How to improve API observability

Getting API observability right underpins API-led growth. It can identify opportunities for revenue, support better decision-making and reduce operational overheads by creating more efficient working practices, particularly when it comes to open standards.

Read on if you want to improve your API observability or have questions about microservices observability and how it can positively impact your business. 

What is API observability?

There are two aspects to API observability: monitoring and analytics. By getting both elements right, you can understand the health of your APIs in detail and use your usage data to understand their users better, then make decisions that better meet their needs.

 In terms of monitoring, following API observability best practices means looking at your logs and errors to ensure that everything is running smoothly and that your services are available. Monitoring also flags up anything that is going wrong. You can set up your API observability tools to issue alerts when something abnormal or unexpected happens so that you can quickly identify issues and then take steps to resolve them. In essence, monitoring is a way of routinely checking the health of your APIs to ensure maximum efficiency in their operation.

The analytics element of API observability is about understanding in depth how your users are consuming your APIs. This data-driven approach means you can make better business decisions around your products, responding to customers’ needs and usage patterns and shaping how your business grows around those trends. For example, you can use analytics to identify which APIs your consumers are using most, then think about enhancing them, creating other versions, and so on.

You can also use analytics to identify which APIs aren’t or aren’t being used as expected. This is valuable information, as it can trigger discussions around changing course, changing your products and more, all of which feed a robust approach to engineering efficiency and API-led growth.

You can approach API observability to achieve this in many ways, including through API gateway observability functionality and a range of API observability tools that support monitoring, debugging and optimisation. API observability and security also go hand-in-hand, thanks to the ability to flag anomalous behaviour and prompt its investigation.

What is observability in microservices?

The use of microservices has boomed in recent years. While Tyk CEO Martin Buhr recently shared his somewhat controversial views on why microservices are stupid, they can deliver many benefits, including being easy to develop, scale, roll back and observe. With so many businesses now relying on microservices to perform specific functions, this observability is fundamental in providing an overarching picture of operational health and understanding usage trends.

Microservices observability enables businesses to trace issues, understand internal events, identify points of failure and make better, data-driven decisions. There are various ways to approach microservices observability. One is to use an API gateway to provide a single, unified entry point to your microservices architecture and then manage your monitoring and observability through that gateway. More on that in just a moment.

What is the difference between API monitoring and observability?

As mentioned above, API monitoring is one of the two main elements of API observability. The difference is that monitoring is all about checking on the health of your APIs, while observability goes beyond that. API observability encompasses monitoring and analytics in a way that lets you ask open-ended questions that drive profound observations. It is a superset of API monitoring.

API observability best practices

Implementing API observability best practices means monitoring the right metrics based on raw data and structured logs with plenty of context. Observability goes beyond earlier monitoring methods (which tracked known unknowns) to enable you to track unknowns. We’re not going to explore control theory in depth here – suffice it to say that this opens up a wealth of analytics possibilities to drive better decision-making. 

Benefits of API observability

API observability uses real-time data analysis to deliver detailed insights into the health and performance of your APIs. This provides a range of benefits, including:

  • A more detailed understanding of your users, which you can use to reshape your products, enhance your decision-making and put your APIs at the core of your business strategy.
  •  Faster troubleshooting and debugging – as your team can dive into the issue with more excellent knowledge and insights from the outset.
  • Enhanced security – by understanding the potential of API observability and security, you can identify misuse of your APIs and take a proactive approach to detecting flaws in your business logic that could be exploited.
  • Monetisation – a deeper understanding of how your consumers use your API products can help you identify opportunities for monetisation.

How does Tyk help with observability?

Tyk’s full lifecycle API management solution helps with the monitoring and analytics elements of API observability.

With Tyk, you can monitor the availability, performance and functional correctness of your APIs through traffic management, security and governance, auditing, API gateway performance monitoring and API lifecycle management.

On the analytics side, Tyk Pump is an open source analytics purger that can move data generated by Tyk nodes to any backend, whether the Tyk Dashboard or your external system of choice – Datadog, Moesif and so on. It delivers telemetry data for monitoring, debugging and optimisation purposes, converting and transferring metrics and logs captured in the Tyk API Gateway to your tool of choice. You can then use those external systems to consume the information and aggregate and enhance it to provide deeper insights. As Tyk is vendor agnostic, you’re not limited in terms of your choice of API observability tools – you can build the infrastructure that best suits your needs and budget. 

Enhancing observability with open standards

Just as standard monitoring evolved into the superset of API observability, observability continues to develop. At the moment, there is a push within the industry towards open standards within observability. This is where OpenTelemetry comes in (which has matured recently and prompted a move away from OpenTracing).

Just as the API industry is moving towards standardising the OpenAPI Specification and the resulting benefits, OpenTelemetry standards enable systems and teams to work together more quickly because they speak a common language. Any system built using OpenTelemetry can consume and produce data from any other system using OpenTelemetry standards.

 OpenTelemetry allows organisations to work seamlessly together without having to write middleware or convert data to platform-specific formats. In complex API-driven environments, this open-source observability framework means that teams can enjoy end-to-end visibility into their transactions, which allows them to optimise and troubleshoot their applications more efficiently. This is heralding future API observability changes while also reducing interoperability’s complexity.

Improving API observability – a final word

If you’re serious about improving API observability, Tyk can help. By using Tyk and adopting open standards – in terms of both OpenAPI Specification and OpenTelemetry – you can significantly enhance the monitoring, debugging and health-checking of your APIs while supporting better, product-led decision-making that can underpin a strategic, data-driven approach to scaling.

You can sign up to Tyk and get started today or check out these articles to explore other elements of engineering efficiency: