Instana Blog

Date: January 13, 2020

The Story of Observability

Category: Engineering

The Descriptive Period
Once upon a time, there was a period in the world where humans watched over applications and services by proxy via dashboards housed on multiple screens hoisted in front of them – a typical mission control center. The interaction between humans and machines was relatively static and straightforward, much like the environment and systems enclosed therein. The machines churned away on the data, and the humans turned their gaze to the peaks and the troughs thrown up glaringly and garishly into their eyesight.

The Explorative Period
But then the world changed. The environment became much more complex and altered quicker than could be supervised by those responsible for maintaining the dashboards as well as those who attended the metrics projected onto such flat panes (of pain). It then became necessary to peer below the surface of the shiny widgets to dig further into the vast depths of the data dungeons. Many humans lost their way along this journey that took them through a boundaryless “unknown unknowns” forest region covered by a dense data fog; even with their tagging and labeling of traced paths, it was a treacherous endeavor. The machines, now relegated to a mere librarian role, were unable to assist humans being wholly detached from the purpose and intent of an expedition. Machines instead watched over the humans and tried best to anticipate their future data requests by indexing.

The Attentive Period
With costs mounting and resources near depleted, the humans turned away from their overindulgence with ad hoc data exploration. Humans had lost sight of the big picture and, in doing so, neglected operational aspects of their work. With the environment continue to grow in complexity unabated, it was clear that a new way of thinking and acting was required, that reflected the real nature of the beast that had developed and shown itself while they were off exploring. Turning to the machines once again, the humans programmed them to reason and to communicate more human-like with cognitive capacities reflected in responsibilities and dialogs shared between both. Now the machines only signaled on significance, guiding humans along a signposted path of simplified state markers, always oriented to the current situation and always offering contextual assistance.

The Cooperative Period
For a period, there was saneness and system stability, with humans being able to assess the present situation more accurately and in near realtime. But they knew that the beast of complexity would eventually return with the steady passing of time and progression of change. They had won a battle but not the war. They needed to train harder their armies, but instructing the machines on how best to classify the significance of events proved increasing cumbersome and was always in retrospect of what was previously noted. The communication barrier between machines and humans needed to be eliminated to allow a much richer sharing of knowledge, experience, wisdom, and perspectives. The machines needed to see how a human observes and classifies both the past and present memories of the system within the machines themselves. Finally, a mirrored simulated universe was designed, unifying machines and humans, and for a long time, progress continued.

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About Instana

As the leading provider of Automatic Application Performance Monitoring (APM) solutions for microservices, Instana has developed the automatic monitoring and AI-based analysis DevOps needs to manage the performance of modern applications. Instana is the only APM solution that automatically discovers, maps and visualizes microservice applications without continuous additional engineering. Customers using Instana achieve operational excellence and deliver better software faster. Visit https://www.instana.com to learn more.