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Published September 13, 2022

What is Distributed Tracing vs OpenTelemetry?

What is Distributed Tracing vs OpenTelemetry?

There are a few key differences between distributed tracing and OpenTelemetry. One is that OpenTelemetry offers a more unified approach to instrumentation, while distributed tracing takes a more granular approach. This means that OpenTelemetry can be less time-consuming to set up, but it doesn’t necessarily offer as much visibility into your system as distributed tracing does.

What is Distributed Tracing?

Distributed Tracing is a way of following requests as they propagate throughout the system. This is done by adding a unique identifier tag which stays with the transaction as it interacts with all aspects of the system from microservices to infrastructure and containers.

This allows the user to follow the progress of the transaction through the stack and to observe every part of the journey. This increased visibility and the ability to follow the transaction through the whole system is a major reason why distributed tracing is a popular solution for those who need to be able to account for and understand the complexities of every transaction.

What is OpenTelemetry?

OpenTelemetry is an open-source project that has been developed collaboratively by many in the software development community and comprises a framework of APIs and SDKs. It allows IT teams to instrument, generate and report telemetry data from inside the system. This enables an understanding of what is happening inside the system by extrapolating from the information that is generated.

Broadly speaking, OpenTelemetry helps to increase observability and to standardise the way that data is collected from logs, metrics and traces in order that it can be made easier for developers to understand and analyse.

Differences Between OpenTelemetry and Distributed Tracing

One of the differences between the two approaches is that OpenTelemetry focuses on collecting data at the application level, while distributed tracing also includes data from infrastructure components like databases and message queues.

It is true that this makes OpenTelemetry a little simpler to use, but it also means that the end user might not get as full and complete a picture of their system as with distributed tracing.

Overall, when considering the two in direct comparison to each other, OpenTelemetry has the advantage of being easier to set up and use. In achieving this, however, OpenTelemetry loses out on some of the more advanced features that are supported by distributed tracing.

Distributed tracing provides more complete and comprehensive visibility into the inner workings of the whole system and allows data to be broken down and sifted for useful information at a much more granular level.

Distributed tracing is considered to be the more modern of the solutions on offer as it can provide comprehensive information about how microservices are performing, alerting those who need to know of the necessity for action to be taken before failure conditions are reached.

When it comes to debugging, monitoring and optimizing software and microservices, distributed tracing is a key tool for any development team. The data analysis provided relating to every transaction provides an unrivalled level of feedback on whole-system health and predicts points of failure before they happen.

The Nastel Integration Infrastructure Management (i2M) Platform includes the Nastel XRay component which specializes in transaction tracking using both distributed tracing and OpenTelemetry individually or in combination as well as complementing them with more localized metric monitoring to provide complete visibility, observability, alerting, root cause analysis and remediation.

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