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The future of OpenTelemetry for observability

To collect and analyze telemetry data from cloud-native apps, many organizations use OpenTelemetry for system observability. Discover its benefits and primary components.

The considerable increase in new technologies, frameworks and architectures has led to the emergence of monitoring and observability tools that help gather total visibility into the health and performance of these new applications.

Visibility enables admins to verify if an application and its dependencies are working as intended, and determine and resolve any related issues. And to enable visibility, admins must collect comprehensive health and performance telemetry data -- metrics, logs and traces -- pertaining to the application.

Enter observability with OpenTelemetry.

What is observability?

Observability in software refers to comprehending an application's performance based on output data, such as logs and metrics -- known as telemetry.

The basic objective of observability is to have a comprehensive understanding of what is occurring across environments. This helps identify, determine and resolve problems quickly, which boosts system efficiency and reliability, as well as customer satisfaction.

Observability and monitoring aren't synonymous

While observability and monitoring are interrelated and complement one another, there are subtle differences.

For example, in a typical monitoring scenario, admins pre-configure dashboards to send notifications about possible future performance concerns. These dashboards, however, assume that admins can foresee what types of challenges they'll face ahead of time.

When an environment offers comprehensive observability data, admins can easily investigate what's going on. This helps determine the root cause of issues they cannot anticipate.

The present state of observability

Businesses now strive to gather, analyze and correlate data at all levels of the application stack, including logs, metrics, traces and events. With the explosion of data, gathering these signals is critical for business insights and system optimization.

Organizations are trying to find ways to better manipulate this data and apply intelligence to use the information efficiently and make better decisions.

What is telemetry and how does it fit into observability?

Telemetry collects data on the use and performance of application components, such as startup and processing times, application crashes, resource use, use statistics and user behavior. Admins then use telemetry to determine the current state of a system based on data endpoints or services that the multi-cloud computing environments generate.

Observability uses this output data, or telemetry, to illustrate an application's performance -- cloud-native applications bank on telemetry data for analysis.

What is OpenTelemetry?

OpenTelemetry is an open source framework that offers vendor-neutral or vendor-agnostic APIs and SDKs to collect and analyze telemetry data from cloud-native apps. This framework helps admins better understand an application's performance and health.

With OpenTelemetry, enterprises can gather telemetry data from their applications, underlying infrastructures and services. Admins can then use this vendor-neutral technique to receive, process, convert and export data. OpenTelemetry is becoming the standard for gathering machine data by using a single cloud-native platform to complete observability.

Benefits of OpenTelemetry

OpenTelemetry offers a variety of benefits for businesses and developers, such as the following:

  • Flexibility. OpenTelemetry adapts to a variety of use cases. This makes it a good choice for businesses with specific needs or for developers who want to create their own telemetry options.
  • Scalability. OpenTelemetry handles large volumes of data easily. This makes it suitable for businesses that collect and analyze large amounts of telemetry data.
  • Cost-effectiveness. OpenTelemetry is free and open source.
  • Data collection. OpenTelemetry collects data from a wide variety of sources, such as applications, devices and infrastructure.
  • Consistency. OpenTelemetry simplifies telemetry data collection from apps that were previously complicated. Before, finding the correct instrumentation was difficult, and once chosen, admins were beholden to that platform or provider. That approach was unlikely to be uniform across applications, making it difficult to assess overall application performance.

Primary components of OpenTelemetry

The OpenTelemetry ecosystem components provide a robust, scalable and highly available platform for data collection, storage and analysis. These include the following:

  • Standards and specifications. Because OpenTelemetry adopts a standards-based approach, it requires standards and specifications to trace interoperability across several languages.
  • Collector. This receives, sends and processes telemetry data, and can handle multiple data formats.
  • APIs and SDKs. These generate and produce telemetry data. While APIs contain language-specific types and interface definitions, SDKs are API implementations.
  • OTLP. Short for OpenTelemetry Protocol, it sends telemetry data from the SDK to the Collector.

Address complexity with OpenTelemetry

OpenTelemetry has transformed the way businesses approach application observability. The data it emits simplifies alerting, troubleshooting and debugging applications.

Traditional methods can take hours, or even days, to track down the root cause of an incident. OpenTelemetry improves observability by bringing together traces, logs and metrics from across applications and services in a correlated manner.

Why is OpenTelemetry the future of instrumentation?

OpenTelemetry is a suite of tools, APIs and SDKs for instrumenting, collecting, producing and exporting telemetry data for the purpose of analyzing and interpreting application performance and behavior. OpenTelemetry offers a vendor-neutral path to instrumentation, enabling complete access into source code, as well as insight into how the community builds features and fixes defects. OpenTelemetry is changing instrumentation with three characteristics:

  1. Interoperability
  2. Vendor neutrality
  3. Future-proofing

What's next for OpenTelemetry?

The OpenTelemetry initiative is in its infancy. As of publication, it supports traces and metrics only, not logs. Work is underway to stabilize the main components of OpenTelemetry, along with integrating the automated instrumentation through agents, adding language compatibility and improving metrics capabilities.

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