Q&A: The importance of an end-to-end observability platform

  • ServiceNow Blog
  • IT Management
  • Solutions
  • 2023
June 29, 2023

Observability platform: two men looking at a tablet

Pressure is mounting for organizations to deliver exceptional customer and employee experiences, rapid event resolution, and better business outcomes. Observability will be a key strategy play to achieve end-to-end visibility of complex tech estates, says Pablo Stern, senior vice president of technology workflows at ServiceNow.

In an interview at Knowledge 2023, Stern talked about how an observability platform can encompass both DevOps workflows and business processes across the enterprise. We’ve edited his interview for length and clarity.

What does the Now Platform do, and what’s the end game?

A couple of years ago, we acquired Lightstep, which is now called Cloud Observability. Part of the thinking around Cloud Observability and ServiceNow was, “How do we bring what we observe to the actions that you want to take as an organization?”

If you look at many of the platforms in the market, they have observability, but it ends there. The action path isn't one that's connected. ServiceNow can bring, from a cloud perspective, observability through the workflow platform to drive outcomes.

For example, when a problem occurs on your site, you can quickly get the right site reliability engineering team engaged to diagnose, identify root cause, and workflow a resolution to bring your site back to health quickly.

How do I instrument all those workflows?

In the cloud world with OpenTelemetry, there’s a true democratization of the sensors into your estate that help you identify issues. With Cloud Observability, we connect directly into that open-source estate to deliver outcomes. It starts with gaining visibility into those large, distributed cloud estates. You need to understand not only what exists, but also what the applications and services you have are tied to.

If there's an issue, the first step is to get visibility. The second step is to push for introspection—whether it's at a trace, metrics, or log—and to then understand where the problem is, what the root causes are. Finally, there’s the action to drive remediation. This is the workflow piece, which is the power of what our platform can do. We can connect those workflows with the right person at the right time to expedite remediation.

What’s the difference between observability and monitoring?

It starts with the foundational convergence of service and operations. You have service management practices, which is where your teams address issues, such as a major incident or incident response. Then, you have your operations of your estate, which could be hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of different applications or services.

We combine those two experiences on the Now Platform. By doing that, we connect the people to the machines.

If you consider cloud environments, we not only connect the people and the machines, but we can also see what's happening in those highly distributed environments to find the needles in the haystack. To do this successfully, at cloud scale, you have to evolve from collecting raw data (monitoring) to gaining true insights from that data (observability).

And then, when you have those insights, not only do you observe, but you can also act.

What are the steps to get to observability?

Start with the end in mind. What outcomes are you trying to achieve? Is it delivering amazing customer or employee experiences? What are the things you need in order to do that, and how do you connect that outcome to the systems you have? With many customers, we may see a multitude of systems and tools that help them get to some, but not all, of those outcomes.

From a ServiceNow perspective, we've been very focused to bring that all together in a central control tower so that as you're advancing those outcomes, you can get to them faster. You don't have to “swivel-chair” as much as you did in the past.

What's your best advice for customers?

Focus on the intended outcome that you're delivering. Observability is going to be key, and it's going to be even more critical in massively distributed estates. You can’t rely on three or four people and their knowledge to determine a root cause quickly, because you may have hundreds or thousands of services that are interconnected.

You need visibility into those services. You need to understand them and have a way to quickly observe and diagnose what's happening in those environments. It’s critical to make sure you can go from observation to action. You need to get the right teams to drive the resolution as quickly as possible because you need the full closed loop.

Find out more about benefits of Cloud Observability.

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