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Observability vs Monitoring vs Telemetry: Understanding the Key Differences

January 20, 2023
Categories: Learn

Observability, monitoring, and telemetry are crucial for maintaining the performance and reliability of modern systems. Their concepts are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct differences that are important to understand. In this blog, we’ll explore each concept in detail, including key characteristics and examples of tools. We’ll also compare observability vs monitoring vs telemetry and discuss when it’s appropriate to use each.

Digital transformation has amped up these past few years. Companies wanting to stay relevant and competitive are needing to understand the state of their systems — not only infrastructure and application performance, but also how users experience and use
their products. This is because performance and reliability have a direct impact on customer satisfaction, business success, and ultimately the bottom line.

To effectively understand and manage the state of their systems, companies must have the right tools and approaches in place. This is where observability, monitoring, and telemetry come in. These tools allow companies to collect and analyze data about their environment, helping them to identify and diagnose problems, ensure all systems are working efficiently, and continually better the end-user experience.

Observability, monitoring, and telemetry are not just an IT problem – they are also a business problem. By gaining end-to-end visibility, IT, DevOps, and Security can all take a proactive approach to monitoring and maintenance.

Observability vs Monitoring vs Telemetry

Observability vs Monitoring vs Telemetry: How Do They Differ?

These are the key differences between observability, monitoring, and telemetry:

  • Observability is about understanding the internal state of a system by looking at its outputs. It is concerned with understanding what is happening inside the system and predicting how it will behave in the future.
  • Monitoring is about continuous observation of a system to detect and alert on abnormal behavior. It is concerned with ensuring that the system is working correctly and taking corrective action when necessary.
  • Telemetry is about the automated collection and transmission of data from remote sources. It is concerned with understanding what is happening on the ground and often involves the use of sensors and other devices to collect data from hard-to-reach or hazardous environments.

Observability vs Monitoring

Observability answers the question: “What’s going on inside the system?”

To be observable, a system must produce sufficient data and make it available to operators or observability tools. That way, IT and DevOps teams can find exactly where problems are occurring without spending the time or energy on running tests and creating war rooms.

An observable system is one that allows you to understand the current state of the system, predict how it will behave in the future, and diagnose problems when they occur. This is done through a combination of logging, metrics, tracing, and other forms
of data output.

Examples of observability tools include log aggregators, metrics platforms, and distributed tracing tools. These tools collect and analyze data from various IT systems across the stack, and provide insight into its internal state and behavior. Observability is crucial for maintaining the performance and reliability of modern systems, but it is not the same as monitoring or telemetry.

Monitoring

Monitoring is the continuous observation of a system to detect and alert on abnormal behavior. It is concerned with answering the question: “Is the system working correctly?” To monitor a system, you need to define what “correct” means and set up alerts or notifications when the system deviates from that definition. Monitoring is a proactive approach that helps you detect problems before they become critical. It allows you to identify issues early and take corrective action, ensuring that the system remains available and performing at the desired level.

Examples of monitoring tools include alerting systems and application performance management (APM) tools. These tools continuously observe a system and send notifications when certain conditions are met, alerting operators to potential problems. It’s important to note that monitoring is distinct from observability and telemetry. While observability is concerned with understanding the internal state of a system, monitoring is concerned with ensuring that a system is working correctly. Telemetry, on the other hand, is concerned with the automated collection and transmission of data from remote sources.

Monitoring is a crucial tool for ensuring the performance and reliability of systems. It allows you to proactively detect and address problems, ensuring that systems are working correctly. However, it is distinct from observability and telemetry, which are focused on understanding the internal state of a system and collecting data from remote sources, respectively.

Telemetry

Telemetry is the automated collection and transmission of data from remote sources. It is concerned with answering the question: “What’s happening on the ground?” Telemetry is often used to monitor the performance and condition of equipment or systems in hard-to-reach or hazardous environments, such as aircraft, satellites, or oil rigs. To collect data from these environments, telemetry systems use sensors and other devices that transmit data over a network to a central location for analysis and storage. The data collected by telemetry systems can be used for a variety of purposes, including performance monitoring, asset tracking, and predictive maintenance. For example, telemetry data can be used to monitor the health and performance of aircraft engines, track the location and condition of oil rigs, or predict when equipment is likely to fail.

Telemetry has gained significant attention in the performance management space in recent years, largely due to the emergence of the OpenTelemetry project. This project has created a standardized approach to collecting metrics from distributed systems, making it easier for organizations to collect and analyze telemetry data. The adoption of a standardized telemetry approach has led to increased interest in telemetry as a tool for understanding the performance and behavior of distributed systems. It’s important to note that telemetry is distinct from observability and monitoring. While observability is concerned with understanding the internal state of a system, and monitoring is concerned with ensuring that a system is working correctly, telemetry is focused on collecting data from remote sources. Examples of telemetry tools include industrial control systems and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms. These tools enable the automated collection and transmission of data from remote sources, providing insight into the performance and condition of equipment and systems.

Telemetry is a crucial tool for collecting and transmitting data from remote sources. It is often used to monitor the performance and condition of equipment or systems in hard-to-reach or hazardous environments. The data collected by telemetry systems can be used for various purposes, including performance monitoring, asset tracking, and predictive maintenance.

So, when should you use observability, monitoring, or telemetry? The answer depends on your specific needs and goals. Here are some guidelines to help you choose the right approach:

  • Observability is particularly useful for diagnosing problems and understanding the root cause of issues.
  • Use monitoring when you need to ensure that a system is working correctly and take corrective action when necessary. Monitoring is a proactive approach that helps you detect problems before they become critical.
  • Use telemetry when you need to collect and transmit data from remote sources, such as equipment or systems in hard-to-reach or hazardous environments. Telemetry is often used for performance monitoring, asset tracking, and predictive maintenance.

To sum everything up, observability, monitoring, and telemetry are all important tools for maintaining the performance and reliability of modern distributed systems. By understanding the key differences between these concepts and knowing when to use each approach, you can better monitor and manage everything — from all your applications to the underlying infrastructure that keeps everything up and running, to end-users and customers.

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