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Heterogenous vs. unified observability solutions: How to choose

Define each approach and compare their benefits to learn which one will work best for your organization's specific needs.
Close-up view of various graphs on a computer screen

Observability is the ability to gain insights into the internal behavior of a system or application by analyzing its outputs. Especially with the rise of complex, distributed systems, observability is an essential element of modern software engineering. Implementing an observability solution requires careful consideration of the specific needs of your system and the available tools and technologies.

There are 2 approaches to implementing observability: using multiple observability solutions via heterogeneous implementation, and using a single solution via a unified observability solution. Heterogeneous and unified observability each have advantages and the choice between them depends on an organization's specific needs. In this article, I will explain the difference between the 2 approaches.

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Heterogeneous observability 

Heterogeneous observability refers to the use of multiple specialized tools and systems to monitor and analyze different components and layers of an application or system. This pattern typically uses multivendor solutions in siloed implementations, and the solutions work independently. These patterns are more common in organizations that are early in realizing the value of observability.

Heterogeneous Observability Diagram
(Mike Calizo, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Benefits of heterogeneous observability:

  • Better visibility: Heterogeneous observability allows organizations to get a more thorough view of their applications and infrastructure. By using multiple specialized tools, teams can monitor and analyze different layers of the system in detail to create a comprehensive picture of what's happening.
  • More precise insights: Different components of an application or system require different monitoring and analysis tools. By using specialized tools for each component, teams can get more precise insights into the performance and behavior of each one.
  • Greater flexibility: Heterogeneous observability gives teams greater flexibility to choose the right tools for the job. Different teams have different needs, and specialized tools allow them to select the best ones for their purposes.
  • No vendor lock-in: Organizations can avoid being tied to a single vendor for their observability needs by using multiple tools from different vendors. Preventing vendor lock-in may provide more flexibility in the long run.

Unified observability 

Unified observability involves consolidating monitoring data from various sources into a single unified view. This is more often the approach taken by a mature enterprise that has explored and realized the value of observability solutions.

Unified Observability Diagram
(Mike Calizo, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Benefits of unified observability:

  • Simplicity: Teams can simplify monitoring and analysis workflows by consolidating monitoring data from various sources into a single view. This approach helps reduce the time and effort required to manage applications and infrastructure and troubleshoot problems.
  • Holistic view: Unified observability provides a holistic view of the system, making it easier to identify and diagnose issues that span multiple components or layers.
  • Better collaboration: A unified observability platform helps teams collaborate more easily and share insights more effectively, improving communication and coordination between different teams.
  • Reduced costs: Consolidating data monitoring into a single view may reduce the costs associated with managing multiple tools and systems.

[ Check out Red Hat Portfolio Architecture Center for a wide variety of reference architectures you can use. ]

Making a choice

The choice between heterogeneous and unified observability is yours and really depends on your organization's specific needs and goals. Both approaches have their advantages, and the right choice will depend on factors such as the complexity of the system, the size of the organization, and the available resources.

Author’s photo

Mike Calizo

Mike Calizo is a Principal Customer Service Manager at Elastic. Before Elastic, he was an Associate Principal Solution Architect based in New Zealand. His technology focuses are OpenShift, RHEL, Satellite, and Ansible. More about me

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