An Introduction to Cloud Native Observability

Guangya Liu
6 min readMar 28, 2024

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In the rapidly evolving landscape of cloud computing, observability has emerged as a critical concept, especially within cloud-native environments. Cloud native observability goes beyond traditional monitoring, offering deep insights into the behavior, performance, and health of applications and infrastructure that are designed specifically for the cloud. This comprehensive visibility is paramount for maintaining reliability, efficiency, and security in cloud-native systems.

Understanding Cloud Native

Before diving into observability, let’s clarify what cloud native means. Cloud native refers to a set of practices and technologies designed to take full advantage of cloud computing. This includes microservices architectures, containerization (e.g., Docker), orchestration (e.g., Kubernetes), immutable infrastructure, and continuous delivery. Cloud native is about how applications are created and deployed, not where.

The Principals of Observability

Observability, as a discipline within software engineering and systems management, is founded on several core principles that enable teams to understand and improve complex systems. These principles are designed to help organizations monitor, diagnose, and optimize their applications and infrastructure in real time. Let’s explore some of the key principles of observability:

  • Comprehensive Data Collection for Logs, Metrics, and Traces: Observability relies on the collection of diverse types of data, including logs (detailed records of events), metrics (quantitative data about processes and systems), and traces (records of the path and timing of transactions through a system). Each type provides a different perspective, and together, they offer a holistic view of system behavior.
  • Context and Correlation for Linking Data Points: The ability to correlate logs, metrics, and traces across different parts of a system is crucial. This means being able to link data points to specific user transactions, service interactions, or infrastructure components, providing context that is essential for effective troubleshooting and analysis.
  • Real-Time Analysis and Feedback for Timely Insights: Observability requires the capability to analyze data in real time (or near real time), allowing teams to quickly identify and respond to issues, often before they impact users.
  • Intelligent Alerting and Anomaly Detection for Proactive Monitoring: Rather than overwhelming teams with noise, an observability platform should use intelligent alerting based on historical data, trends, and anomaly detection to notify teams of potential issues before they escalate.
  • User-Centric Monitoring: Observability isn’t just about monitoring system internals; it’s also about understanding how system performance impacts the user experience. This includes tracking key user journeys and performance metrics that directly affect user satisfaction.

Why Cloud Native Observability Matters

Cloud Native Observability refers to the practice of monitoring and understanding the behavior of applications and systems that are built and deployed in Cloud Native environments, such as containers, microservices, serverless architectures, and dynamic orchestration platforms like Kubernetes. It encompasses a set of practices, tools, and methodologies aimed at providing insights into the performance, health, and behavior of distributed systems running in dynamic and scalable cloud environments.

The Cloud Native environments are dynamic and complex, with services frequently scaling up or down and updating. This fluidity introduces unique challenges in ensuring applications perform reliably and efficiently. Here’s why observability is essential in this context:

  • Enhanced Debugging and Troubleshooting: With services constantly changing, pinpointing the root cause of issues can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Observability provides the granular, real-time data needed to quickly identify and resolve problems.
  • Performance Optimization: Observability helps you understand how well your applications and infrastructure are performing. By analyzing metrics and traces, you can identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies and make informed decisions to optimize performance.
  • Better Decision Making: Deep insights into system behavior and performance enable better decision-making. Whether it’s scaling resources, adjusting configurations, or planning capacity, observability data guides you to make more informed, data-driven decisions.
  • Proactive Issue Resolution: Observability allows you to shift from a reactive to a proactive stance. By setting up alerts based on specific metrics or anomalies detected in logs and traces, you can address issues before they impact users.

OpenTelemetry in Cloud Native Observability

OpenTelemetry is an open-source project under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) that provides a set of APIs, libraries, agents, and instrumentation to standardize the generation and collection of telemetry data (logs, metrics, traces). It aims to make observability an integral part of Cloud Native development and operations.

The following are key features of OpenTelemetry:

  • Unified Data Collection: OpenTelemetry standardizes the collection of logs, metrics, and traces, providing a unified approach to observability data.
  • Wide Language and Framework Support: It supports a broad range of programming languages and frameworks, making it easier to implement across diverse cloud-native ecosystems.
  • Integration with Observability Tools: OpenTelemetry is designed to work seamlessly with various analysis and observability platforms, allowing teams to choose the best tools for their specific needs.
  • Vendor Neutral: Being open-source and vendor-neutral, OpenTelemetry ensures that organizations are not locked into proprietary formats or platforms. Vendor neutrality benefits cloud native as well, a customer running in multiple clouds, with some managed and some self-hosted services, can use OpenTelemetry provided OOTB by those various cloud providers for a unified standard across THEIR stack that they can depend on even if they choose to change Observability tools in the future, or if they want to use multiple observability tools at the same time (e.g. for different teams)

OpenTelemetry mainly depending on collector to collect logs, metrics and traces. The Opentelemetry Collector is kind of pipeline and it mainly have three core components, including receiver, processor and exporter. Receiver is used to collect metrics from different sources, processor is used for data transforming, filtering, batching etc, and exportor is used for sending data to different backends, like Jaeger, Zipkin etc, and Instana is also one of the backend.

Full Stack Cloud Native Observability

Full Stack Cloud Native Observability will highly depend on OpenTelemetry for the full stack Cloud Native Observability, inclduing Cloud Native Infra, Cloud Native Platform, Cloud Native AI and Cloud Native Application.

Cloud Native Application

A Cloud Native application is designed to take full advantage of cloud computing frameworks. These applications are built and deployed in a rapid, flexible manner that aligns with the dynamic nature of cloud environments.

The aim of Cloud Native applications is to enable businesses to bring new products to market faster, optimize resources, and scale dynamically according to real-time demand, all while minimizing downtime and maintaining high levels of performance.

Cloud Native AI

Cloud Native AI refers to the development and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) applications that are designed specifically to leverage the scalability, flexibility, and efficiency of cloud computing environments. This approach aligns with the principles of Cloud Native applications but is specifically tailored to address the unique requirements and challenges of AI workloads, including data processing, model training, and inference at scale.

Cloud Native AI enables businesses and organizations to develop and deploy AI solutions quickly, with the flexibility to adapt to changing needs and the scalability to handle growth efficiently. This approach leverages the full potential of cloud computing to make AI more accessible and effective across various industries and applications.

Cloud Native Platform

A Cloud Native Platform is a software solution designed to provide an environment where applications can be developed, deployed, maintained, and scaled in a Cloud Native manner. These platforms are built on the principles of Cloud Native computing, which emphasizes scalable, elastic, resilient, and agile operations. They leverage cloud computing’s full potential to offer dynamic, scalable, and automated environments for applications that are designed to run in the cloud.

Cloud Native Platforms aim to simplify the complexity of running applications in a cloud environment by abstracting the underlying infrastructure and providing developers with tools and services designed to enhance productivity, reliability, and scalability. Examples of Cloud Native Platforms include Kubernetes, Red Hat OpenShift, Google Cloud Anthos, and AWS Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS), each offering a unique set of tools and services designed to support Cloud Native development.

Cloud Native Infra

Cloud Native infrastructure refers to the set of technologies and practices that provide a scalable, flexible, and resilient environment optimized for hosting Cloud Native applications. Unlike traditional infrastructure, which often relies on physical hardware and manual management, Cloud Native infrastructure is designed to leverage the full capabilities of cloud computing, including automation, orchestration, and the dynamic allocation of resources.

Cloud Native infrastructure is foundational to modern application development and deployment, enabling businesses to innovate quickly, scale efficiently, and maintain high availability and resilience in their operations. It represents a shift from traditional IT infrastructure to a more flexible, automated, and scalable approach, harnessing the full potential of cloud computing technologies.

Conclusion

Cloud Native Observability provides the visibility and insights necessary to navigate the complexities of modern cloud environments. By effectively leveraging logs, metrics, and traces, teams can ensure their Cloud Native resources are reliable, efficient, and secure. As Cloud Native technologies continue to evolve, so too will the practices and tools for observability, making it an ever-more integral part of cloud computing.

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Guangya Liu

STSM@IBM, Member - IBM Academy of Technology, Kubernetes Member, Istio Maintainer, Apache Mesos Committer & PMC Member.