Cisco FSO – The Swiss Army Knife for Application Observability

A flawless user experience has become the be-all and end-all in the world of digital services. With companies looking to monitor their applications more efficiently and cost-effectively, tech-solution providers are developing new platforms to streamline processes and make full-stack observability easier.

Coming into 2022, Full-Stack Observability has been one of the hot topics in tech. Intricate solutions from the industry’s biggest players are on the way to package different application monitoring applications into one comprehensive platform. At Flint, we have been working to accelerate this evolution through our learning services and professional services teams who have been working directly with Cisco. We can see a huge benefit in the introduction of this technology and have therefore invested heavily in upskilling our existing team and acquiring new talent. To help any of our existing and prospective customers and partners who may be contemplating the various benefits of FSO, we want to introduce this new paradigm through this article, and answer the question “What can enterprises expect when they decide to invest in their observability strategy?”.

If you have never heard the term full-stack observability before, it might be worth reading our earlier article on this subject first here.

Visibility, Insights, and Actions Across the Stack

In recent months, Cisco has unveiled its formalised full-stack observability portfolio. They have done this by wrapping their three well-known platforms AppDynamics, ThousandEyes, and Intersight Workload Optimizer into a single vision that encompasses all three together. Cisco aptly calls this the Full-Stack Observability (FSO) platform. Cisco FSO is the answer to a rapidly growing number of application experiences that must be properly monitored with advanced tools to maintain customer satisfaction and business growth. It combats the siloed approach to application monitoring and seeks to provide a seamless, unified experience in assessing application health and troubleshooting across multiple application-related stacks. The framework that makes this possible is defined by the Visibility, Insights, and Actions pillars.

The general idea of this framework is to ingest data across different stacks (Visibility). This includes infrastructure and network metrics, including the Internet, performance metrics for backend applications and security, and performance data for the end-user experience. Then it can extract a common context from the collected data (Insights). This helps you quickly identify the root cause of a problem, as it gives you insights into the entire application landscape by correlating and presenting metrics from infrastructure to application traces and end-user experiences. The final part of this framework is to execute a customisable set of prioritised tasks (Actions) based on the insights gathered earlier. These can be simple notifications or more advanced actions such as API calls, custom script execution, Jira ticket management, and alike. This framework works across all three platforms within Cisco FSO, which may raise the next question.

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Our technical consultants are available to discuss the many advantages FSO brings and identify which use cases are best suited for your needs. Flint can also offer different workshops which will provide you with all the relevant knowledge and information you need. Should you then decide to implement the solution, the Flint team can support you in deploying FSO and leveraging its full potential.

How Does Cisco’s FSO Platform Package Three Platforms Into One?

When you start to discover Cisco’s FSO platform, one of the first questions that may come up is how you can use it as a single platform when in practice there are three different ones? The answer is, it depends. It depends on how you want to use the FSO platform (more on that later) and what kind of data you want to see in a single place. As of now, Cisco AppDynamics Dashboards serve as a place where you can gather information from all three platforms in one place.

These dashboards are highly customisable, are typically built from scratch, and can display relevant data and health information across stacks of all platforms. However, if you want to see the details and dive deeper into troubleshooting and optimisation, you need to move from the dashboard to the specific platform and troubleshoot there.

As of now, Cisco AppDynamics Dashboards serve as a place where you can gather information from all three platforms in one place.

The intuitive user interfaces make switching between different platforms and user interfaces, a painless process. At the end of the article, I share some additional thoughts on how this could be further optimised in the future.

Highlighting the Platform Integrations Within Cisco FSO

Integration between platforms within Cisco FSO occurs at multiple levels. The integration between AppDynamics and ThousandEyes is done through widget integration (sharing ThousandEyes widgets on the AppDynamics dashboard), bidirectional snapshots, and alert sharing (more details here). The integration of AppDynamics and Intersight Workload Optimizer (IWO) is primarily directed from AppDynamics to IWO. With additional application metrics provided by AppDynamics, IWO can take better actions to optimise the application-centric infrastructure (more details here). An overview of IWO actions can also be included in the shared dashboard.

As you can see, the Dashboard component is the central hub where data from all three platforms can be observed. The dashboard itself is not an out-of-the-box solution and cannot be used for any advanced observability features without a major investment. It is worth noting that integration capabilities will evolve over time and more advanced integrations will be possible, blurring the lines between platforms.

Cisco FSO Is All About the Use Cases

Now that you know what platforms Cisco FSO includes and how they are integrated forget about them for a moment. Cisco FSO focuses on the use cases that are used to solve specific application observability problems across the stack. Cisco FSO introduces these use cases to abstract away the technical details and move away from platform specifics. This allows customers to first determine where they can incorporate Cisco FSO into their observability strategy. After this is clarified, the technical details must naturally follow. Let us look at what those use cases are.

The seven use cases span performance monitoring and management, resource and cost optimisation, and application security.

Cisco FSO introduces these use cases to abstract away the technical details and move away from platform specifics. This allows customers to first determine where they can incorporate Cisco FSO into their observability strategy.

These use cases cover what Cisco considers full-stack observability. From infrastructure monitoring and optimisation, to network, application security, and backend application monitoring, to end-user and business impact monitoring. An enterprise should pick and choose which of these use cases solve its current problems. It may be that only a few of these use cases are appropriate for a particular business, and that’s okay. If a company sees the need to expand its observability landscape in the future, it can easily do so if the platforms are already deployed and integrated. One could argue that not using all use cases is not “full-stack observability”, which is hard to argue with. However, the flexibility of the framework itself allows for incremental adoption of the entire portfolio as the business matures.

Why Work with Flint?
Working with Flint accelerates new product introduction and reduces time to market significantly. Our experience in supporting New Product Introduction (NPI) through content creation and training delivery, as well as extensive knowledge of various Cisco solutions, ensures our engineers are fully up to speed with these new technologies.
We then deploy these same engineers to focus their attention on supporting the enablement of Cisco’s Channel Partners. This way we provide a seamless way of supplementing their internal organisation in the early deployments and mentor them through the latter ones to ensure they can drive the early adoption of these new solutions. You can get an overview of Flint’s services available through Cisco on Cisco’s partner portal.

Room for Future Improvements

With the acquisition of Epsagon and replex, and the intention to acquire Opsani, we see how serious Cisco’s commitment to Cloud Native Observability is. As more platforms are added to the FSO portfolio in the future, it will become more difficult to perceive Cisco FSO as a unified platform for Application Observability alone. One possible solution I see is a separate, intuitive presentation layer that aggregates data from all FSO platforms and allows advanced observability actions to be performed across the stack-a truly unified, out-of-the-box interface with advanced features that enables observation and management capabilities for current and future Cisco FSO platforms. This layer should be developed and maintained separately and integrated with the underlying platforms that do the heavy lifting. This assumes that the FSO platforms have mature API integration capabilities.

These are still the early days of unified platforms for monitoring applications and therefore Cisco FSO. We will see what will happen in the observability landscape in the near future. At Flint, we will be watching this space closely and will keep you updated on any technological advancements. Our engineers are working closely on projects surrounding full-stack observability and are looking forward to the advancements coming. If you’d like Flint’s consulting team to provide technical support, advice and guidance to help you learn more about Cisco FSO, its use cases, and associated benefits, please feel free to contact us.

If you enjoyed this article, follow us on LinkedIn for subsequent content covering this topic. We’ll uncover more details about new full-stack observability platforms and advanced features. 

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