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What is observability, and what does it mean for your business?

Written by Team Perform IT

Contributor: Misho Tonevski, Sales Engineering Manager

Observability is a hot topic in IT at the moment, but what makes it so special, and what distinguishes it from existing monitoring solutions? Read around and you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re the same thing.

With so many brands now talking about observability, we’re here to help clear up the confusion – explaining what exactly observability is, how it can help your business, and, crucially, what makes it different to the monitoring you’re probably already doing.

What is observability?

On a very basic level, observability really is exactly what it sounds like – a way to help you observe and track important metrics, as well as diagnosing and remediating issues to help you improve performance across your entire IT environment and your business. That last part is a key differentiator between observability and monitoring, but we’ll come back to that later.

Digging a little deeper, observability is delivered through a collection of tools which are designed to work in tandem with one another – every tool covers a different part of your technology stack, eliminating blind spots and helping you have a complete view of all parts of your environment – in broad terms, your apps, your network and your infrastructure.

Unlike visibility, observability takes a holistic view of your environment. Instead of just tracking performance or uptime, it ties these metrics to the impacts they have on user experience and business outcomes – as well as key considerations for any business, such as security.

In short, if there’s something impacting your business, observability tools will give you the insights you need to identify the root cause of problems, and help you take the right actions to address them in a way that’s good for your business.

How does observability help me?

The most obvious and immediate benefit that observability offers your business is a significant boost to performance. By being able to remediate the issues affecting you – no matter where those issues lie within your IT environment – you can push the performance of your applications, networks, and infrastructure further than ever before – whether they’re in the cloud, or on-premises.

Observability tools can also correlate the performance of your IT environment to the key business outcomes you need to drive in order to get the most value from your technology. Rather than just tracking the uptime for one part of your infrastructure you can see how changes (both positive and negative) are impacting the value that your environment is offering to the business as a whole.

For example, observability tools can connect performance to business outcomes like the number of purchases made through a mobile app, or the number of shopping baskets being abandoned by customers. This can work both ways – seeing the impact that changes you make to your IT are having, or seeing an impact and being able to quickly and easily diagnose the root cause, remediate it, and ensure those outcomes return to normal.

It also cannot be stressed enough how much improving your visibility can be a benefit in itself. Observability makes life so much easier for your IT team – instead of needing to spend time troubleshooting, they can quickly find the root causes that are impacting your business. It also gives them key insights that help to drive future improvements and investment decisions – if you know the issues that have the biggest impact on your business, and where they originate, then you can make strategic decisions about where you can invest to have the greatest effect.

In summary, observability helps you by not only boosting performance, but driving improvements to user experience and business outcomes across your business – helping your IT to add value not just to its environment, but to the operation of the entire organisation.

Is observability different from monitoring?

Observability shares a lot of common ground with monitoring, but the two have a critical difference. Monitoring tools are essential for IT teams, and they have been for a long time, as they can give vital insights into how applications, infrastructure, or networks are performing, and help remediate issues. 

But these tools are usually hampered by the fact that they only look into their dedicated silo or domain. Cross-referencing and connecting insights to give context for any individual point of interest can quickly expose the limitations of monitoring solutions. By comparison, this is where observability excels.

In this sense, it’s helpful to not think of observability and monitoring as two different solutions in contrast to one another, but instead to see observability as an extension of monitoring – giving the same insights and utility across an entire environment, rather than the specific domain a tool was designed for.

In order to get a better appreciation for what this looks like in practice, we’ll take an example from the best observability solution we’ve seen – Cisco Full-Stack Observability. The Cisco approach combines four distinct tools, which all have dedicated focuses, but combined, give visibility across all of your environment:

  • AppDynamics monitors the performance of your applications.
  • ThousandEyes monitors all aspects of your network, including extending visibility into the public internet.
  • Cisco Intersight extends your visibility inwards, using an innovative buy/sell model of capacity to ensure your workloads are always kept where the best performance gains can be delivered at the best economy.
  • Cisco SecureApp integrates seamlessly into the AppDynamics platform to monitor for security vulnerabilities.

While these four tools are distinct solutions, a single AppDynamics dashboard can pull important insights from all of them to give you an at-a-glance view of your entire environment, correlated with actual business outcomes, and providing an interface that can quickly direct you to the right tool for the job when you need to investigate a particular disruption.

How can I get started?

If you’re ready to harness observability for your business, Perform IT are not only experts in observability in general, but also in helping businesses deploy Cisco Full-Stack Observability. When you’re ready to leverage it to its fullest extent in order to drive user experience, IT performance, and key business outcomes, or if you’d like to know more, get in touch using the form below.

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