Observability has quickly become a major focus of enterprise DevOps. Yet tool sprawl and complexity can hold some observability initiatives back. The 2022 CNCF Microsurvey on observability trends found that 23% of organizations use between 10 and 15 tools for monitoring, metrics and gathering logging and tracing data. A full 50% also noted that engineers and teams using multiple tools presented a top challenge to observability.
I recently met with Dotan Horovits, principal developer advocate for Logz.io, to get his take on improving how modern development teams handle observability. According to Horovits, open standards and open source projects are the principal drivers to realizing interoperable observability industry-wide. Below, we’ll consider the issues facing observability and introduce OpenTelemetry, a CNCF project quickly gaining traction to unify telemetry data from various sources.
Open Standards For The Win
Although proprietary monitoring agents have a lot of intelligence, they inherently use tight coupling between telemetry generation and the backend storage analytics, said Horovits. This can cause vendor lock-in and lead to formatting variations in telemetry data between toolsets. “The open standards have the power to converge our industry to prevent vendor lock-in, even the playing field, and allow us to get any telemetry for any source,” said Horovits.
Without an open standard, supporting the evolving suite of technologies at the heart of modern polyglot software stacks is challenging. Organizations constantly add to their tech stack, from SQL to NoSQL, Kafka, API gateways and serverless cloud services, and these modules produce varying data formatted in unique styles. What’s more, companies are typically using more than one cloud vendor, further necessitating the need for a decoupled method to represent multi-cloud metrics. “As soon as your IT stack becomes this complex, there is a need to aggregate all telemetry into one unified observability standard,” explained Horovits.
OpenTelemetry is described as a “high-quality, ubiquitous and portable telemetry to enable effective observability.” Using OpenTelemetry (sometimes abbreviated as OTel), engineers can generate, collect and export metrics, logs and traces. OpenTelemetry works with many popular libraries and is completely vendor-neutral and supported by a rising number of tools in the space. OpenTelemetry was accepted to CNCF on May 17, 2019, and is an incubating project.
The OpenTelemetry registry boasts hundreds of libraries and plugins to export and transform telemetry data from many different environments, from legacy to contemporary sources. By decoupling the data collection and export process, OpenTelemetry is “one agent to rule them all,” Horovits explained. Of course, he added, vendors who adopt OpenTelemetry may still provide their own logic behind it.
The Benefits of More Open Telemetry Data
At the time of writing, live public repository data shows OpenTelemetry is the second-most active CNCF project, behind Kubernetes. So, why is the observability community so excited about OpenTelemetry? Well, for one, the interoperability it affords could equate to efficiency and time savings. “OpenTelemetry gives you the freedom to integrate throughout the stack,” stated Horovits. Part of this is because its open source roots make it a force multiplier. “You can never achieve such vast coverage with closed source as you would with a wide-open community,” Horovits said.
Arguably, an open telemetry toolset has also become necessary due to the sheer complexity of cloud-native architectures. Most organizations are shifting to a distributed microservices architecture supported by a dynamic, elastic container-based infrastructure. In this world, a single service might span multiple clusters. Therefore, engineers might need to consider clusters, pods, nodes and namespaces when filtering for data.
In this complex reality, there are many dimensions, multiplying what needs to be monitored. And in general, traditional monitoring systems become ineffective at this level. Tool sprawl and lack of consolidation are problems that arise when trying to cater to many environments simultaneously. Thus, a unified, decoupled observability platform makes a lot of sense.
Future of OpenTelemetry
We’ve seen vast adoption from cloud vendors and solution providers around OpenTelemetry. And, the project has been moving swiftly—OpenTelemetry has had a distributed tracing specification released for about a year. The project almost has a release candidate for metrics and one for logs is in the works, said Horovits.
Beyond that, one feature that Horovits is excited about is continuous profiling, which could help users continuously analyze a function and track usage trends across instances. Another exciting potential development is eBPF. Since it’s language-independent and runs at the kernel level, eBPF could extract observability signals without requiring application-specific hooks or integrations. This could increase support for more environments.
For more information, you can visit the OpenTelemetry site to peruse the documentation or read up on the feature roadmap for OpenTelemetry. Horovits also gave this helpful presentation on OpenTelemetry at KubeCon 2022.