The ability to monitor the IT stack, from the end-user application to the core network and infrastructure, is essential for IT to fix performance issues before affecting end-users and businesses. As more and more apps become "distributed," it becomes more important to know exactly what is going on. This is called “observability”, on the of the hottest sectors in tech.
The best way I can explain full-stack observability is by using the example of a mobile application. Let us say, for example, you cannot deposit a check through a banking application. How does IT track down the root cause of the problem? The problem could be in the mobile application, the user's network connection, a cloud service, a compute server somewhere, a database, an API call to a processing service, or somewhere in between.
Nearly every enterprise service vendor I research has some form of observability capability. And then there are companies where it's a primary service line, as with Splunk, New Relic, Dynatrace, and Observe.
Cisco is best known for its networking, security, and collaboration capabilities. Unknown to most, the company has capabilities in observability. At a webinar held on July 1, Liz Centoni, Cisco Executive Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer and GM, Applications, discussed Cisco's perspective and investments in modern application development in a cloud-native world. This article will cover Cisco's take on full-stack observability with my observations. I thought this was worthwhile as few know Cisco is in the space.
Cutting through the noise to get to what matters
Over the past eighteen months, we have all used more applications and digital services than we have ever done before. From the end-user perspective, the barriers to switching to another company are so low that enterprises are very focused on how to provide a great seamless experience. It includes mobile applications and all applications that serve the front-end of the business, whether embedded in devices or IoT-enabled services.
The focus is on continually improving the digital experience and making it easier and more engaging for the end-users, increasing the speed of the innovation cycle. The rapid rate of innovation and digital transformation has significantly increased complexity and the amount of data created across the entire technology stack, from the application to the infrastructure to the network and security.
Quickly cutting through the noise caused by the ever-increasing volumes of data to identify the root cause of problems or performance issues is a significant challenge.
There are negative consequences of not having genuine visibility and real-time insights into the performance of the whole technology stack and how it impacts the application performance.
More interactions and interdependencies than ever before
Modern applications span multiple environments. Applications could be fully running in the cloud but still using a third-party authentication service, for example. A typical grocery delivery application that most of us have used comprises hundreds of services communicating with each other over a zero-trust multi-cloud landscape, all of which have to work flawlessly. There is massive complexity across external-facing applications and internal supply chain and logistics applications. The complexity has grown to where humans can't manage and optimize—too much data with too little context and business correlation.
Traditional monitoring only gives you visibility at the domain level, whether it be the network, infrastructure level, cloud, or database. The combined set of domains are becoming even more critical in terms of delivering the best user experience. It is not enough to monitor each domain level in the way we have always done it. Complete visibility and insights across the stack and the different teams is required.
I believe the full-stack observability solution is vital for monitoring the entire technology stack across the application, the underlying infrastructure, and the user experience tied back to the business impact.
Cisco's software foundation for full-stack observability
Cisco has a set of core foundational applications to deliver full-stack observability. AppDynamics, which Cisco acquired back in 2017, monitors multiple domains and correlates those insights back to the business impact. AppDynamics provides an understanding of the end-user experience, ensuring issues are identified proactively by following the user from the device over the network and into the application and underlying infrastructure. AppDynamics integrates with Cisco Intersight and ThousandEyes for network and internet intelligence and hybrid cloud infrastructure observability.
Cisco Secure Application, a part of AppDynamics, simplifies the lifecycle of vulnerability fixes and security incidents by creating shared context across the application and security teams. Cisco Secure Application actively identifies and blocks against vulnerabilities found in application run-times in production.
Cisco Intersight provides the infrastructure optimization to support the ever-changing needs of the application. When there is an application issue at any layer of the stack, whether in-cloud or on-premises, Intersight can identify the relevant resource dependencies and recommend the changes needed to improve the application's performance. It automatically optimizes the workload placement and resource allocations to ensure performance objectives are met while keeping OPEX as low as possible.
ThousandEyes can proactively diagnose network and end-user issues that could be impacting the customer experience at the last mile. ThousandEyes expands the root cause analysis for network, SaaS applications, and internet issues.
Observability is a term that has been around for a long time and is becoming more critical today—primarily because of the growth of digital services and applications that we use and the way those apps and services are architected. Observability takes the traditional domain monitoring, which is not going away, to the next level by providing holistic visibility and visibility into why the problem occurs. Traditional applications residing on internal systems are within your control, whereas cloud-native applications are a distributed collection of services. Full-stack observability is needed to correlate and identify problems with business context to understand how the issue can affect the business outcomes.
But clearly, this is just the start as these disparate products - AppDynamics, ThousandEyes, and Intersight - require more integration among each other and beyond. The interesting part is the enhanced integration to correlate what matters most, help IT teams understand the application performance and health, and rapidly pinpoint the root cause and priority when a problem arises.
When that integration is complete, Cisco will have enabled all the domains of expertise to come together in real-time and at scale. With no silos between the teams so those teams can make decisions with full-stack observability.
Where does Cisco sit with the competition such as Splunk, New Relic, Dynatrace, and Observe? I think it depends on your situation. As I pointed out, while much of the focus is on full-stack observability in the cloud-native world, Cisco still has work to integrate the point products seamlessly. If you are already a Cisco customer with traditional or hybrid applications, you can benefit from the integrations available today between AppDynamics and ThousandEyes, and between AppDynamics and Intersight. These integrations are inclusive of the business context aspects through the currently available AppDynamics offer.