Presented by Cisco AppDynamics

Cloud native technologies might have improved speed to innovation, and offer greater agility, reliability and scalability — but these modern application architectures are posing serious challenges for IT departments across industries, according to recent research by Cisco AppDynamics for its latest report, “The Age of Application Observability.

Technologists say that 49% of their new innovation initiatives are being delivered with cloud native technologies. Cloud adoption promises to be aggressive across industries, with IT leaders expecting this figure to climb to 58% over the next five years. That means that the majority of new digital transformation programs will be built on cloud native technologies by 2028.

“These cloud native technologies are enabling IT teams to scale, to be able to take on more customers, to grow faster, and still maintain an optimized experience for the end user,” says Joe Byrne, executive CTO at Cisco AppDynamics. “But the rapid pace of adoption means technologists have been faced with challenges from both the tech front and the people front, and they’re struggling.”

A look at the challenge landscape

Attack surfaces are expanding, complexity is skyrocketing, and data keeps pouring in. Seventy-eight percent of technologists said the increased volume of data from multi-cloud and hybrid environments has made manual monitoring virtually impossible. The rigorous pace of adoption and the technical issues that follow in its wake has also meant tension in the IT department as silos form, and stress and higher churn is becoming increasingly common.

“The goal of the application observability report was to underscore the need for technologists to adapt to this new hybrid world,” Byrne says. “And the report was designed to provide a resource to these technologists first to let them know they’re not alone – these are common issues. But more importantly, to find solutions and next steps in managing and mitigating these issues going forward.”

Managing the fragmented IT state

The cloud and on-premises, hybrid nature of modern architectures means that traversing that entire ecosystem is crucial. As a result, new teams are formed to help manage the complexity – a cloud operations team to work with the network operations team, and both operations teams working separately from security.

But to effectively manage what is essentially a fragmented IT estate, 85% of technologists say that observability has to be a strategic priority for the organization going forward – a way to pull this telemetry together, correlate it, and give organizations insight into the crucial backend of their business. Bridging that gap takes not only tools and technology, but people and process changes and a cultural shift.

“Everybody needs to be on the same page when producing an application or an experience for the end user, who expects an optimized experience, whether that’s B2C or B2B,” Byrne says. “There’s a business KPI behind all software. Our goal is to ensure the software helps our customers achieve their goals, and thus helps the business achieve its KPIs. So, everyone must own a piece.”

Why these challenges are so intractable

“It’s new technology and new expectations bringing new problems,” Byrne says. “The old methodology of just validating that something is up and running isn’t good enough anymore. The idea of looking at the architecture as separate, isolated parts is not enough anymore. Now, it’s all about how is it all performing together, and what does the end result look like in terms of the experience? It’s a very different way of thinking. And it’s hard to get your head around it.”

It’s also the fact that the technology is moving at a rapid pace, as are the expectations of users, but processes and culture have always changed far more slowly. As a result, 36% of technologists said these issues are already contributing to a loss of their IT talent, which hamstrings teams and puts change on the backburner, in favor of firefighting – and 46% predict that churn is just going to increase if they don’t figure out a way to break down these silos and shift to a focus on observability, versus a monitoring solution.

Breaking down silos and obstacles

The goal of most organizations is to build an application that’s always on, can be used on any device, whenever and wherever the customer wants to use it — but that’s what is creating these challenges for technologists. It requires new technology, it requires rapid adoption and acceleration of digital initiatives, and it leaves skill gaps, a Frankenstein management and reporting structure made up of the old and new, a lack of shared vision and objectives, and a lack of unified data and technology that’s reinforcing these silos.

“IT leaders need to implement new ways of working across departments, and incentivizing and driving people to change their actions is an important one,” Byrne says, “whether it’s shared goals, shared bonuses, or increased compensation. But tool consolidation is also crucial.”

Bringing in unified tools that are integrated tightly and able to work together, versus every team using a completely different tool, can not only save the organization money, but also means each team is looking at the same charts and data points, speaking the same language, using the same methodologies.

“Then they start to understand how important it is to work together, how easy it can be,” he explains. “Then those silos start to get broken down.”

The people-centered value of application observability

Application observability serves as what should be a single source of truth. It brings together application information, network, infrastructure, performance, security and business data — and links that all together to give technologists the overall health of the application, and the ability to generate insights into the business transactions of users. For instance, in a retail application that might be a user logging in, searching, adding to cart, checking out, which together makes up the business journey.

“Understanding how those are related, what technologies are involved for each of those transactions that complete that journey, is important,” Byrne says. “We found that 88% of technologists say that observability with business context is really what’s going to enable them to become more strategic and spend more time on innovation.”

For example, the business data that comes from monitoring applications can be aggregated and elevated, so that you can build a dashboard showing the average sales per day, the average number of customers, conversions and other business metrics. With that data, technologists see how their optimization directly impacts the business. That could include a change in the code that auto-populates some data, or enables the task to use less data to minimize friction for purchases. And now instead of being seen this application observability as a cost center, the value of the work IT is doing is tied directly to the business.

“If you release code and then see that happen in a business dashboard, the technologists can say, my code, my application, my infrastructure did that, and now they understand how they directly impact business,” Byrne says. “With the ability to link what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, the performance of their teams along with code and architectures, to a business metric, comes pride of ownership. They feel like they have a seat at the table now, a bigger voice, and can help advance the business. That’s a huge opportunity.”

Implementing an application observability solution also means that engineers are spending more time writing code – what they want to be doing – and less time bug fixing or refactoring. Team members get to the root causes more quickly, are able to measure performance more easily, before code ever goes into production, which means fewer errors are sent out into the wild.

“What these technologists need is that solution, like Cisco’s full-stack observability (FSO) offering – that brings a broad range of telemetry together and making it understandable and usable in terms of fixing issues and moving forward,” he says. “That’s what’s so needed.”

Dig deeper: Read the full “The Age of Application Observability Report” here.

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