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ServiceNow adds Lightstep observability as BizDevOps grows

BizDevOps is taking off amid widespread digital transformation, and ServiceNow's Lightstep buy could bring observability to teams via its workflow platform.

ServiceNow has agreed to acquire observability software maker Lightstep, in a move that reflects growth in BizDevOps practices among mainstream enterprises.

BizDevOps is a workflow pattern in which non-technical workers tie their daily tasks more closely to those of DevOps teams, often using some of the same automated tools and Agile practices as software developers. Even two years ago, the term was mostly a buzzword, subject to heavy marketing hype but rare in practice.

However, this has begun to change. This is in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which sped up cloud migration and digital transformation; it's also because the nature of business has become distributed in a way that's similar to cloud-native applications, whether it's the need to accommodate remote workers or coordinate sales and deliveries to thousands of retail stores. Observability tools such as Lightstep that manage the many microservices that comprise cloud-native apps can also benefit sales, marketing and HR teams trying to manage digital businesses.

Larry Carvahlo, IDCLarry Carvahlo

"A lot of what was being done to improve developer productivity is now going into improving business productivity," said Larry Carvahlo, an analyst at IDC. "When every [store location] is different, observability becomes important to improve applications that may be very different but also have some common elements; at high scale, every percentage point you can improve performance can also bring a lot of value."

In response, IT vendors have expanded products that previously targeted DevOps teams to incorporate business workflows, from Atlassian's Workflow Manager to Salesforce's acquisitions of MuleSoft for AIOps and Slack for ChatOps.

ServiceNow has been at the forefront of this trend with the Now Platform, first rolled out in 2018 as a multi-purpose workflow tool, and since expanded to cover new types of workflows. Most recently, ServiceNow added low-code/no-code interfaces and AI-driven automation to the Quebec version of the product in March.

Advanced observability for a new audience

Lightstep was founded in 2015 by co-creators of the OpenTelemetry open source distributed tracing project. It adds advanced data analytics to observability data to predict performance issues as software advances through DevOps pipelines and to determine the root causes of issues in production. It's used by enterprises such as Ticketmaster to analyze data collected via Confluent Kafka pipelines to prevent fraud in its online ticket purchasing systems.

The cloud-native observability market has a glut of competing products that are also converging, combining previously separate disciplines of metrics-based APM monitoring, log analytics and distributed tracing. In fact, OpenTelemetry is a response to the proliferation of open source distributed tracing tools, and an effort to streamline and standardize the data collection mechanism they use. Observability specialists such as Dynatrace have also begun to diversify beyond production application performance with new tools that optimize DevOps pipelines. All of these factors and increasing vendor overlap mean enterprise IT buyers face a more dizzying array of tool choices than ever before.

Among this crowd of competitors, Lightstep has stood out to some cutting-edge DevOps shops because it provides strong analytical context around large swaths of fine-grained observability data, which shows where and when performance regressions occurred and advises developers on how to make improvements.

The combination of ServiceNow and Lightstep could bring advanced observability to a mainstream, non-technical audience, Carvahlo said.

Without observability, you can't do much to optimize digital workflows.
Larry CarvahloAnalyst, IDC

"[Digital native] companies like DoorDash and Airbnb are already doing this on their own -- this is for enterprises that want to update their practices," he said. "Without observability, you can't do much to optimize digital workflows."

With this acquisition, ServiceNow can build observability in for Now Platform business users rather than requiring them to bring in third-party tools. But early adopters of Lightstep that don't use the Now Platform needn't worry about the company's independence post-acquisition, Carvahlo said.

The movement toward multi-cloud management demonstrates that enterprises don't necessarily want to standardize on one vendor's products, he said. Recent mergers such as those between IBM and Red Hat and Salesforce and MuleSoft, where the acquired company remains independent, indicate vendors recognize that, in his view.

"ServiceNow should let Lightstep be independent but also integrated with its products for better customer experience," Carvahlo said.

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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