KPI measurements such as memory usage and transactions per second.
- Logs – unstructured, qualitative records of events taking place within a system.
- Traces – these connect the dots between sequential events.
However, observability is more than the sum of its parts. A good observability tool has many components. It should enable you to generate and emit telemetry data – a combination of logs, metrics, and traces.
A quality observability tool should also have a good storage system for fast retrieval and long-term retention. Finally, it comes with a good visualization layer so your teams can consume the data they need and take the actions they need.
Observability vs. monitoring: What is the difference?
Application monitoring tools such as application performance management software are capable of recording events that occur in your environment. For example, they alert DevOps or SRE teams if an application is down or if there are any issues that need to be resolved.
However, application monitoring falls short of providing a holistic view of your distributed application environment. Observability platforms feed on the information gathered from monitoring tools and help teams to identify patterns. Observability also makes it easier to identify the root cause of a system-wide problem, in contrast to reliance on trial-and-error strategies.
Monitoring tools and observability platforms form a symbiotic relationship with each other that improves patient health. More specifically, monitoring tools provide valuable information about what is currently happening in the patient's body, while observability tools use this information to diagnose why the patient is not healthy.
To sum up, application monitoring helps identify when something has changed, and observability helps identify the reason.
In the context of this relationship, better monitoring leads to improved observability, and unreliable monitoring makes good observability impossible.
7 top observability tools you should know in 2022
Grafana is an open-source observability platform for analytics, monitoring, and visualization. It supports many different storage backends for time-series data and can be connected to data sources such as Graphite, InfluxDB, ElasticSearch, Prometheus, and more. For traces, it supports Jaeger, X-Ray, Tempo, and Zipkin data collection sources. Grafana also offers a managed SaaS version which is paid.
As an observability tool, Grafana provides plugins and dashboards, alerting capabilities, and different levels of user access for governance. In addition, it offers two versions of services:
- Grafana Cloud – the observability data is sent to Grafana Cloud dashboards, where you can store your metrics and logs. Teams can use tools such as Grafana Cloud Logs that help monitor logs, Grafana Cloud Metrics for monitoring metrics, and Grafana Cloud Traces for creating API key permissions.
- Grafana Enterprise – this solution provides support for metrics and logs with Grafana installed within your infrastructure. It also comes with expert support.
Honeycomb is an observability platform that aims to provide visibility into distributed systems while also making it easy to diagnose problems. It enables monitoring and offers support for logs, events, and traces in the software development lifecycle. It's cloud-based, with clients available for Linux and macOS.
Although the platform offers built-in instrumentation that works out-of-the-box, you can use open-source OpenTelemetry to instrument your code if it's not already instrumented. Honeycomb offers a free version of service. Its pro tier pricing starts at $100. All in all, the pricing plans are based on data retention and event volume captured.
Some users have noted that the Honeycomb interface can be a bit overwhelming when you're just beginning. But the platform offers comprehensive step-by-step tutorials to get up and to run.
Also Honeycomb's approach to observability may lack some of the traditional application monitoring capabilities such as live reporting and long-term data retention.
New Relic’s observability tool enables teams to visualize, analyze and troubleshoot the entire software stack in one platform.
New Relic also supports auto-instrumentation for eight popular programming languages. Its standard offering includes plans for teams with up to 5 full users, including 100 GB of free data ingestion and $0.25 per extra GB. The platform offers quality instrumentation and easily customizable dashboards.
Plus, teams can choose from more than 400 "quickstarts" to get one-click integrations, dashboards, and alerts with the software tools they use every day. New Relic's observability solution has a very clean and modern look that presents information in a visually appealing way.
With its observability tool, DataDog allows users to monitor a variety of things across distributed systems, such as infrastructure monitoring, log management, application performance monitoring, and security monitoring.
For full visibility into distributed applications, DataDog allows users to trace requests from end-to-end across distributed systems, chart the latency percentiles (p95, p99, etc.) of requests, and use instrumentation with open-source libraries like Dropwizard.
The pricing model is flexible and depends on the product option you choose for this observability solution. For example, the APM solution provides users with end-to-end distributed tracing that can start at $31 per host per month if billed annually.
Splunk has been a leading company in the APM market for nearly two decades, and it offers a broad range of observability tools. Teams can choose from individual solutions for infrastructure monitoring, APM, logging, front-end user monitoring, synthetic monitoring, and automated incident response. They can add each of these apps à la carte or bundle them for one monthly fee in Splunk Observability Cloud.
One of the biggest pros of Splunk is that its instrumentation features natively support OpenTelemetry (OT), an open-source observability framework. This advantage means the entire platform is completely vendor-agnostic and provides a consistent structure for telemetry data collection across applications. With such simplicity in your backend, your teams can spend more time improving app features and performance.
Dynatrace and Splunk are similar monitoring and observability platforms. Both offer complete, full-stack observability, application monitoring and security, digital experience, business analytics, and cloud automation capabilities.
But Dynatrace's AI engine is what sets the company apart. Its AI technology allows companies to get precise, automated actionable insights about their data instantly and continuously. This includes dependency detection, anomaly detection, root cause analysis, and business impact analysis.
Pricing may be an issue for some users; Dynatrace's pricing structure means it can get pretty expensive to implement a strategy that includes its full range of features. On the other hand, you may find that the cost of ownership is well worth it in the long run since its AI capabilities are unique.
Lightstep is an observability tool that automatically detects changes to your application and even user experience. Naturally, it also includes infrastructure monitoring and application performance monitoring. Next, it highlights the specific causes for the changes.
For instrumentation, the solution uses OpenTelemetry to generate and send telemetry data to Lightstep's microsatellites. These collect and forward the data to Lightstep's SaaS for analysis.
The platform also has its own time-series database to store the telemetry data. The platform analyzes the data, builds traces, and generates service diagrams to monitor any change in performance.
How to choose the right observability tool for your team?
Choosing an observability tool for your application can help your engineering team troubleshoot bugs, assess the performance of your software, and debug issues. Before selecting an observability tool, ask yourself these questions:
- Is there any privacy legislation that prevents you from sharing data with a third-party tool?
- Does the pricing suit your budget?
- How easy is it to get started with things like instrumentation?
- What kind of data do you want to retain?
- Are there security and compliance issues?
- Which observability tools have seamless integration between metrics, logs, and traces?
After reviewing the observability tools on this list, you might still be unsure which solution is best for you. The best way to narrow it down is to check out testimonials from customers about how the different products meet their needs. Once you've narrowed down your options, try out a free tier or start a free trial to give them a test run.
Have you tried any of these observability tools? Share your thoughts in the comments section; we look forward to starting a conversation about best industry practices and solutions that support it!