Open Telemetry 101 – A Primer

13 Min Read | June 06, 2024

OpenTelemetry is an open-source observability framework designed to capture distributed traces and metrics from applications and services. It provides a standardized way to collect, process, and export telemetry data to various backends like tracing systems, monitoring platforms, and logging tools. OpenTelemetry, currently an incubating project at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, is the merger of two popular observability projects: OpenTracing and OpenCensus. It aims to provide a unified set of APIs, libraries, agents, and instrumentation for tracing and metrics collection across different programming languages and platforms. 

In this blog post, we'll explore what OpenTelemetry is, how it can be used, and the benefits it offers to developers and organizations, as well as several alternatives to OpenTelemetry. In addition, we’ll outline how OpsRamp, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company (HPE), leverages OpenTelemetry in its hybrid observability capabilities. 

Key Components of OpenTelemetry 

  • SDKs: Software Development Kits (SDKs) are available for various programming languages like Java, Python, Go, and more. These SDKs provide application programming interfaces (APIs) for instrumenting applications to generate traces and metrics. 
  • Instrumentation Libraries: OpenTelemetry offers a collection of libraries for popular frameworks and libraries to automatically instrument applications without manual code changes. 
  • Exporters: Exporters allow you to send telemetry data to various backends such as OpsRamp, Jaeger, Zipkin, Prometheus, and others. 

OpenTelemetry Use Cases 

  • Instrumenting Applications: You can instrument your applications using OpenTelemetry SDKs and libraries. By adding a few lines of code or using automatic instrumentation, you can start capturing traces and metrics from your application code. 
  • Integrating with Backends: OpenTelemetry provides a wide range of exporters to send telemetry data to various observability platforms. You can configure and use these exporters to integrate OpenTelemetry with your preferred backend systems. 
  • Monitoring and Analysis: Once you've instrumented your applications and integrated with your observability platform, you can monitor, analyze, and troubleshoot your applications' performance, dependencies, and bottlenecks using the collected traces and metrics. 

Benefits of OpenTelemetry 

  1. Standardization: OpenTelemetry provides a standardized way to instrument, collect, and export telemetry data across different languages, frameworks, and platforms. This standardization simplifies observability integration and ensures consistency across your entire application stack.
  2. Flexibility: With OpenTelemetry, you can choose from a variety of SDKs, libraries, and exporters to tailor observability to your specific requirements. Whether you're building a microservices architecture, a monolithic application, or a hybrid cloud environment, OpenTelemetry offers flexibility to adapt to your needs and requirements. 
  3. Vendor-Neutral: OpenTelemetry is vendor-neutral and community-driven, ensuring openness, transparency, and collaboration among developers, organizations, and observability platforms. This neutrality enables interoperability and avoids vendor lock-in, allowing you to switch between different observability tools and platforms as needed. 
  4. Improved Troubleshooting and Debugging: By capturing detailed traces and metrics from your applications, OpenTelemetry helps you identify and diagnose performance issues, errors, and bottlenecks more efficiently. This improved visibility into your application's behavior enables faster troubleshooting, debugging, and optimization, leading to better application reliability and user experience

OpenTelemetry Alternatives: 

Several alternatives to OpenTelemetry exist in the observability landscape, each with its own set of features, advantages, and use cases. Let's explore some of the more notable alternatives and their benefits: 

  1. Jaeger: Primarily a distributed tracing system, Jaeger offers robust capabilities for monitoring and troubleshooting microservices architectures. Similar to OpenTelemetry, Jaeger is open-source and provides flexibility for customization and integration with various platforms. It comes with a user-friendly web UI for visualizing traces, making it easier to understand and analyze application dependencies and performance.
  2. Zipkin: Known for its simplicity and ease of use, Zipkin is a popular choice for developers looking for a lightweight tracing solution. Zipkin supports multiple backends and offers a variety of plugins and extensions for seamless integration with different programming languages, frameworks, and platforms. With a strong community and active development, Zipkin continues to evolve and improve with new features, enhancements, and contributions from the community. 
  3. Prometheus: Unlike tracing-focused tools like Jaeger and Zipkin, Prometheus is a metrics monitoring system designed for collecting, storing, and querying time-series data. Prometheus is built for scalability and can handle high volumes of metrics data, making it suitable for monitoring large-scale, distributed systems. It also includes built-in alerting capabilities, allowing you to set up alerts based on custom metrics thresholds, making it easier to detect and respond to potential issues and anomalies. 
  4. Grafana: Grafana is a popular open-source platform for creating, exploring, and sharing dashboards and visualizations from different data sources, including tracing and metrics data from observability tools like Prometheus, Jaeger, and others. Grafana offers a high degree of customization and flexibility, allowing you to create custom dashboards, panels, and visualizations tailored to your specific monitoring and observability needs. Grafana also supports integration with a wide range of data sources and observability tools, making it a versatile and powerful platform for consolidating and visualizing telemetry data from various sources in a single interface. 
  5. Honeycomb: Specializing in handling high cardinality data, Honeycomb is suitable for monitoring and analyzing complex, dynamic systems with a large number of unique attributes and dimensions. Honeycomb provides powerful debugging and troubleshooting capabilities, enabling developers to identify and resolve issues quickly by exploring detailed event data and traces. It also offers real-time data exploration and analysis features, allowing you to query and visualize telemetry data instantly, making it easier to gain insights and make informed decisions based on current system behavior and performance.  

How OpsRamp Leverages OpenTelemetry 

OpsRamp supports the integration of telemetry data types such as metrics, logs, and traces using OpenTelemetry as the instrumentation library. This integration facilitates the effortless ingestion of these data streams directly from the pre-configured OpenTelemetry collector into OpsRamp, enabling comprehensive monitoring and analysis within the OpsRamp environment. 

This integration is simple to deploy utilizing our pre-configured OpenTelemetry collector. We provide a unified view of traces, logs, and metrics making troubleshooting and root cause analysis far simpler with less context switching. 

In summary, OpenTelemetry is a powerful observability framework that simplifies and standardizes the collection, processing, and analysis of distributed traces, logs and metrics from applications and services. By providing standardized APIs, flexible instrumentation, and seamless integration with various backends, OpenTelemetry empowers developers and IT operations teams to gain valuable insights into their applications' performance, dependencies, and behaviors. Whether you're building modern cloud-native applications or maintaining legacy systems, OpenTelemetry offers many capabilities needed to monitor, analyze, and optimize applications effectively.  

And while OpenTelemetry offers a comprehensive and standardized approach to observability, there are several alternatives like Jaeger, Zipkin, Prometheus, Grafana, and Honeycomb that cater to specific use cases, preferences, and requirements. It's essential to evaluate and choose the right tool or combination of tools based on your specific use case, infrastructure, programming languages, and integration requirements to effectively monitor, analyze, and optimize your applications and services. 

Lastly, OpsRamp from HPE integrates with and leverages OpenTelemetry to provide ingestion of metrics, logs and trace data into OpsRamp. OpsRamp then delivers a single pane of glass view of logs, metrics, traces, and more making it easy to perform correlation and root cause analysis. 

To learn more about how OpsRamp integrates and leverages OpenTelemetry, please visit: 

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