By Joe Byrne, CTO Advisor at Cisco AppDynamics
Across the technology industry, the adoption of OpenTelemetry is seen as the key to unlocking the potential of modern observability practices. As organizations shift towards modern application stacks built across multi-cloud and hybrid environments, OpenTelemetry is essential for IT teams to manage and optimize availability and performance within highly fragmented and dynamic cloud native environments.
As technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, IT departments are finding themselves under immense pressure to innovate quickly and effectively. Leaders are eager to take advantage of microservices and other cloud services to accelerate the pace of software releases. They recognize the flexibility and scale that cloud native technologies provide.
But this transition to modern applications comes with massive complexity and overwhelming data noise. Simply, if you have a single app that is running on-premises, most likely a Java app, and you want to bring that app over into a cloud native construct, you need to break the app up into 10, 12 or even 20 separate microservices which could also be shared by other applications. That app will then run as a cloud native, microservice-driven application. Therefore, you’ve suddenly gone from instrumenting one application to instrumenting 10, 12 or 20 different microservices.
This is essentially why OpenTelemetry is now so critical for organizations. It is the only way IT teams can simplify deployment and create a level of vendor agnostic standards for application development and maintenance, directly tied to their CI/CD cycles.
Enhancing Application Performance Requires IT Teams to Go Beyond OpenTelemetry
However, while cloud native undoubtedly represents the future of computing, the switch from on- premises applications and infrastructure won’t happen overnight. As we’ve seen in many industries, cloud migration is hugely complicated and costly if not properly managed. The current economic slowdown is also causing organizations to be more targeted in their cloud investments, rather than going after wholesale migration.
So the reality is that there will be a transitory period where customers are moving some of their applications and infrastructure into cloud native environments, while still running much of their IT estate on-premises. This means that IT teams need to adopt a hybrid strategy where they correlate OpenTelemetry into the overarching mix of already instrumented applications through traditional agent-based monitoring systems.
IT teams need an observability platform which provides flexibility to span across both cloud native and on-premises environments – with OpenTelemetry and agent-based entities being collected by the platform.
The Importance of Correlating IT Data with Business Metrics for Technologists
Critically, OpenTelemetry does not understand business transactions so IT teams need an observability platform that is able to extract business transactions from OpenTelemetry data as well as other metrics, events, logging, and tracing (MELT) data items, for infrastructure, application and logged data from the cloud provider.
Many IT teams are deploying separate tools to monitor cloud native and legacy applications, and this means they are having to run a split screen mode and can’t get the complete path up and down the application stack. This makes it difficult to troubleshoot issues and leads to increased mean time to resolution (MTTR) and mean time to X (MTTX). And beyond this, an inability to derive business context throughout the overarching application flow makes it very hard for organizations to validate their investments in cloud native technologies and digital transformation.
This is why it’s essential for IT teams to be able to ingest OpenTelemetry directly into their unified observability platform, so that they get a clear line of sight of the entire application path, even where application components are running across on-premises and cloud native environments.
IT Leaders Must Develop a Strong Strategy for OpenTelemetry Implementation
Despite the coverage and exposure given to OpenTelemetry over the last two years, it’s important to recognize that it is still a relatively new technology. As an open source project that really took off in 2019 following the merger of OpenTracing and OpenCensus, it has made rapid progress. Already, OpenTelemetry can visualize traces and metrics and it’s expected that it will also support logs in the future.
The reality is that adoption of OpenTelemetry is still in its infancy and few organizations have fully implemented it across their cloud native environments. But the situation is changing rapidly, with adoption gathering speed. In fact, it’s hard to find an organization now that doesn’t have OpenTelemetry in its future plans. Most CIOs I speak to expect to be using OpenTelemetry within the next two years.
However, it’s important that IT leaders take a considered approach to OpenTelemetry to ensure it can be implemented in a seamless and sustainable way. This is particularly true given how quickly the technology is maturing.
One of the big potential pitfalls in the implementation of OpenTelemetry is IT teams expecting it will deliver the same level of visibility they get from monitoring through a proprietary agent within on-premises environments. In most cases, it doesn’t. With OpenTelemetry, IT teams get traces and metrics but currently, that is all.
As a standalone tool, it’s very hard to derive any substantial value from OpenTelemetry because it generates a high volume of data making it difficult to visualize the full application picture. This is where IT teams need a wider observability platform to enhance the data they get from OpenTelemetry and combine it with data from other data points that they derive through agents and data coming in from public cloud environments, such as a Kubernetes infrastructure.
There is a huge learning curve that needs to accompany the adoption of OpenTelemetry. In many cases, the shift to OpenTelemetry is being driven by developer teams who are seeing it as a way to debug their code while they are in the app development process. Development teams are then asking operations teams to adopt OpenTelemetry but many don’t have a thorough understanding of the technology, what it delivers and how it fits within their wider monitoring set up.
For all technologists, there is now an urgent need to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to embrace OpenTelemetry as part of their wider observability strategy. As organizations look to accelerate their moves to microservices-based architecture, OpenTelemetry will become critical for IT teams to manage and optimize availability and performance within multi-cloud and hybrid environments.
IT teams need to ensure they’re able to integrate OpenTelemetry data into their current observability platform and to derive business context from it. In doing so, they can ensure they have the unified visibility and insights they need to deliver seamless and brilliant digital experiences to customers each and every time.