Observability vs. Monitoring: The Difference in Your IT Environment

Observability vs. Monitoring: The Difference in Your IT Environment

When it comes to your IT infrastructure, you don’t know what you don’t know. Observability vs monitoring are different when it comes to your IT environment, but together they’re vital components that can help you gain a greater understanding, make more well-informed decisions, and improve your performance and security. We’ll discuss why observability and monitoring are important for IT infrastructure, the main components and differences of each, and best practices.

What is Observability?

Observability involves collecting and analyzing externally available outputs to understand the inner workings of a system. These outputs can be collected and analyzed to surface patterns and trends happening in your cloud environment, as well as understand its performance and health.

What are the 3 Pillars of Observability?

The three pillars of observability are logs, metrics, and observability tools (or traces).


When events occur in a system, their records are called logs. These logs can be tracked over time to understand the behaviors in a system, spot anomalies & problems, and attempt to solve issues.


The performance of a system is measured by metrics. By looking at metrics, organizations can improve performance, identify, and find obstructions in the system.


When different components interact in a system, observability tools create records of these – also known as traces.

What is Monitoring?

With monitoring, an organization collects data and analyzes it to pinpoint problems in the system. Monitoring can either be a manual process or can be done using alerts and automation. You can’t have observability without monitoring.

Types of Monitoring

Much like the pillars of observability, there are important types of monitoring: infrastructure, application, log, security, and cost monitoring. Part of monitoring is understanding what should be tracked and monitored in the first place.

Infrastructure Monitoring

Infrastructure monitoring is concerned with the data that has to do with the infrastructure supporting your applications. Servers, databases, storage, and networks are all part of the infrastructure that can be monitored.

Application Monitoring

Problems in your infrastructure can impact your applications, but monitoring can also be done on the application level. Data that may be monitored can include user satisfaction, response time, rates of error, and other performance metrics.

Log Monitoring

Applications create logs that can also be monitored and analyzed. User activity and behavior, specific errors, and security issues can be included in log monitoring.

Security Monitoring

The goal of security monitoring is to detect and mitigate unauthorized access, security breaches, and other unexpected events that can compromise IT assets and affect business continuity. Organizations can implement technologies like intrusion detection systems (IDS), log analysis tools, and employ deeper security controls to assist in security monitoring.

Cloud Cost Monitoring

Cost monitoring is pertinent to gaining visibility into cloud cost optimization opportunities, as well as areas of wasted cloud spend. Cost management tools, like AWS Cost Explorer or Azure Cost Management and Billing, and cloud provider dashboards, can be leveraged to track spend, uncover areas for cost-savings, cost control and optimization, etc.

Observability vs. Monitoring: How Do They Work?

Observability and monitoring aren’t part of an “either/or” decision – they work together to help you manage your IT infrastructure. All data that is produced by an IT environment is included in observability, but with monitoring, you’re choosing the data to pull and analyze to make decisions from specific parts of the system.

Observability vs. Monitoring: Key Differences

The biggest differences between observability and monitoring are about what data is being collected and what actions are being taken. Monitoring works to display and alert users to preordained data, but observability can help someone understand the relationships between data points and take action on what can be observed. Without monitoring, you wouldn’t be able to see what’s happening in the system, but without observability, you couldn’t do something about it. Surface-level insights come from monitoring, and deeper-level understanding comes from observability.

Why Are Observability and Monitoring Important for IT Infrastructure?

Observability and monitoring can help provide insights for your organization on how well your systems are performing, and identify any problems that may arise.

Some of the detailed reasons as to why both are important for IT infrastructure include:

  • Detect and resolve issues: By monitoring infrastructure and applications in real-time, observability and monitoring tools can quickly detect issues and alert IT teams to take action. This can help minimize downtime and prevent performance issues from impacting end-users.
  • Improve system performance: Monitoring tools can provide insights into how systems are performing, which can help IT teams optimize infrastructure and applications to proactively improve performance and reliability.
  • Enhance security: These practices can help identify security threats, such as malware or unauthorized access attempts, enabling IT teams to take quick action to mitigate risks and protect sensitive data.
  • Ensure compliance: Many organizations have regulatory compliance requirements that mandate monitoring and reporting of IT infrastructure and applications – both tools can help ensure these requirements are being met.

All in all, having observability and monitoring of your IT environment can provide your organization with the knowledge and confidence to manage your infrastructure better.

Observability vs. Monitoring Best Practices

Teams (including DevOps, network operations, security operations, system/database administrators, etc.) can employ a variety of monitoring, observability, or combined tools to observe and take action in their IT environment.

Monitoring Tools

The appropriate monitoring system for your organization will depend on the devices and services used in the environment, the cloud platform you’re using, and your organizational goals. Some popular tools include CloudCheckr and DataDog.

Observability Tools

While monitoring tools may only be looking at segments of your IT environment, observability tools need to be able to work across multiple sources.

Combined Tools

Tools that combine observability and monitoring generally have more features compared to standalone tools, offering logs, traces, metrics, and dashboards. Some examples include Datadog, Splunk, and Sumologic.


Using tools that support automation or creating custom scripts to automate processes, you can free up time for your team to focus on other tasks, knowing that important monitoring and observability operations are going on in the background. Many tools support automation, including the combined tools previously mentioned.

Combining Observability and Monitoring for Complete Visibility and Reliability

Observability and monitoring work best when they’re together. Setting up monitoring can help you regularly check in on key pieces of your IT environment, but observability affords you the ability to explore elsewhere and look deeper, forming insights you may not get from more prescriptive monitoring.

How a Managed Service Provider Can Help With Observability and Monitoring

Building the reliability of your IT infrastructure can help you make smarter future decisions and promote stronger performance and optimization. However, choosing a tool or knowing which metrics to track can feel like a lot to take on. A managed service provider, like TierPoint, can offer guidance, pointing you in the right direction and helping you cultivate your observability and monitoring processes. Explore our advisory and consulting services today.


Is Monitoring a Subset of Observability?

Yes, monitoring is a subset of observability. Monitoring tools can generate alerts and present the data that makes observability possible. Yes, monitoring is a subset of observability. Monitoring tools can generate alerts and present the data that makes observability possible.

Is Observability part of DevOps?

Observability is an important part of the DevOps process that expresses the ability to view, analyze, and debug a system.

What is Monitoring In DevOps?

Monitoring in DevOps involves the collection and analysis of data that comes from IT environments. It is often used to evaluate application health based on predetermined metrics.

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