How full-stack observability is helping developers answer the big questions

By James Harvey, CTO Advisor, Cisco Observability

Applications are increasingly shaping our world – how we work, entertain ourselves, access information, and communicate with one another. And for businesses, applications and digital services now sit at the heart of the customer conversation. Brands are relying on applications to attract and retain customers, to build trust and loyalty, and to drive revenue.

As a result, developers are now responsible for delivering the seamless digital experiences that are now so fundamental to building brand identity and generating competitive advantage. They’re at the sharp end of the business, delivering the innovation to drive organisations forward in a rapidly evolving marketplace, and operating in an environment where a single slip-up in application performance can have catastrophic implications on business revenue and brand reputation.

Without a doubt, the pressure on developers is mounting. On the one hand, they’re being asked to accelerate release velocity to deliver on their organisations’ digital transformation goals and stay ahead of the competition. On the other hand, they have to develop, launch, and maintain applications within an increasingly complex and dispersed IT environment, often without the visibility and insights they need.

Optimising application performance in a complex tech stack with full-stack observability
The basic goals for developers are to deliver clean code, ensure the availability, performance, and security of their applications, and fix problems the moment they arise before end users are impacted. But that’s no simple task given the level of complexity that now exists within most IT departments.

Developers must contend with an ever-growing array of new components, new endpoints, and new
environments, often dispersed across dynamic and disparate on-premises and cloud systems, many
of which are now too tangled for humans to easily understand. As a result, finding the answers to those all-important questions such as, “How do I fix this?” and, “What effect will my new code have on the application?”, become all but impossible to answer.

Yet, answering these big questions is fundamental to ensuring the availability, performance, and security of applications and, therefore, to an organisation’s ability to deliver seamless digital experiences to customers and employees. And that’s why solving this complexity challenge is now mission-critical for all developers, whether they’re operating in retail, banking, manufacturing, or any other industry.

Fortunately, however, with full-stack observability developers now have a means to get to grips with this challenge and overcome complexity within their application landscapes. It builds on application performance monitoring to provide developers with a powerful mechanism for looking inside the systems and components that comprise the modern technology stack, including networks, virtual servers, and Kubernetes clusters.

By surfacing intelligence on tech-stack components and their relationships, full-stack observability helps developers build, launch, and manage their applications. In essence, the approach provides a framework through which developers can generate insights that support smarter decision-making and operational agility.

Lifting the hood on application availability, performance, and security
One of the principal benefits of full-stack observability is that it allows developers to look into the numerous services, resources, and APIs that constitute modern enterprise applications, each one of which comes with its own operational risk. Full-stack observability provides information and insights into how these components work across tech layers, helping developers understand interdependencies and risks, and more easily find and fix faults, enhance code, improve infrastructure efficiency, and secure application components. Ultimately, full-stack observability allows developers to enhance the end-user experience.

Armed with the correlations, insights, and proactive intelligence enabled by full-stack observability developers can build a common understanding of their systems, thereby engendering shared responsibility and problem-solving across operations, security, and development teams, all grounded in deeper levels of system knowledge. Critically, this fundamental understanding of the connections throughout the health and performance of systems empowers developers to answer the key day-to-day questions mentioned above, that are now so important to wider business success.

Embracing open standards
Crucially, full-stack observability enables developers to monitor those parts of the enterprise architecture that are owned by a third party, such as cloud or virtual systems, containers, or remote devices. Full-stack observability overcomes this challenge by leveraging OpenTelemetry. These open- source industry standards can be deployed wherever key application components reside, regardless of whether that’s on-premises, in the cloud, or at the edge (i.e. the outer boundary of a network where data is exchanged between local devices and the wider internet). full-stack observability standards include instrumentation, data collection, and delivery into many common observability back-ends, making them ideal for reporting back to developers on the status of component interdependencies and relationships.

Many developers, platform teams, and SREs are already using full-stack observability to help debug cloud-native applications. However, with full-stack observability integrated into a broader full-stack observability capability, developers can unlock even greater benefits. For instance, by running full- stack observability through a full-stack observability platform able to extract business transactions and traverse agent-based monitoring within on-premises environments, developers can correlate full-stack observability data with business metrics to better optimise the digital experience.

What’s more, a full-stack observability platform enables developers to unify their cloud native and on-premises monitoring functions, which helps them to make better-informed decisions and prioritise actions based on the potential impact on the end-user experience and the business.

Insight-driven development, management, and maintenance
With expectations weighing heavily on the shoulders of developers, they need tools that can help reduce their workload and enable them to work smarter and faster. Full-stack observability can do just that, supporting day-to-day workflows and providing quick answers to developers’ most important questions. They can move beyond the essentials such as “How do I fix this?”, to more strategic considerations such as “Should I add or deprecate application features?”, “how can I scale my applications?”, and “What impact will be changing this component have on performance?” full-stack observability improves productivity and agility and enables developers to be more responsive to issues so businesses can be sure their digital experiences will deliver as required, every time.

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