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Observability: a brief overview

Observability is a hot topic and technology in the market – so what is it, what is its impact and, how is it different to traditional monitoring?

Connectivity Security Technology adoption

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Thomas Rowley

Thomas Rowley

Chief Technologist - Networking and Connectivity

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first, Observability vs Monitoring. Monitoring has been around for a long time in individual silos of an IT environment, covering workspace, networks, security, and applications. Monitoring these islands of technology has typically been achieved through a mix of open-source solutions, area-specific technology solutions (such as network performance monitoring), and native monitoring functions included as part of closed-source solutions. So what’s changed? 

The current landscape 

Over the past five years alone, we have seen the rapid adoption of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), Cloud, and Hybrid Working which has resulted in users/devices and applications/services being located in a distributed and dynamic fashion. Simply put, users/devices are everywhere and applications/services are anywhere, which introduces an infinite number of ways they can connect to one another. This results in one thing, complexity. What we need to observe has changed, and having silos of IT teams with independent monitoring tool stacks is proving inefficient when trying to understand the root cause of issues and who is responsible for remediating them.  

The power of Observability 

This is where Observability comes in. Observability provides organisations with the capability to view an IT environment as an entire ecosystem of technologies, all working together. Observability gives IT teams the ability to understand and troubleshoot complex systems by gathering metrics, events, logs, and traces across the entire environment to delineate patterns, trends, and insights into performance, resilience, and user experience. This in turn allows organisations to proactively detect and respond to issues. In some cases, Observability solutions can even predict issues before they occur.  

Let’s explore how networking and security teams are impacted by Observability through the outcomes it can provide: 

1. Operational efficiency  

Observability significantly speeds up problem detection and resolution. For network and security teams, this means being able to identify threats more quickly and accurately, enabling them to respond to incidents before they cause significant harm. By having effective visibility through the collection and analysis of data from various sources (such as logs, metrics, network events, and cloud activity), security Observability allows organisations to stay ahead of sophisticated attacks and most importantly respond in an operationally efficient manner.  

2. Enhanced visibility 

Visibility is crucial for both network and security teams. If there is a gap in visibility, there is a gap in control and understanding of risk. Here’s how it benefits each team: 

Network teams 

- Configuration changes: network Observability helps network administrators quickly detect unapproved configuration changes. For instance, if there’s an unauthorised modification to a router’s configuration, Observability tools can highlight it on the dashboard. Admins can then revert to the last working configuration, minimising impact and reducing security risks. 

- Performance issues: with Observability, network teams gain real-time insights into performance issues. From device and user access to cloud applications, they can identify anomalies and address them promptly. 

Security teams 

- Threat identification: Observability in security allows teams to monitor network traffic, cloud activity, endpoint data, system logs, and user behaviour. By analysing these data sources, they can detect unauthorised access attempts, system misconfigurations, and other security incidents. 

- Early incident response: proactive detection of security incidents is crucial. Observability enables security teams to respond swiftly before threats escalate. For example, monitoring network traffic can reveal port scans, brute-force attacks, and data exfiltration attempts. 

3. User experience 

Observability isn’t just about technology, it impacts the people behind it. By empowering IT teams with better tools and insights, organisations can gain insights into and measure user experience consistently. When teams can proactively address issues, optimise performance, and eliminate security threats early, the user experience is ultimately going to be improved overall.  

Conclusion 

Observability has become a buzzword in our industry, with many vendors attaching it to their propositions, often making it difficult to navigate the market. As a technology, however, it is turning into a necessity for many organisations to understand and control the complex world of IT we now operate in.  

Organisations that embrace Observability can gain a competitive edge by enhancing network and security teams with improved operational efficiency, visibility, and user experience. Observability can also foster a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration across IT teams.  

Remember, Observability isn’t just about monitoring – it’s about understanding, analysing, and acting. So, let’s observe, adapt, and secure our digital landscapes! If you’re ready to understand what Observability can mean for your organisation and what outcomes your teams require then please get in touch with your Softcat Account Manager or our Sales team.  

You can also check out the latest episode of our Explain IT podcast, all about Observability.