Breaking down IT silos on the journey to observability

By Gregg Ostrowski, CTO Advisor, Cisco Observability.

  • 1 month ago Posted in

For all the incredible benefits that cloud native technologies are delivering within IT departments - such as accelerated speed to innovation, scalability and improved reliability - they are also presenting significant challenges.


Technologists now find themselves struggling to manage an increasingly fragmented IT estate, spread across highly volatile cloud native, legacy and on-premises technologies. And this task is being made infinitely harder since many IT teams have limited visibility into cloud native environments, particularly applications and underlying infrastructure for large, managed Kubernetes environments running on public clouds. These visibility gaps are making it almost impossible for technologists to identify, understand and resolve issues across their application landscapes and supporting infrastructure in a timely way.


But beyond the implementation and monitoring challenges, the rapid adoption of cloud native technologies has also had cultural implications within IT departments. The move to hybrid environments means that the number of IT teams operating within an organization has doubled and, in some cases, multiplied even further. IT departments already had domain specific teams (for security, networking, development, operations) managing on-premises technologies, and now each of these teams have been replicated to manage cloud native environments.


Currently, these teams are often working in isolation, relying on their own tools and data and following their own processes. Cloud native technology has expanded silos and entrenched narrow mindsets. Teams continue to focus on their own specific domains and on hitting their own specific KPIs, rather than thinking about the overall picture.


The problem is that within dynamic hybrid environments, siloed ways of working present a massive threat for organizations. Teams need to work together in an open and collaborative way to understand dependencies and apply proactive fixes wherever they occur across their IT environments - otherwise, the likelihood of organizations suffering from a revenue-impacting application performance or security incident will continue to grow. 


This is why organizations are now urgently looking to move to a full-stack observability approach within their IT departments. Not only does it provide unified visibility across hybrid environments; it also delivers a single source of truth for all IT availability, performance and security data, around which all IT teams can collaborate.


With observability, IT leaders can finally remove silos within the IT department and, in doing so, they can drive improvements in engagement, productivity and retention. The challenge they face is in convincing domain teams of the benefits of observability and bringing all technologists along on the journey.


Moving from siloed APM tools to full-stack observability


Within many IT departments, ‘tool sprawl’ has become a real problem. IT teams are using a whole host of different monitoring solutions to manage different aspects of their IT estate - such as applications, network and infrastructure. The problem is that these tools only provide a domain-specific view and technologists have no way of generating a full picture for applications and supporting infrastructure. Traditional Application Performance Management tools are reinforcing operational silos.


Full-stack observability directly fixes this problem, providing IT teams with real-time insights into availability, performance and security up and down the IT stack, from customer-facing applications right through to core infrastructure. Full-stack observability enables IT teams to manage application availability, performance and security in real-time, so that they can quickly identify issues, understand root causes and dependencies, and apply fixes before end users are impacted.


With observability, IT performance data can be correlated with real-time business metrics, enabling technologists to constantly track and optimize the impact of their innovations. And crucially, this means that IT leaders can create a shared vision for the entire IT department and incentivize teams to come together to achieve shared KPIs.


CIOs need an open platform to tackle silos and ensure a seamless transition to observability


Cisco research found that observability is now a strategic priority for 85% of organizations around the world, CIOs in all sectors are rapidly rolling out programs to implement new observability solutions.


But transitioning to observability isn’t an overnight process. For large enterprises, it can take two to three years, starting out with an array of APM tools and gradually adding in new capabilities to generate improved visibility and insights across the IT stack until they achieve genuine observability. CIOs should focus on adding a specific capability based on an immediate business need.


To do this, leaders need to generate buy-in and support from domain leaders, showcasing the benefits of new capabilities. For instance, by adding infrastructure and network visibility into their monitoring, teams can easily identify the domain specific area where a problem is occurring and bridge visibility gaps where application components are running across hybrid environments. This leads to marked improvements in metrics such as Mean-Time-To-Resolution (MTTR) which are crucial for many teams. Observability eases the pressure on domain teams who are currently spending so much time scrambling to understand issues and root causes.


Similarly, by integrating security into observability, developers can embed robust security into every line of code, resulting in more secure applications and easier security management, before, during and after release. This is clearly beneficial for both security teams and DevOps teams.


Ultimately, leaders need to build trust so that every IT team and every technologist is willing to collaborate around a single source of truth for all IT performance data. They essentially need to approach the journey to observability as a major change management initiative and therefore recognize that it requires education, upskilling and communication. Only with an open platform and incremental approach to break down silos will CIOs ensure a seamless transition to observability.


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