How OpenTelemetry Is Revolutionizing Observability
How the vendor-agnostic, open source project is improving visibility and unifying data collection.
- By Melissa Sussmann
- January 20, 2023
OpenTelemetry -- also called OTel -- is an open source observability project that standardizes and unifies data collection through telemetry pipelines. OTel is revolutionizing observability because of its openness, contributor community, and unprecedented cooperation.
OTel’s goal is to support traces, metrics, logs, and other telemetry data in one framework to make work easier for developers and engineers. It grew out of merging Google’s OpenCensus with the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s OpenTracing and from contributions by many in the industry.
The Benefits of Unified Collection
The goal of OTel is to provide full observability into data collection across disparate telemetry pipelines for better data fidelity. Disparate libraries and languages for individual agents get in the way of seeing all the data in one place. Having a single agent for logs, metrics, and traces prevents vendor lock-in and saves organizations time when looking for anomalous activity, improving digital customer experience, or managing Kubernetes clusters.
Data collection was formerly a mix of various vendor agents’ collection, instrumentation, and back-end tools. Now, with OTel, telemetry pipelines aim to unify the receivers, processors, and data exporters, and users can collect data from cloud-native applications without being tethered to specific vendors. In these ways, OTel represents a standard that had been previously unachievable.
The Journey to OpenTelemetry
The project, which is backed by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), has evolved over time, as project participants wanted to move away from proprietary tools to an open standard.
Participants contribute to help the developer community, to improve their own observability processes, and to benefit their customers’ site reliability engineers (SREs), DevOps practitioners, and developers). A committed volunteer community of individual and organizational contributors is what moves the unified project forward.
The Importance of a Vendor-Agnostic Solution
For users to get the transparency and data access they need, a unified telemetry standard has to be vendor-neutral. Unified collection lets users look at different data forms but frees them from vendor lock-in.
Previously, vendors lacked a unified set of standards and engineers were tied to proprietary vendor agents. Over time, more open source agents appeared, providing more choices. Organizations no longer had to use multiple tools, and developers began projects such as OpenCensus (a set of standards around metrics) and OpenTracing (a set of standards around tracing).
In the spirit of unifying standards, OTel is becoming the main source of truth, thereby stopping the chaos caused by separate collection methods and the lack of standardization around metrics and tracing.
OpenTelemetry is revolutionizing observability by giving users more control of their data, improving user flexibility, and providing full-stack data and user visibility. Users have the ability to scale, change tools, and add new technologies without worrying about how they will monitor everything. Developers enjoy all these benefits from a free solution.
The Future of OpenTelemetry
Developers, engineers, and others around the world are benefiting from OpenTelemetry’s open standards and unified collection method. These individuals and many of their organizations are also committed to contributing to the project.
OTel has been thus far a successful undertaking in open source observability. The community supports it and some organizations are even betting their entire futures on OTel. It is not yet a fully unified collection methodology, but it is well on its way.
Melissa Sussmann is a developer advocate with over 11 years of domain expertise, with experience as an engineer, product manager, and product marketing manager for developer tools. She is currently the lead technical advocate at Sumo Logic. In her spare time, Melissa enjoys working on side projects, including running nodes on the lightning network, writing smart contracts, running game servers, and building and tinkering with dev kits.