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Observability Pillars: Unveiling the Depths of Logs, Metrics, and Traces

Unveiling the Depths of Observability: A Comprehensive Exploration

Observability, a crucial facet in understanding system dynamics, involves deciphering internal states through output analysis. The journey to achieving 'observability' hinges on extracting insights solely from outputs, especially sensor data. This data proves instrumental in issue resolution, performance optimization, and bolstering security measures.

In the subsequent sections, we'll embark on a detailed exploration of the three foundational tenets of Observability: Metrics, Logs, and Traces.

Distinguishing Observability from Monitoring

"Observability wouldn't be possible without monitoring," and it's pivotal to comprehend the distinction.

Monitoring, intertwined with Observability, differs substantially. While both entail data collection, Observability centers on unraveling a system's internal mechanisms. Monitoring, in contrast, proactively accumulates data on system performance and behavior.


Monitoring focuses on predefined metrics and thresholds, aiming to identify deviations from expected behavior. In contrast, Observability seeks to provide a comprehensive understanding, embracing open-ended exploration and adaptability to evolving requirements.


  • Root Cause Revelation:
    Observability delves into the causes behind system faults, offering profound insights.

  • Guide for Monitoring:
    It serves as a knowledge repository, aiding in the identification of elements crucial for monitoring system health.

  • Contextual Data Emphasis:
    Observability stresses the importance of contextualizing data, enriching the interpretation of system behaviors.

  • Holistic Environment Assessment:
    It offers a panoramic view of the entire system and its surroundings, surpassing individual component insights.

  • Traversable Map Analogy:
    Observability is akin to a traversable map, facilitating exploration through intricate system states and behaviors.

  • Comprehensive Information Delivery:
    Striving for a thorough understanding, Observability ensures no critical information is left undisclosed.

  • Event Monitoring Versatility:
    It introduces the flexibility of monitoring various events, adapting to a dynamic system observation approach.


  • System Fault Notification:
    Monitoring focuses on alerting and notifying when system deviations or faults are detected.

  • System-Centric Focus:
    Centered around continuous system surveillance, with the primary goal of detecting and addressing faults.

  • Data Collection Emphasis:
    Primarily involves data collection related to system performance, with a focus on metrics and key indicators.

  • Key Performance Indicator Tracking:
    Revolves around establishing and tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for monitoring process efficiency.

  • Single-Plane Operation:
    Unlike observability, monitoring operates on a single plane, concentrating on predefined metrics and thresholds.

  • Limited Information Provision:
    Monitoring offers selective information, often confined to predefined metrics, providing a narrower scope of system insights.

  • Monitoring as Utilization of Observability:
    The monitoring process involves utilizing observability concepts and tools to detect, analyze, and respond to system deviations and faults.

While Monitoring signals anomalies and potential issues, Observability transcends by not only detecting problems but also elucidating their root causes and underlying dynamics.

The Triad of Observability: Metrics, Logs, Traces

Observability's foundation rests on the Three Pillars: Metrics, Logs, and Traces, converging around the central theme of "Events." These events, timestamped and quantifiable, serve as elemental units for monitoring and telemetry. Their significance lies in contextualizing user interactions, offering a nuanced perspective.

In monitoring tools, "Significant Events" trigger:

  • Automated Alerts: Notifying SREs or operations teams.
  • Diagnostic Tools: Facilitating root-cause analysis.

Consider a scenario where a server's disk is nearing 99% capacity—undeniably significant. However, understanding which applications and users contribute to this state is vital for effective action.


Metrics act as numerical indicators, offering insights into a system's health. While metrics like CPU, memory, and disk usage provide straightforward indicators, others can unveil underlying issues. Careful selection of metrics, guided by domain expertise, ensures proactive detection of impending system issues.

Advantages of Metrics

  • Quantitative and intuitive for setting alert thresholds
  • Lightweight and cost-effective for storage
  • Excellent for tracking trends and system changes
  • Provides real-time component state data
  • Constant overhead cost; not affected by data surges

Challenges of Metrics

  • Limited insight into the "why" behind issues
  • Lack context of individual interactions or events
  • Risk of data loss in case of collection/storage failure
  • Fixed interval collection may miss critical details
  • Excessive sampling can impact performance and costs

Do you know the tool combination for centralized logging, log analysis, and real-time data visualization? Read our blog on ELK Stack for an introduction.


Logs furnish intricate details about an application's inner workings as it processes requests. Unusual events, like exceptions, recorded in logs serve as early indicators of potential issues. Effective observability solutions should support comprehensive log analysis, integrating log data seamlessly with metrics and traces for a holistic view of application behavior.

Advantages of Logs

  • Easy to generate, typically timestamp + plain text
  • Often require minimal integration by developers
  • Most platforms offer standardized logging frameworks
  • Human-readable, making them accessible
  • Provide granular insights for retrospective analysis

Challenges of Logs

  • Can generate large data volumes, leading to costs
  • Impact on application performance, especially without asynchronous logging
  • Retrospective use, not proactive
  • Persistence challenges in modern architectures
  • Risk of log loss in containers and auto-scaling environments



Tracing, tailored to the complexity of contemporary applications, collects information from different application parts, showcasing how a request traverses the system. It excels in deconstructing end-to-end latency, attributing it to specific tiers or components.

Advantages of Traces

  • Ideal for pinpointing issues within a service
  • Offers end-to-end visibility across multiple services
  • Identifies performance bottlenecks effectively
  • Aids debugging by recording request/response flows

Challenges of Traces

  • Limited ability to reveal long-term trends
  • Complex systems may yield diverse trace paths
  • Doesn't explain the cause of slow or failing spans (steps)
  • Adds overhead, potentially impacting system performance

Integrating tracing used to be difficult, but with service meshes, it's now effortless. Service meshes handle tracing and stats collection at the proxy level, providing seamless observability across the entire mesh without requiring extra instrumentation from applications within it.

Each above discussed component has its pros & cons even though one might want to use them all. 🧑‍💻

Observability Tools

Observability tools gather and analyze data related to user experience, infrastructure, and network telemetry to proactively address potential issues, preventing any negative impact on critical business key performance indicators (KPIs).

bservability Tools

Some popular observability tooling options include:

  • Prometheus: A leading open-source monitoring and alerting toolkit known for its scalability and support for multi-dimensional data collection.
  • Grafana: A visualization and dashboarding platform often used with Prometheus, providing rich insights into system performance.
  • Jaeger: An open-source distributed tracing system for monitoring and troubleshooting microservices-based architectures.
  • Elasticsearch: A search and analytics engine that, when paired with Kibana and Beats, forms the ELK Stack for log management and analysis.
  • Honeycomb: An event-driven observability tool that offers real-time insights into application behavior and performance.
  • Datadog: A cloud-based observability platform that integrates logs, metrics, and traces, providing end-to-end visibility.
  • New Relic: Offers application performance monitoring (APM) and infrastructure monitoring solutions to track and optimize application performance.
  • Sysdig: Focused on container monitoring and security, Sysdig provides deep visibility into containerized applications.
  • Zipkin: An open-source distributed tracing system for monitoring request flows and identifying latency bottlenecks.
  • Squadcast: An incident management platform that integrates with various observability tools, streamlining incident response and resolution.


Logs, metrics, and traces are essential Observability pillars that work together to provide a complete view of distributed systems. Incorporating them strategically, such as placing counters and logs at entry and exit points and using traces at decision junctures, enables effective debugging. Correlating these signals enhances our ability to navigate metrics, inspect request flows, and troubleshoot complex issues in distributed systems.

Observability and Incident Management are also closely related domains. By combining both, you can create a more efficient and effective way to respond to incidents.

In essence, Squadcast can help you to minimize the impact of incidents on your business and improve the overall reliability of your systems. Start your free trial of Squadcast incident platform today, which seamlessly integrates with a wide range of observability tools including Honeycomb, Datadog, New Relic, Prometheus, and Grafana. In addition to these integrations, Squadcast also has a public API that you can use to integrate with other tools. This means that you can integrate Squadcast with any observability tool that has an API. Here’s where you can book a Demo today.

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