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5 tips for reaching full-stack observability

Achieving full-stack observability remains fraught with challenges, but it's a necessary move for enterprises running complex multi-cloud and hybrid environments.

Full-stack observability is essential for a truly holistic picture of system performance and health. It gives IT ops teams complete visibility into every endpoint their organization manages, including any dependencies and performance metrics.

Observability can eliminate critical blind spots in environments that span private and public clouds, on-premises infrastructure, Kubernetes clusters, and other open source services and cloud-native technologies. But in a September 2022 survey by New Relic, only 27% of respondents said their organization had achieved full-stack observability, with just 5% claiming to have a mature observability practice in place.

Challenges to full-stack observability

Reaching full-stack observability poses challenges for ops teams. The road to full-stack observability often starts with stakeholders who don't understand the benefits. Missteps in strategy and general dysfunction can also stand in the way.

Technical and business stakeholders might not understand the advantages of full-stack observability for the organization or how it can support their agendas. Indeed, some of these stakeholders directly benefit from observability, but it might be in the form of a dashboard or report they receive to which they don't give much thought.

Many organizations are considering tightening their IT budgets to weather the current economic climate, a decision that could hamper full-stack observability initiatives. Even forward-thinking teams that attempt to build full-stack observability into new cloud projects might find this effort questioned by management with budget control.

Cloud and related projects often grow organically; for example, a corporate merger might bring Google Cloud Platform into an AWS shop. Disparate technology platforms can also pop up for reasons beyond mergers and acquisitions, leading to full-stack observability challenges until the organization gets its multi-cloud environment under control.

The problems of shadow IT became evident when unprepared organizations jumped into remote work in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although identifying and managing shadow IT has since become somewhat easier, it remains an obstacle to full-stack observability.

Remember, full-stack observability only applies to on-premises and cloud services the organization has under management. Even the best observability tools cannot access a cloud environment that a project team spun up with its own credit card to fix an immediate need -- and that might contain sensitive corporate data.

Monitoring tool overload is all too common in the enterprise and also poses a challenge for full-stack observability. Achieving full-stack observability in an existing environment often requires adding new tools and more alerts, which can be a hard sell to stakeholders and IT ops teams already swimming against a rising tide of monitoring tools and alerts.

5 actions to achieve full-stack observability

Despite the challenges, taking the following steps can help organizations achieve full-stack observability.

1. Champion full-stack observability across the organization

The journey to full-stack observability begins with building internal advocacy for IT teams' efforts. Educate stakeholders about the benefits of full-stack observability for them and their initiatives -- especially cybersecurity, compliance and cloud cost optimization.

The goal is to translate the value of full-stack observability in a way that both business and technical stakeholders understand. Be prepared to spend time on some internal education using informative, audience-appropriate content as well as informal meetings to educate stakeholders and ultimately unlock budget to support full-stack observability efforts.

2. Make full-stack observability part of the organization's technology roadmap and strategy

Organizations with emerging tech such as 5G and edge computing on their technology roadmaps should include full-stack observability in plans to support this transition. Likewise, projects involving ephemeral containers or serverless applications require highly scalable observability by design to automatically capture changes in the constantly evolving services landscape.

3. Perform due diligence with potential technology vendors

The observability tools -- and, by extension, AIOps -- market is crowded with established vendors and innovative startups jockeying for customer attention. When selecting a full-stack observability tool, assemble a cross-functional team, document requirements and meet with vendors.

During meetings with potential vendors, ask about problems and solutions, not just product features. Make sure the vendor understands all of the team's full-stack observability concerns and expectations.

4. Shift observability left along with security

The concept of shifting left has fans and detractors, but it's essential to treat observability as an integral element of both DevOps and DevSecOps. Ensure observability and goals for full-stack observability become part of the organization's DevOps -- or DevSecOps -- story and culture.

In some cases, introducing observability throughout pipelines has to be incremental. If the IT environment already has observability coverage, look for ways to improve reporting to ensure IT ops staff use existing tools to their full potential.

5. Learn, iterate and improve

Reaching full-stack observability comes with lessons. Taking the time to learn, iterate and improve observability practices during this journey is essential.

Share best practices and lessons learned with other members of the organization, even if just through documentation and asynchronous communications. These efforts are key to creating an observability culture inside the organization.

The future of full-stack observability

Hybrid and remote work, increasing application security demands, and evolving software supply chain security issues are all adding up as drivers to improve observability to ensure security and operational excellence.

Reaching full-stack observability is yet another element of the cloud journey. It's just that some enterprises don't realize it until they're already invested in hybrid and multi-cloud environments and all their complexities with no turning back.

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