OpenTelemetry – Defining Observability Industry Standards

Paul Stefanski
Paul Stefanski

What is OpenTelemetry?

Plenty of blogs have answered the very Google-able question, “What is OpenTelemetry?” To keep it short and sweet, OpenTelemetry is a collaborative effort across the observability space to create industry-wide standards that will benefit all cloud service providers and observability customers.

Technically speaking, OpenTelemetry is a collection of APIs, SDKs, exporters, and collectors. Many vendors are contributing to the project, and it’s ultimately up to them how much of OpenTelemetry’s tech they incorporate into their cloud service platforms. The goal is simple: streamline the aspects of observability technology that can be so that innovation can accelerate everything else. So far, the project is on track to do exactly that.

What is the Value of OpenTelemetry?

Observability” is a broadly defined industry, and that broad definition has led to the emergence of an absolute zoo of service providers. Some providers are certainly better than others in measurable ways, but for the most part it’s up to the customer to determine what collection of features at what price best suits their needs. A few choices is good for competition and good for customers, but too many choices is a burden, especially in a highly technical space where many customers are not interested in spending too much time learning about the technology – they have a need that can be met without a deep understanding of the technology, but then they have to learn to pick a solution that’s right for them anyway. OpenTelemetry is, in some ways, a consolidation of industry standards, which will make it easier for providers to target specific niches and for customers to understand in which niche their needs lie.

The density of providers in observability also leads to inefficiencies for the entire industry. Many observability developers are happy to release improvements they’ve made to the technology to opensource, but without clear instrumentation standards, implementation of the new technologies is often as difficult as developing it in the first place. OpenTelemetry will serve as an ongoing repository for the latest and greatest technologies in the industry, and by frontloading the integration work, implementing new tech into cloud platforms will be much quicker. When all is said and done, customers will feel the benefit.

Data analytics is one of the most prominent ways of extracting value from observability. Analytics tools need to be built around or adjusted to the format of the data they are meant to examine. OpenTelemetry integrates easily with popular frameworks, such as MySQL, Kafka, and WSGI, and standardizes the way data is collected and stored. This will ultimately allow customers to collect more data, the right data, and analyze it in more valuable ways.

All in all, OpenTelemetry is a collaboration that is propelling technology in observability forward in a way that could never be possible without cooperation across the industry.

What is Exciting About OpenTelemetry?

OpenTelemetry is exciting for many reasons, and different reasons depending on who is asking. End users ought to be the most excited about OpenTelemetry, since the most value will flow to them, though they are ironically the least aware. It’s exciting both in terms of the technology, and the culture of the industry. Observability needs didn’t emerge overnight – they’ve been constantly changing and growing as tech expanded from Silicon Valley around the world from the early nineties till today, and it continues to evolve every day. Most companies arrived as needs emerged that existing companies couldn’t adapt to as quickly as a new startup. That’s typical behavior for any market, but the now $17 Billion and growing industry is at an inflection point. It can either fragment into several smaller markets, which will lead to more of the same, or it can do some soul searching and figure out exactly what it needs to be to add the most value to the world. Achieving the latter, which is hard to do with so many competitors and far-reaching technologies, is the ambition of OpenTelemetry. The project marks a long-needed conversion in the observability industry. Over 300 companies have come together to contribute and share, strengthening the solutions available to customers in every niche.

That doesn’t mean the observability space is colluding its way out of fair competition – in fact, the opposite. OpenTelemetry standards are becoming so integral and critical to the space that companies are now competing on the implementation of their technology rather than the foundation of it. What that means in the long run is that giants like Splunk and new players like observIQ (both OpenTelemetry contributors) will have essentially the same toolkit to work with. All cloud service observability solutions will become broader, more scalable, easier to implement, and niche solutions will have more capacity to focus on specific problems in their niche, rather than their observability foundations.

What Are the Limitations and Risks of OpenTelemetry?

OpenTelemetry is built on a somewhat paradoxical collaboration. The vast majority of its contributors work for competing companies, which begs the question, what’s in it for them? The obvious answer is that the OpenTelemetry project is far from a zero sum game. Every company contributing the project, though they may be competing with the others on their cloud services side, stands to gain beneficial technology from the collaborative effort that will make their cloud services stronger. And a more unified observability infrastructure makes different solutions work better together in instances where customers have use for more than one service. The flip side of that is that OpenTelemetry will probably never be a full-service observability solution. There will always be hoops to jump through with implementation, and likely ongoing maintenance. Observability customers can look confidently on OpenTelemetry and trust that all of its contributors have a strong service to offer them, but implementing OpenTelemetry solutions without paying for a cloud service will present a challenge for many.

observIQ is a Proud Contributor of OpenTelemetry

observIQ has been working alongside the OpenTelemetry community for several years, and we are proud of our team and contributions, especially the Stanza agent for log management, which was incorporated into OpenTelemetry by the OTEL team as the primary logging agent in the last year.

If you want to learn more about the observIQ cloud log management platform, bringing OpenTelemetry standards to customers with simple installation and an easy user interface, go try it out for yourself! It’s free.

Paul Stefanski
Paul Stefanski

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