6 minutes read

POSTED Mar, 2021 dot IN Observability

Observability: Powering Better DevOps Collaboration

Serkan Özal

Written by Serkan Özal


Founder and CTO of Thundra

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How can your teamwork faster to identify problems in their code? And more importantly, how can you reduce, eliminate, or solve problems while building a culture of collaboration rather than blame?

Today’s fast-paced DevOps environments center around the CI/CD pipeline, tuned to give your team quick feedback loops and let you release even multiple times per day. To keep that pipeline healthy and working optimally, you need to get everybody on board and doing what it takes to identify issues, incidents, or vulnerabilities in code and resolve them ASAP.

And the key to doing that is observability. More than just a development buzzword, observability provides concrete indicators that let you pinpoint problems and let you begin resolving them at the earliest possible stage.

Let’s explore how observability can help your DevOps team and your organization as a whole while gaining insights into the most important metrics to keep your entire CI/CD pipeline on track.

The Challenge of Modern DevOps

Today’s DevOps teams are grappling with unprecedented complexity: increasingly complicated architecture coupled with customer demand for consistent availability, not to mention higher performance expectations. Customers want innovative, reliable products and services available on-demand, without interruption.

Software teams are also highly interdisciplinary, with developers often working across functions, continuously building, delivering, and deploying features and services. Plus, development pipelines may include multiple services, tools, and integrated platforms, making visibility difficult.

Given all this, it’s not hard to see why any problem—a failure or a bug—anywhere in the pipeline could bring your entire development process to a halt.

The solution to the complexity of modern development environments lies in observability. Based on the practice of collecting metrics, observability lets you track each step of the CI/CD pipeline, gaining insights into the health, performance, and reliability of your infrastructure and applications.

If you’re looking for a way to get ahead, anticipating risks and solving problems before they escalate, observable CI/CD pipelines give your teams a better way to collaborate, allowing you to identify issues in their code early on and ensuring that they’re resolved quickly.

Observability: The Gold Standard

Observability is an evolution of established monitoring strategies. Monitoring, which generally centers around predefined dashboards and alerts, can be very useful at handling a predictable set of possible exceptions. However, in the case of unforeseen conditions, monitoring often falls short, failing to adapt or raise an alert even when performance is severely compromised.

The more complex an environment is, the more difficult it becomes to monitor. As a recent Gartner report confirms, “Static dashboards with human-generated thresholds do not scale to these modern environments and are inflexible in assisting the resolution of unforeseen events.”

Observability, on the other hand, is ideally adapted to scale, as it is not confined to a particular static structure. Instead, it constantly tracks outputs to intelligently evaluate system performance, keeping track of a system’s state and behavior. In this way, it can identify an issue as soon as it occurs, even if it is previously unforeseen. By interrogating a digital service, an observability tool can quickly determine the underlying cause and raise a red flag.

Continuous observability is quickly becoming the industry gold standard to help you through the inevitable (and frequent!) occasions when something goes wrong in your CI/CD pipeline.

The reasons are clear: When the CI/CD pipeline is observable, you and your team have more confidence in your code, and you can move faster to implement fixes when needed. But there are a few other benefits of an observable CI/CD pipeline that may be less obvious:

  • Faster releases, better delivery: Observability lets teams aggregate and analyze logs and metrics, letting them identify and resolve bugs, release patches, and optimize pipelines.
  • Points out the right path: When you have access to a range of metrics, it’s easy to pinpoint the ones that best represent application performance, which means your team can focus its efforts in the right areas.
  • Customer-experience excellence: Customer satisfaction goes up when you have the insights you need to build and deploy confidently to meet expectations.
  • Plan ahead for success: Get feedback before your code is in production, saving lots of time and hassle later on.

So how can you help your organization move toward observability?

The Gartner report provides the answer, stating that “Observability by its very nature must look at the full stack of data available.”

If this sounds complex, don’t worry. In the next section, we’ll help you boil it down to a few absolutely essential metrics that you can use as a starting point.

Getting Started with CI/CD Metrics

While these metrics are certainly not the full extent of the data available to you, they’re a good place to begin when you’re looking to track the performance of your CI/CD pipelines. We’ve grouped them into three categories. Within each category, you can expand the number and type of metrics you’re tracking as you develop an understanding of which data is most helpful in steering your team in the right direction.

Quality

Continuous delivery that succeeds only in delivering more bugs faster, or providing products that don’t respond to customer needs, is not at all the goal of CI/CD. Rather, the goal is constant iteration and improvement, getting the best possible product into customers’ hands at any given time.

Quality-based metrics you’ll want to track, at a minimum, include:

  • Defect escape rate
  • Number of bugs
  • Deployment success rate
  • Test pass rate

Time

When you need to evaluate how productive and efficient your CI/CD pipeline is, logging and tracking the following metrics will give you a handle on which processes are slowing you down, which are creating bottlenecks, and where improvements can be made.

Time-based metrics you’ll want to track, at a minimum, include:

  • Deployment time and frequency
  • Defect resolution time
  • Time to market

Automation

Automated test processes have become an integral part of the DevOps model, so teams must be aware of issues that could be impacting these processes, especially when it comes to deployment.

Automation-based metrics you’ll want to track, at a minimum, include:

  • Deployment frequency
  • Failed deployments
  • Deployment size

As we’ve seen, observability is all about maximizing data-based insights. However, the data itself isn’t magic, and data alone can’t resolve problems. Instead, observability is simply part of reshaping your organization around a model of trust and collaboration.

Building a Culture of Collaboration

In the past, metrics would at times only fuel finger-pointing, leading to a culture of hostility and blame. Observable pipelines, on the other hand, let you collaborate better, creating better procedures and alert systems and improving the way you handle monitoring and incident detection throughout a project’s life cycle.

When observability is implemented properly, it lets you not only pinpoint problems and resolve them faster but also ensure that there is a clear point person responsible for each task—generally the individual who committed the change.

As the Gartner report goes on to state, “By surfacing correlated information in context, the operator can more quickly isolate the potential root cause of problems.”

However, the process doesn’t end there. It’s important to sit down after a problem has been resolved—not to place blame but to evaluate the situation constructively. Such an evaluation will include assessing what happened, the source of the issue, and how it was caught, followed by making sure you put policies and procedures in place to prevent a recurrence. This also serves to add to your organization’s knowledge base.

Remember, help your team focus on the basics. These include a few fundamental DevOps KPIs that are important to track so your organization understands the full value provided by the software development team.

The KPIs for each category below will help you make intelligent decisions as you continuously iterate your pipelines, applications, and infrastructure.

Business Success

Keep your business on the right track by determining how success is defined, such as by reducing customer service costs, increasing revenue, or growing your customer base. KPIs to track would include:

  • Incremental or recurring revenue
  • Customer acquisition costs
  • The average revenue per user
  • Conversion rates

Customer Experience

Keep customers loyal and stay ahead of the competition with reliable, intuitive user experiences. KPIs to track should cover:

  • User growth rate
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Total time spent by users on your app
  • Uses or visits per user per week

Application & Infrastructure

Keep tabs on performance to catch problems before they start impacting customers. KPIs to track here include:

  • Resource utilization
  • App response time
  • Third-party service performance
  • Database response time

Just as with the metrics in the previous section, tracking KPIs in these areas is a great starting point, as they will help your team understand where their greatest strengths lie as well as where they could use some help in dealing with challenges.

The change also comes from leadership, so make your commitment to their success clear from the onset, including providing the tools they need to support their tasks. Observability solutions like Thundra help your team rise to the challenge, letting you pinpoint potential problems and handle unknowns as they arise within your CI/CD pipeline.

Keeping Your CI/CD Pipeline Healthy

The most important factor to keeping your pulse on the health of your CI/CD pipeline is using data as your guide and taking advantage of all the intelligence at your fingertips.

There’s a reason observability has become the gold standard in this type of fast-paced setting. As the Gartner report indicates, monitoring tools and strategies are less and less able to keep up within the scope and scale of modern DevOps. Only observability provides insights to keep your team agile and prepared, shipping software quickly that performs reliably and offers a seamless, feature-rich customer experience.

Observability is a mindset that will shift your DevOps from a culture of blame and finger-pointing to one of empathy and ongoing improvement. It’s simple to get everybody on board with tools like Thundra that save work and offer easy access to insights that keep your CI/CD pipeline healthy. Prioritizing observability benefits not only your DevOps team but your entire organization.