July 2, 2024

Demystifying OpenTelemetry: The Future of Observability in DevOps

Observability has become crucial to managing modern cloud-native applications.  OpenTelemetry (OTel) is one of many tools that have gained significant traction in this space. Let’s break down OTel’s fundamentals, recent updates, implementation challenges, and future outlook.

What is OTel?

OTel is an open-source project that standardizes how to collect telemetry data. At its core, it’s a specification of how data should be collected. Also, it enables developers to instrument how to collect their data in different programming languages.

In a recent conversation with Joe Colantonio on the TestGuild DevOps Toolchain podcast, Aspecto co-founder and OTel evangelist Michael Haberman discussed the foundations of OTel.

According to Haberman, “OpenTelemetry initially set out to have three main telemetry types: traces, logs, and metrics. That is the data you must have in order to monitor and observe a cloud native application.”

“Logs have been out there for the longest,”he continued. “You write the story within your code and then you can read and understand what the application did. Metrics get a bit more interesting because OTel can generate its own metrics. Looking at traces, distributed tracing is where OpenTelemetry started from. This is where it is most mature. By attaching to the libraries that you use, you’re able to automatically create the traces.”

Recent Updates and Milestones

OTel is constantly evolving and is now expanding from its original three pillars of observability into a new telemetry type called profiling. This allows developers to profile code in production so it’s easier to conduct optimization.

OTel is also experiencing wider adoption across the software development industry. “OpenTelemetry is becoming an industry standard,” said Haberman. “If you have a monitoring solution, you can most likely send your OTel data to it. It’s also now standard for code frameworks and libraries to implement OTel as well, which is a very important step.”

OTel and Microservices

In microservice architectures, OTel is essential for distributed tracing, helping developers see the complete flow of interactions across services. This capability is critical for debugging and performance tuning.

“Distributed tracing allows you to see how interactions propagate through different services. It’s something you can’t do with metrics and logs alone,” Haberman emphasized.

Implementing OTel: Challenges and Considerations 

Implementing OTel can offer immense benefits, but there are some challenges to be aware of.

  • Initial Setup: Involves integrating the OTel SDK into the application code, which can be straightforward but requires careful planning for distributed systems.
  • Scalability: Managing OTel across numerous services can be complex. Solutions like the OTel Operator for Kubernetes can simplify this by injecting OTel into containers automatically.
  • Configuration Consistency: Ensuring consistent and efficient configuration across multiple services is crucial to avoid operational overhead.

Implementing OTel: Best Practices for Those Considering OTel: 

  • Start Small: Begin with a few services to experiment and understand the tool’s capabilities.
  • Incremental Adoption: Gradually expand the implementation, prioritizing services that can provide immediate insights.
  • Use a Collector: Depending on your organization’s size, using an OTel Collector to manage data ingestion and processing can be beneficial.

Final Thoughts

For developers and DevOps teams, the key takeaway is to experiment and learn. Hands-on experimentation with OTel can help teams gain confidence and fully leverage its features.

Looking ahead, OTel aims to continue expanding supported telemetry types, like code profiling. Enhancements in client-side observability can be expected as well, which will allow for much more comprehensive insights.

By embracing OTel, developers and organizations can achieve better visibility, improved performance, and a more standardized approach to observability. This sets the stage for more robust and reliable cloud-native applications.

Following these insights and best practices, you can leverage OTel to enhance your observability efforts and improve the performance and reliability of your applications.

Get started with OTel:

You can also check out BugSnag’s integration with Aspecto, which leverages OTel to show deeper insights into your application and related errors.

Start using BugSnag for free today with a 14-day trial – no credit card required. Want to learn more? Check out a demo.

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