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Published August 18, 2022

What is OpenTelemetry?

What is OpenTelemetry?

OpenTelemetry is a collection of tools and APIs for collecting, processing, and exporting telemetry data from software. It is used to instrument applications for performance monitoring, logging, tracking, tracing, and other observability purposes.

What is Telemetry? The word is derived from the Greek “tele” meaning “remote,” and metron meaning “measure.” So, it’s the collection of metrics and their automatic to a receiver for monitoring.

So, what is OpenTelemetry? OpenTelemetry is an open-source project and unified standard for service instrumentation and measurement. It replaces OpenTracing and OpenCensus.

It can be hard to track what is going on in a distributed environment, and OpenTelemetry simplifies this by allowing for much greater observability across the entire breadth of the system, whether a mainframe or distributed, data center or cloud.

What Problem Does OpenTelemetry Seek to Solve?

Observability is a technology buzzword that is often bandied around without much context or thought to mean, but in control theory, “observability” measures how well we can get to grips with the internal workings of a system using only what is output externally.

Anyone who has ever operated or deployed a modern, microservice-based software application will have struggled to understand at least a few aspects of its performance and behavior. This is because the “outputs” from the system are generally substandard and don’t go into the required level of detail.

It’s impossible to make head or tail of a complicated system if it’s a sealed black box. The only method we have that can shine a light on those black boxes is high-quality telemetry.

OpenTelemetry is a cross-platform and open-source solution designed to be used with any language or runtime. OpenTelemetry has official support for many popular programming languages and platforms and is backed by some of the biggest names in the software industry who have cooperated toward this becoming a standardized method of data reporting.

OpenTelemetry consists of two main components: the Software Development Kit (SDK) and the collector. The SDK is used to allow for easy instrumentation of your application’s code to allow it to generate the requisite telemetry data. The collector then comes into play and is used to process and export that data into a format that is more easily understood.

You can use an OpenTelemetry Collector to send your data to an extremely wide range of backend services for further processing, analysis, or just collection and storage. Some of these backend services include Prometheus, Jaeger, Honeycomb, Datadog, New Relic, Zipkin, and of course, the Nastel i2M Platform components of XRay and AutoPilot.

Why is OpenTelemetry Important for Middleware?

Until the advent of OpenTelemetry, every technology provider had their own custom way of trying to achieve the same thing. Sometimes in an industry, there is an opportunity for convergence of ideas and technologies to make life easier for everyone involved. This is what OpenTelemetry represented, and that is why it has been an important evolution in middleware management, interoperability, and data collection.

OpenTelemetry is important for middleware because it provides a unified way to collect data from distributed and disparate systems. The data that is collected by OpenTelemetry can be used to troubleshoot issues, understand any unusual performance bottlenecks, and monitor the health of your system more generally.

OpenTelemetry is designed to work alongside various middleware solutions, such as message queues, databases, and web servers (e.g., IBM MQ, Apache Kafka, WebSphere, CP4I). This makes it easier to instrument your applications and get much greater visibility into how they are performing across the board.

In a distributed environment, it can be complicated to get a handle on what is going on system-wide. This is where OpenTelemetry can help you get your hands on the data that you need to observe and understand what is going on.

This data is valuable and time-sensitive as it is only relevant for a short period of time unless it is being used to try to see some bigger picture of the data and investigate and understand a larger pattern of events.

How Can Nastel Help?

Nastel Technologies is a leader in the field of transaction tracking and observability and offers a range of products designed to enhance the ability to observe your transactions in real-time. The Nastel XRay software can receive OpenTelemetry data as well as other telemetry data and combine it to give full end-to-end observability. It can also filter and combine data to pass more sophisticated information to other OpenTelemetry Collectors for processing.

Nastel’s XRay software is available on a wide cross-platform basis and offers many detailed dashboards and displays that make it clear what is happening in real-time. There is also a single pane of glass view that offers the ultimate in observability, giving users the chance to see everything that is going on throughout their entire application stack.

Transaction Tracking vs. Transaction Tracing

OpenTelemetry provides the basics of transaction tracing, recording the steps taken by a piece of data throughout its journey until it has reached its destination. Nastel enhances this into transaction tracking. Although the terms are extremely similar, they are not to be confused as one is more complex and reliable than the other.

Transaction tracing, as evinced by OpenTelemetry, is a good start, but transaction tracking builds upon that start and then adds in some big data analysis in order to “stitch together” the path of the data and track it every single step of the way.

The use of big data analytics by Nastel in looking at the tracking of the transaction throughout the system means that the entire pathway can be understood and checked against the historical record. Big data allows us to predict with a high degree of certainty which routes a particular transaction is likely to take and to be aware of any changes in system processes and logs while this happens.

XRay can overlay system performance data on top of the transaction data so we can see in real-time if the transaction tripped an error state in any particular part of the journey or caused performance issues.

Understanding all of the factors that can affect a transaction is an important facet of gaining a full understanding of the entire journey through the system. This underlines the advantage offered by Nastel Technologies and the XRay system, in particular with the superior tracking technology.