Observability - the ability to measure the internal state of a system using its outputs - has long been a goal for application and DevOps teams. It's a necessary pursuit to control any complex system. You can't truly know what you can't observe.
At present, this concern is rapidly spreading to enterprise network teams. There's an uptick in interest in network observability more specifically, which involves a lot more than the logs, metrics, and traces generally considered the pillars of observability.
This seems a natural trajectory for modern enterprises in 2023, whose networks are sprawling ecosystems. These networks of networks, seemingly with a life of their own as they dynamically change, make knowing your network from one day to the next all the more difficult.
The more complex your network, the more critical that you have tools and practices in place to understand its behavior. Without this, unknown misconfigurations, or unintended consequences post-change may have a disastrous impact on the network. With the benefits ranging from improved network security to lowering MTTR and adding proactivity to troubleshooting, it's clear that an effective network observability practice will become imperative for enterprises.
An observability practice ensures that network operators have clear insight into network health and behavior, and understand how the current, actual state of the network will affect the end user. This understanding of network behavior means that teams can take active measures against unwanted effects of change in the network. This must span all environments and vendors, and bring together information from a multi-domain network together into a consumable manner.
To achieve this, network data delivered via an observability practice must be 1) contextualized, 2) consumable, and 3) centralized.
The first instinct one may have when considering how to attain network observability is to rely on traditional monitoring tools available on the market - they're designed to tell you exactly what's happening in your network, right? Well, while these are surely vital for real-time alerting of issues on the network, it's becoming obvious that typical network monitoring is insufficient for true, holistic network observability, and may actually hinder network operations in some regard. What's holding monitoring tools back from servicing enterprise observability needs?
According to an Enterprise Management Associates survey of over 400 enterprise stakeholders, only 47% of alerts from monitoring tools are actionable, or represent an actual problem in the network. However, network teams still have to take the time to investigate the other 53% - a massive waste of resources and contributor to alert fatigue. Customizing monitoring tools to avoid this noise requires an investment of time - more overhead.
It's quite usual for modern enterprise networks to be multi-domain and multi-vendor, and this is only becoming more of the norm. If this complexity prevents a monitoring tool from monitoring parts of your network (e.g. cloud instances) then you're in the dark about vital parts of your network that could have an effect on the network as a whole. Complexity should not mean sacrificing visibility.
Once again, the overhead necessary to sift through, interpret, and analyze network data produced by traditional monitoring platforms may prove more of a burden than an asset to network teams looking to strengthen their observability practice. If the data produced is normalized, and visualized in a manner that complements the goals of network engineers, the value immediately skyrockets.
Monitoring tools are generally designed to flag that something is wrong, but rarely give the context of the issue upfront, i.e. How is this problem affecting the rest of your network as a whole? Where can I start looking for the source of this issue? This means more time spent on every alert investigated.
This might be the way it's always been, but we know that better is possible. More than possible, better is necessary for enterprise network teams to be effective. Whether it be an evolution of monitoring tools or a combination of tooling that achieves full-stack observability, the point is that network operators need solutions that eliminate these inefficiencies and blind spots to properly manage dynamic networks.
Stay tuned for our next exploration of network observability here on the IP Fabric blog, where we'll look at different options of actual tools that will help set up enterprises for observability success.
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