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Full-stack observability: What you need to know

Develop a holistic, real-time view of your complete IT stack. Gain the visibility you need to dramatically improve IT security, operations, and incident management.

Full-stack observability gives you a complete picture of how your IT estate is operating—at a moment’s notice. Learn how full-stack observability accelerates incident response, prevents security and operations problems from happening, and improves user experiences.

What is full stack observability: Full stack observability defined

Full-stack observability is the ability to determine the state of any asset within your entire IT environment at any given moment. It provides both a holistic view of your full IT stack, as well as a granular view—down to the code level—of your applications and the endpoints they operate within. A mature, full-stack observability practice supports incident detection, investigation, and response, while also giving you the information you need to proactively improve the security and operations of your IT stack.

On this page, we will provide an overview of what full-stack monitoring is, how it works, the benefits and outcomes it generates, and how to best bring it to life by combining it with out-of-the-box artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps) solutions.

Observability vs. monitoring

The terms “observability” and “monitoring” are sometimes used interchangeably, yet they refer to different practices. Thankfully, observability vs. monitoring is an easy topic to clarify.

Monitoring is one element of observability, and provides some of the full-stack telemetry data that observability requires. Yet observability can provide a full-stack solution that goes further than monitoring isolated systems, incorporates additional data and capabilities, and provides a holistic view of the IT environment.

Further, there are four key differences between observability and monitoring.

  1. Monitoring is an action you perform (e.g., setting a CPU % usage threshold and receiving an alert when it’s breached) while observability is a property a system has or does not (e.g., you can know the state of an asset or you can’t).
  2. Monitoring is reactive (e.g., when you receive an alert, you know there’s a problem and you rush to put out the fire) while observability is proactive (e.g., it can be used during response but it also lets you proactively search for hidden issues).
  3. Monitoring tells you about symptoms of a deeper underlying issue within a system (e.g., when an alert is sent) while observability can tell you the root cause problems that led the symptom to manifest and the alert to be triggered.
  4. Monitoring is used within simple, stable systems where behavior is predictable and problems are known and have firm parameters, while observability can find “unknown unknown” problems within dynamic, unpredictable environments.

Full-stack observability vs. traditional observability

Full-stack observability is a subset of observability.

Observability is a broad topic that refers to the ability to determine the state of anything in your environment. In theory, you could develop observability into one class of endpoints and nothing else, and still claim to have a mature (but limited) practice.

To claim you have full-stack observability, you must develop that practice across every endpoint within your entire IT stack, and then be able to use that observability to perform proactive and reactive investigations at both broad and granular levels.

However, both observability and full-stack observability are built from the same pillars, and differ only in scope.

Telemetry data and observability

Telemetry and observability go hand in hand.

There are three forms of telemetry data that form the foundation for any successful observability practice:

  • Metrics

    Quantifiable measures of performance, behaviors, and actions of assets and the environment as a whole (i.e., memory, CPU usage, and error rates). They can be collected from a wide range of sources and combined, visualized, and analyzed as needed to aid any investigation.

  • Logs

    Text-based descriptions with date-and-time stamps of incidents within an application, system, or network that add detail and context to investigations. They are typically reviewed during an investigation to identify when, where, and how something went wrong, and the best way to remediate the issue.

  • Traces

    End-to-end records of user requests that provide a code-level view of how those requests move between applications and through your environment. They can show where incidents began, what assets were impacted by the issue, and how to harden against similar issues in the future to prevent their spread.

Other forms of telemetry data can be added to an observability practice. Yet these three telemetry pillars provide a comprehensive view on their own, and must be collected and made actionable before a more complex observability practice is considered.

Typically, these telemetry data sets are collected from endpoints like servers, workstations, and cloud infrastructure components. Collecting, correlating, and analyzing as much full-stack telemetry data as possible will provide observability into individual endpoints, applications, and processes, and across the network and environment.

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Why does full-stack observability matter for my business?

Monitoring and isolated observability practices are no longer enough to secure and ensure the performance of modern IT environments.

Action vs. a property

Today, the IT estate is far more complex, dynamic, and interconnected. Security and operational issues can appear unexpectedly, spread quickly, and cause significant harm.

Cloud infrastructure expands these challenges.

Reacting to alerts vs. proactive investigations

Cloud systems can be launched in weeks or months instead of years, keeping the IT stack in a constant state of rapid transformation. The environment is now composed of on-premises, cloud, and hybrid systems, further increasing the complexity and interconnectedness of systems.

And all of this new infrastructure is producing a lot more data—and a lot more noise—making it harder and harder to maintain meaningful visibility into their systems.

Observability helps solve these problems. It goes beyond the simple, static monitoring systems that were appropriate for yesterday’s IT environments, and provides a flexible, holistic perspective on the modern IT estate. With observability, businesses gain:

A full overview of technology stack performance

Information silos are rampant in today’s IT environments. Different teams often collect their own data sets, and those data sets may not align with each other.

Because of this, many teams see their shared environment and its problems differently. As such, these teams often struggle to agree on which issues to prioritize and how to resolve them, leading to finger pointing where there should be collaboration.

Observability breaks data silos and creates a single source of truth for every IT and business team to rally around. This makes it easier to collaborate during investigation and remediation efforts, leading to faster and smoother issue resolution.

Optimize resources

Resource allocation across the modern IT stack has become difficult.

There are so many assets, user interactions, and technical interdependencies that IT teams are often forced to either over-provision resources—leading directly to increased costs, or under-provision them—which could lead to downtime.

Observability gives IT teams a better sense of which assets will need which resources at which times, and how those needs fluctuate based on time, complex user behaviors, or requests from related systems, making it easier to optimize provisioning and costs.

Improve security

Security and operational issues are hard to find amid complex, interconnected, modern IT environments with fast-moving data.

Attacks and outages no longer conform to known problems that can be easily identified through conventional monitoring alone. And when a security or operational issue does occur, it can be difficult to track down the root cause, identify everywhere it spread, and know how to solve it.

Teams can use observability to correlate multiple data sets to find and fix problems at their root, and resolve them everywhere they appear. Teams can also hunt down, identify, and resolve hidden vulnerabilities proactively before they cause harm.

Consolidate tools

The modern IT stack includes a large and growing number of assets. To manage them, many organizations have been forced to adopt a large number of isolated point tools.

Often, they have adopted a different point tool to establish visibility and control over each of the different asset classes in their environment. These tools are expensive to operate and add significant complexity to an already complex IT estate.

Observability solves this problem by replacing a wide range of isolated point tools with a single, unified platform that centralizes full-stack telemetry collection and reduces the cost and complexity of maintaining visibility and control.

Improve digital customer experiences

While the digital component of the customer experience varies widely, wherever it occurs— through an app, on a website, or via email, etc., those interactions generate a lot of data and noise, which can make it difficult to identify problems and opportunities for improvement.

Observability provides a clear, end-to-end picture of digital and hybrid customer experiences that lets the business see problems and opportunities before they appear, and solve systemic issues before they impair the customer experience.

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Full-stack observability benefits

With observability, you can drive many new capabilities, and enhance many of the core functions of IT, security, and business leadership teams. This generates substantial, real-world benefits that include:

  • Real-time data

    Full-stack observability gives real-time data to every team and decision-maker in the organization for making quick, time-sensitive decisions with a high degree of accuracy, which is critical during a security or operational incident.

    Your team will be able to:

    • See the state of your assets and environment as they are right now, and not just how they were yesterday, last week, last month, or last year
    • Compare the current state of your assets and environment against historical data to spot trends, put incidents in context, and correctly respond to issues
    • Give live feedback to DevOps teams to identify and resolve UX and performance issues faster and prevent system-wide issues from new products and updates
    • Provision resources more accurately and efficiently as consumption needs change across the environment due to unexpected usage spikes
  • Reduced MTTR

    Full-stack observability helps you identify, investigate, and remediate every security or operational incident you experience, on any asset within your IT estate. This lets you recover from incidents faster, limit their spread, and lower their impact.

    Your team will be able to:

  • Predictive insights

    With full-stack observability, you can see potential weak points in your IT stack before they fail. This way, you can move from a reactive stance of constantly responding to alerts to taking a proactive approach of preventing issues from occurring in the first place.

    Your team will be able to:

    • Find known and unknown vulnerabilities across your environment, prioritize them according to potential impact, and systematically harden against them
    • Identify operational trends and patterns within your environment that may lead to outages, and make the necessary changes to smooth out those rough patches
    • See how assets within your IT estate connect to and communicate with each other, to limit the potential spread of issues by implementing Zero Trust architecture
    • Improve your incident management practice by better understanding outages, remediating them faster, and resolving repeatable issues at their root cause

Full-stack observability and AIOps

Full-stack observability is not a silver bullet on its own. It can be challenging to implement because it integrates many different data sources and needs to normalize and combine data sets from them while resolving any security or regulatory issues along the way.

It’s a large, cross-functional project, and once implementation is over, your solution still needs to be managed.

AIOps can help, leveraging AI to overcome a wide range of operational challenges quickly, efficiently, and accurately. AIOps solutions can lighten the lift required to implement a full-stack observability practice across large-scale IT estates and then assist in managing -the solutions’ routine processes.

In addition, AIOps can make good use of the full-stack observability provided by your solution. It can perform many core identification, investigation, and remediation tasks at speed and scale. With it, you can accelerate, expand, and improve the accuracy of both incident management and vulnerability management across your entire IT infrastructure.

In sum: AIOps does double duty. It can help you implement your full-stack observability practice, and then leverage that observability for many security and operational tasks.

Picking an AIOps solution for full-stack observability

We’ve made it simple for enterprises that wish to implement both full-stack observability and AIOps with a unified, out-of-the-box solution.

BMC Helix for observability and AIOps is a full-stack solution and a recognized leader in its category. It provides core capabilities that include:

Observability AIOps Core Capabilities

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