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Why do we need DataOps Observability?

By Jason English, Principal Analyst, Intellyx Part 1 of the Demystifying Data Observability Series for Unravel Data Don’t we already have DevOps? DevOps was started more than a decade ago as a movement, not a product […]

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By Jason English, Principal Analyst, Intellyx
Part 1 of the Demystifying Data Observability Series for Unravel Data

Don’t we already have DevOps?

DevOps was started more than a decade ago as a movement, not a product or solution category.

DevOps offered us a way of collaborating between development and operations teams, using automation and optimization practices to continually accelerate the release of code, measure everything, lower costs, and improve the quality of application delivery to meet customer needs.

Today, almost every application delivery shop naturally aspires to take flight with DevOps practices, and operate with more shared empathy and a shared commitment to progress through faster feature releases and feedback cycles.

DevOps practices also include better management practices such as self-service environments, test and release automation, monitoring, and cost optimization.

On the journey toward DevOps, teams who apply this methodology deliver software more quickly, securely, reliably, and with less burnout.

For dynamic applications to deliver a successful user experience at scale, we still need DevOps to keep delivery flowing. But as organizations increasingly view data as a primary source of business value, data teams are tasked with building and delivering reliable data products and data applications. Just as DevOps principles emerged to enable efficient and reliable delivery of applications by software development teams, DataOps best practices are helping data teams solve a new set of data challenges.

What is DataOps?

If “data is the new oil,” as pundits like to say, then data is also the most valuable resource in today’s modern data-driven application world.

The combination of commodity hardware, ubiquitous high-bandwidth networking, cloud data warehouses, and infrastructure abstraction methods like containers and Kubernetes creates an exponential rise in our ability to use data itself to dynamically compose functionality such as running analytics and informing machine learning-based inference within applications.

Enterprises recognized data as a valuable asset, welcoming the newly minted CDO (chief data officer) role to the E-suite, with responsibility for data and data quality across the organization. While leading-edge companies like Google, Uber and Apple increased their return on data investment by mastering DataOps, many leaders struggled to staff up with enough data scientists, data analysts, and data engineers to properly capitalize on this trend.

Progressive DataOps companies began to drain data swamps by pouring massive amounts of data (and investment) into a new modern ecosystem of cloud data warehouses and data lakes from open source Hadoop and Kafka clusters to vendor-managed services like Databricks, Snowflake, Amazon EMR, BigQuery, and others.

The elastic capacity and scalability of cloud resources allowed new kinds of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data to be stored, processed and analyzed, including streaming data for real-time applications.

As these cloud resources quickly grew and scaled, they became a complex tangle of data sources, pipelines, dashboards, and machine learning models, with a variety of interdependencies, owners, stakeholders, and products with SLAs. Getting additional cloud resources and launching new data pipelines was easy, but operating them well required a lot of effort, and making sense of the business value of any specific component to prioritize data engineering efforts became a huge challenge.

Software teams went through the DevOps revolution more than a decade ago, and even before that, there were well-understood software engineering disciplines for design/build/deploy/change, as well as monitoring and observability. Before DataOps, data teams didn’t typically think about test and release cycles, or misconfiguration of the underlying infrastructure itself.

Where DevOps optimized the lifecycle of software from coding to release, DataOps is about the flow of data, breaking data out of work silos to collaborate on the movement of data from its inception, to its arrival, processing, and use within modern data architectures to feed production BI and machine learning applications.

DataOps jobs, especially in a cloudy, distributed data estate, aren’t the same as DevOps jobs. For instance, if a cloud application becomes unavailable, DevOps teams might need to reboot the server, adjust an API, or restart the K8s cluster.

If a DataOps-led application starts failing, it may show incorrect results instead of simply crashing, and cause leaders informed by faulty analytics and AI inferences to make disastrous business decisions. Figuring out the source of data errors and configuration problems can be maddeningly difficult, and DataOps teams may even need to restore the whole data estate – including values moving through ephemeral containers and pipelines – back to a valid, stable state for that point in time.

Why does DataOps need its own observability?

Once software observability started finding its renaissance within DevOps practices and early microservices architectures five years ago, we also started seeing some data management vendors pivoting to offer ‘data observability’ solutions.

The original concept of data observability was concerned with database testing, properly modeling, addressing and scaling databases, and optimizing the read/write performance and security of both relational and cloud back ends.

In much the same way that the velocity and automated release cadence of DevOps meant dev and ops teams needed to shift component and integration testing left, data teams need to tackle data application performance and data quality earlier in the DataOps lifecycle.

In essence, DataOps teams are using agile and other methodologies to develop and deliver analytics and machine learning at scale. Therefore they need DataOps observability to clarify the complex inner plumbing of apps, pipelines and clusters handling that moving data. Savvy DataOps teams must monitor ever-increasing numbers of unique data objects moving through data pipelines.

The KPIs for measuring success in DataOps observability include metrics and metadata that standard observability tools would never see: differences or anomalies in data layout, table partitioning, data source lineages, degrees of parallelism, data job and subroutine runtimes and resource utilization, interdependencies and relationships between data sets and cloud infrastructures – and the business tradeoffs between speed, performance and cost (or FinOps) of implementing recommended changes.

The Intellyx Take

A recent survey noted that 97 percent of data engineers ‘feel burned out’ at their current jobs, and 70 percent say they are likely to quit within a year! That’s a wakeup call for why DataOps observability matters now more than ever.

We must maintain the morale of understaffed and overworked data teams, when these experts take a long time to train and are almost impossible to replace in today’s tight technical recruiting market.

Any enterprise that intends to deliver modern DataOps should first consider equipping data teams with DataOps observability capabilities. Observability should go beyond the traditional metrics and telemetry of application code and infrastructure, empowering DataOps teams to govern data and the resources used to refine and convert raw data into business value as it flows through their cloud application estates.

Next up in part 2 of this series: Jason Bloomberg on the transformation from DevOps to DataOps!

©2022 Intellyx LLC. Intellyx retains editorial control of this document. At the time of writing, Unravel Data is an Intellyx customer. Image credit: Phil O’Driscoll, flickr CC2.0 license, compositing pins by author.