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OpenTelemetry: A Game-Changing Standard for Application Visibility

Many enterprises are unaware that their current infrastructure can work with OpenTelemetry. OpenTelemetry is the new cloud-native standard for application observability. This article is the first of a three-part series that explores the technology’s business benefits and advantages.

Game changing is an overused phrase in tech. But OpenTelemetry, the new cloud-native standard for application observability, is the real deal.

For starters, OpenTelemetry lets you combine telemetry data from different systems and feed this rich data to various platforms without disruptive changes. This connectivity simplifies your overall architecture, ensures cloud portability, and lets you pick your analytics tool of choice. Before OpenTelemetry, collecting application health data was the responsibility of proprietary agents that were incompatible with one another.

Despite these benefits, it is safe to say that OpenTelemetry is still flying under the radar. Even enterprises familiar with OpenTelemetry are often unaware that it can work with their current infrastructure — without any need for major transformation such as developing new cloud-native alternatives.

So, what is OpenTelemetry?

Comprehensive application observability

OpenTelemetry is a Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) open-source incubator project, OpenTelemetry is a framework including a set of standard formats, software development kits (SDKs), libraries, and lightweight collectors that allow enterprises to collect application telemetry. OpenTelelemetry is concerned with application logs, metrics and traces.

Beyond common telemetry metrics such as latency, rates, and errors, OpenTelelemetry lets you customize what is being captured. Depending on the business context, you might want to track a requester’s department or agency or partner name. In another context, you may want to track a shopping cart identifier or any other application-relevant metric that can be analyzed against later.

By separating analytics and telemetry collection, OpenTelelemetry reduces proprietary vendor lock-in. OpenTelemetry unlocks unified observability and the collection of data, which can be processed through AI analytics or other insight producing technologies.

Unified Observation

Modern applications span across systems and clouds, each collecting their own telemetry.  By standardizing metrics and tracing, these telemetry sources can be combined to provide application health monitoring as a whole.

Tracing unlocks the full path view requests as they travel through an application. This provides valuable insights into how an application is performing at specific places and can pinpoint precisely where an error or bottleneck occurs, whether that’s code, configuration, or an interaction with an entirely different service. This translates to significant reductions in the amount of time and resources required to find and fix issues, optimize services and create visuals that map out complex architectures.    

The forest and not just the trees

OpenTelemetry simplifies the observability of modern architectures, where development and release speed have rapidly increased through the introduction of microservices and new technologies.  As these systems scale in size and scope, it has become increasingly difficult for developers and administrators to monitor each and every component that an application interacts with leading to prolonged downtime when something goes wrong. Speed and accuracy are critical when diagnosing and fixing a fault.  

Prior to OpenTelelemetry, observability tooling was tightly coupled to a specific vendor. OpenTelelemetry supports multiple vendors or backends, providing a simple integration point and heightened level of flexibility and portability.

OpenTelelemetry creates the opportunity to observe the system as a whole. To borrow an analogy, enterprises can now see the whole forest instead of just the trees. This heightened level of observability allows enterprises to predict problems and assess the overall health of an      application. As such, it also offers great value for cybersecurity as it makes it easier to connect the dots in sophisticated cyberattacks. And it allows enterprises to reap the benefits of having all this data to correlate and draw insights, for example, from AI.

OpenTelemetry being introduced in current infrastructure

A fun fact about OpenTelemetry is that many enterprises are unaware they are indirectly      introducing it as part of modernizing their application stacks using best practices. Cloud-native applications will often be architected with the OpenTelelemetry capability from the start. But to get the full benefits, enterprises also need to unlock OpenTelelemetry in their legacy layers.

As part of modernizing the Layer7 API Gateway, we are enabling OpenTelelemetry in our core engine. This is currently available as an experimental feature. Layer7’s OpenTelelemetry strategy has another benefit: the Layer7 policy author can customize the data points that are collected. This allows for more application insights built into the resulting analytics. An API Gateway is a rich source for telemetry data adding visibility from within the core of the application.

By unlocking OpenTelelemetry at the API layer, we believe that the lifecycle of API-based applications can be extended to this new era of observability.      

OpenTelemetry benefits include:

  •       Integrates all data sources into one telemetry stream
  •       Greater observability
  •       Preserves investment in pre-cloud-native infrastructure
  •       Accelerates troubleshooting

And this is just the beginning.

To learn more about OpenTelemetry we invite you to look to our next post in this series.