Getting your app portfolio in shape: Why observability is essential for running modern apps

By Marc Zottner, Global Application Modernisation Lead, VMware.

  • 1 year ago Posted in

As organisations look to become cloud-first to meet the growing demands of the shifts in the ways we do business and consume IT, software architects have evolved their cloud strategies to multi-cloud environments and are adopting more containers, microservices, and a large variety of cloud native technologies. This, however, is creating more complex, increasingly distributed systems, and making it harder for IT teams to gain a comprehensive view into how systems are performing.

Recent research from VMware’s State of Observability report backs this up, showing that 89% agree that today’s applications are significantly more complex, and 97% have reported challenges in their ability to monitor cloud application environments, with visibility and insight issues growing from last year.

Visibility issues in complex technical landscapes

It’s clear that cloud native applications are growing in complexity – with more than two-thirds of respondents saying they are running multi-cloud apps, and nearly 90% running at least some hybrid apps. But many organisations are still lacking visibility into all the interconnections required across their workloads, and this is holding developer and IT teams back from effectively operating apps at scale.  

This can be linked to all the complex factors that go into an individual wanting to get fitter – such as their physiology, health, and fitness goals. For better visibility on progress, they might want to monitor and track how they’re doing, for example by recording activities with a fitness tracker.

But while interesting, knowing the number of steps taken or workouts completed can’t take an individual to the next level – they need to be analysing their performance and updating fitness plans too, based on this data.    

Likewise, in a software context – legacy monitoring techniques are falling short, leaving IT teams with an incomplete picture of how modern apps are performing.

Modern business operations are calling out for solutions that can go beyond basic monitoring – to go beyond recording data, to providing answers, alerting issues, and recommending fixes.

Why organisations have to go beyond basic monitoring practices

This is where observability steps in. But what does it offer that basic monitoring can’t? Observability is all about being able to understand what is occurring, and what has occurred, within the system throughout the lifetime of an application. Observability brings organisations value by going further, helping developers make better decisions and tackle troubleshooting issues in real-time with suggested solutions too. Beyond alerting, logging, metrics, and tracing capabilities, it provides consolidated business insights on modern software to various roles across silos.   

Similarly, a ‘digital coach’ which can go beyond tracking and into analysis would be far more effective for someone wanting to get fitter: by connecting step data, heart rate, and an individual’s physiology, and using this to interpret how specific activity and performance data is doing against these factors to make recommendations and optimise workouts.

Not only this, but by going beyond simple monitoring, a digital coach making these connections across health and activity data could also flag any concerning findings too, such as unusually high or low heart rates during certain types of activity, which could recommend the individual to take it easier and help pinpoint any root underlying problems.

Making observability an essential requirement

Thinking about this analogy for managing modern apps helps to imagine the impact observability can have for businesses in the software world.

Over the last few years, VMware’s research has shown uptake in observability tools, and the latest findings now reveal the use of observability is becoming mainstream, with organisations adopting solutions to provide an understanding of critical interdependencies across application workloads and infrastructure.

Just as in a fitness context, observability analysis has become critical for identifying bottlenecks, problem root causes and potential gain as IT teams can see how everything is running and connected across the application stacks. Observability provides foundational capabilities to implement DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) practices. It empowers teams to shift the way they observe their apps from causes to symptoms, and to adopt practices like continuous verification (chaos engineering), progressive deployment strategies, and blameless post-mortems.

When it comes to choosing and implementing a solution, businesses must also think about using tools that are built for modern reliable apps and multi-cloud at scale. VMware Aria Operations for Applications (formerly VMware Tanzu Observability)  was designed to do so, providing critical answers, not only unified data, so software teams can more quickly get to the “why” about the performance of business applications, correlated with underlying cloud infrastructure and end-user experience.

Shaping up your app portfolio 

It might seem daunting, but getting a clear, accessible grasp on everything that’s going on within an application and its infrastructure offers undeniable benefits. Insights and data gained from observability help IT teams to optimise processes, quickly identify the root cause of issues, improve reliability, and implement solutions at scale with ease. As such, businesses should keep including observability as a first-class requirement to their projects, laying down the foundations for proactive security and software reliability.

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