What is the OpenTelemetry Project and Why is it Important

What Is the OpenTelemetry Project and Why Is It Important?

by Joe Howell on May 18, 2021

The OpenTelemetry project is an ambitious endeavor with of goal of bringing together various technologies to form a vendor neutral observability platform. Within the past year, many of the biggest names in tech provide native support within their commercial projects.

Formed through a merger of the OpenTracing and OpenCensus projects under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), OpenTelemetry (powered by observIQ’s log agent, Stanza) aims to make rich data collections across applications easier and more consumable.

What Is the OpenTelemetry Project?

OpenTelemetry is an ecosystem of instrumentation libraries and tools that are used to generate, collect, process, and export telemetry data for analysis. OpenTelemetry helps you better understand your software behavior and performance.

OpenTelemetry provides a standard using open-source software to produce metrics from cloud-native infrastructure and applications. Using language-specific instrumentation libraries, signals can be exported directly from applications. Alternately, the OpenTelemetry Collector can capture signals from web frameworks, RPC systems, storage clients, and other applications in use.

OpenTelemetry Examples

OpenTelemetry can be used to capture logs, metrics, and traces. This allows you to observe the state of microservices within applications. You can trace requests as they flow between microservices, capture related events, and track resource usage of shared systems.

Another way OpenTelemetry is being used is to identify potential constraints, to create tiered requests within applications so shared resources can be prioritized.

The OpenTelemetry ecosystem makes real-life tasks easier. Here some examples:

  • Adding custom attributes to automatically track spans, thereby making it easy to query data
  • Filtering out synthetic traffic
  • Identify long-running tasks 
  • Segment telemetry data using resource APIs

Importance of the OpenTelemetry Project

Modern cloud-native applications and data are distributed. This can make it difficult to compile the data you need into a single source. OpenTelemetry solves this problem by tracing and extracting data cross-platform. By standardizing the way telemetry data is collected and transmitted, it creates a common instrumentation format across various services.

Managing the performance of these complex and diverse environments has become a significant concern for development teams. It takes instrumentation for all of your frameworks and libraries, across multiple programming languages, to understand the collective behavior of all your services and applications.

Without such a standard, teams may be left with data silos or blind spots that negatively impact troubleshooting. OpenTelemetry make the detection and resolution of problems easier. With complete interoperability, it provides a standard form of instrumentation across all of your services.

Why Use OpenTelemetry

By providing a standard for observability for native cloud applications, OpenTelemetry can significantly reduce the amount of time developing and implementing mechanisms to collect application telemetry. This frees up developers to spend time working on enhancing features.

The Benefits of Open Telemetry

OpenTelemetry is used by developers to examine features and finds bugs. It provides several important benefits, including:

  • The flexibility to change backends without having to change instrumentation
  • Creating a single set of standards to allow you to work with more vendors, projects, and platforms
  • Simplifying telemetry data management and export
  • Installing and integrating OpenTelemetry is often as simple as dropping in a few lines of code
  • Avoids being locked into vendor configuration and roadmap priorities
  • When new technologies emerge, you don’t have to wait for vendor support for instrumentation

Broad Language Support

OpenTelemetry provides broad language support, including Java, JavaScript, Python, Go, C++, C#, Rust, and Erland/Elixir. It also integrates with most popular libraries and frameworks, including:

  • Akka
  • Core
  • Django
  • Express
  • Flask
  • Gorilla/mux
  • Kafka
  • JDBC
  • Jetty
  • MySQL
  • net/http
  • PostgreSQL
  • RabbitMQ
  • Redis
  • Spring
  • WSGI

OpenTelemetry Architecture Components

OpenTelemetry is made up of a series of components, including:

  • APIs – A core component, APIs are language-specific, such as Python, Java, .Net, etc.) and providing the basic pathway for adding OpenTelemetry to applications
  • SDK – A language-specific SDK acts as the bridge to deliver data gathered from the AP and the Exporter. SDKs allow for configuration, including transaction sampling or request filtering.
  • Exporters – OpenTelemetry Exporters let you configure where you want the telemetry sent. They decouple instrumentation from the backend configuration to make it easier to switch backends.
  • Collector – The OpenTelemetry Collector is optional but helps create a seamless solution. It creates greater flexibility for sending and receiving telemetry within the backend. The Collector utilizes two models for deployment. You can use either an agent residing on the application host or implement a standalone process separate from the application itself.

What Is OpenTracing?

OpenTracing was a project undertaken by CNCF in 2016. It aimed to provide vendor-neutral ways of managing distributed tracing to help developers trace requests from start to finish.

The OpenCensus project, which Google made open source in 2018 after using it internally for their Census library, had much the same application.

observIQ Contributes Log Agent to the OpenTelemetry Project

observIQ’s Stanza Log Agent is a key part of the OpenTelemetry project. The log management platform is the first to take full advantage of the log agent technology that has been incorporated into OpenTelemetry.

observIQ accelerated the OpenTelemetry Project by contributing the Stanza open-source agent to the project as part of its effort to enable high-quality telemetry for all. Stanza is a small footprint, high capability, log shipping agent. It uses roughly 10% of the CPU and memory of other popular log agents.

You can sign up for a free trial of observIQ to see Stanza in action as a native component.

If you’re interested in taking part in the OpenTelemetry Project, join the GitHub community to get started.

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