A Guide to OpenTelemetry - Part 8: Getting Started
October 27, 2022

Pete Goldin

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After reading the seven previous parts of APMdigest's A Guide to OpenTelemetry, you may be convinced that OTel is the right path your organization. It may be inevitable, according to some experts.

"Over the next few years, OpenTelemetry will become the only way to do production observability, so it's not a matter of 'if' but 'when' you'll need to do the work," says Martin Thwaites, Developer Advocate at Honeycomb.

Start with: A Guide to OpenTelemetry — Part 1

Start with: A Guide to OpenTelemetry — Part 2: When Will OTel Be Ready?

Start with: A Guide to OpenTelemetry — Part 3: The Advantages

Start with: A Guide to OpenTelemetry — Part 4: The Results

Start with: A Guide to OpenTelemetry — Part 5: The Challenges

Start with: A Guide to OpenTelemetry — Part 6: OTel and APM

Start with: A Guide to OpenTelemetry — Part 7: OTel and AIOps

Fortunately, getting started with OpenTelemetry is relatively simple.

"Getting started with OpenTelemetry is as easy as pulling down an agent or SDK," Morgan McLean, Director of Product Management at Splunk and Co-founder of OpenTelemetry, points out.

McLean attributes the ease of use to OpenTelemetry's solid language and system coverage, its ability to export data to almost any destination, and the fact that developers can pull down its components from locations that they already use every day (Docker Hub, Maven, NPM, etc.).

So what if you want to explore the possibility of implementing OpenTelemetry in your organization?

In Part 8, the final installment in the blog series, APMdigest asked several industry experts for their advice on getting started.

Understand Your Own Needs

"Understand why you need OpenTelemetry and whether it works with your unique stack. Understand what success looks like and how to measure it," says Michael Haberman, CTO and Co-Founder of Aspecto.

"OpenTelemetry provides an opportunity for organizations to be more intentional with observability," adds Sajai Krishnan, General Manager, Observability, Elastic. "Use OpenTelemetry as an opportunity to think through the data you want to provide business and operations teams to help them better understand system behavior. Think about the entire observability architecture, including data pipelines, and whether your tools and technology vendors fully support OpenTelemetry data ingestion."

Download the 2022 Gartner Magic Quadrant for APM and Observability

Start with the Official Documentation

"I believe that the best place to start with OpenTelemetry is official documentation right now. There are examples on how to create data with OTel libraries or collect data with the OTel collector," says Marcin "Perk" Stożek, Software Engineering Manager of Open Source Collection, Sumo Logic.

Consult the Community

Since there is no commercial vendor to support your OpenTelemetry initiative, the community is the next best thing.

"In case of problems it is always possible to get help from the community — either by creating an issue in the official repositories, talking to community members through email or Slack or going directly to a SIG meeting," Stożek of Sumo Logic recommends. "There are SIG meetings for every OpenTelemetry component, and information on how and when to join is publicly available on the project website."

"For the OpenTelemetry community and the open source ecosystem around it input from users is very valuable," says Fabian Stäber, Grafana Labs Senior Engineering Manager. "Please reach out, let the community learn what's going well and which areas need improvement, and help the OpenTelemetry ecosystem to become even better. The communities around the OpenTelemetry standard and around open source monitoring backends are very open and welcoming, and getting your feedback will help to improve the ecosystem."

"Don't be afraid to ask for help in the community, and try to give back when you can by submitting bug reports, or contributing code to the project itself," adds Austin Parker, Head of Developer Relations at Lightstep by ServiceNow.

Make OpenTelemetry a Decision Criteria

"If you are selecting new tooling, commit to OpenTelemetry as one of your key decision criteria," Krishnan from Elastic suggests. "You don't want to be in a proprietary cul-de-sac in 2025 when we expect OpenTelemetry to be the emerging default method to ingest all forms of telemetry."

Pair with Observability and Other Existing Tools

"First of all, consider the adoption of OpenTelemetry as part of your investment in digital transformation. You can use it to inform architectural decisions and project priorities by better understanding the bottlenecks of current applications," advises Torsten Volk, Managing Research Director, Containers, DevOps, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA).

"IT organizations that already have an observability solution in place can easily integrate OpenTelemetry into the monitoring process to gather insightful data from across the IT stack, even when the environment is fragmented and complex," says Joe Byrne, VP of Technology Strategy and Executive CTO at Cisco AppDynamics.

"Likewise, if an IT organization is not already utilizing an observability solution, they should consider doing so to get the most out of the data OpenTelemetry can provide," Byrne continues. "By pairing OpenTelemetry with observability, technologists can process the raw data from the IT stack and turn it into business-focused and actionable insights that provide a holistic view on performance and digital experience.

Jonah Kowall, CTO of Logz.io, adds, "Look at adopting it with your existing tools as an initial step to start to use it and avoid vendor lock in. Another good option is to switch to using an open-source observability stack, which will provide the best support for OpenTelemetry and cloud native integrations. Of course that will also remove the vendor lock in too, which is ideal. New projects and those which are cloud native should use OpenTelemetry today."

Integrate with Your Development Framework

"Be prepared to invest in developer experience work to integrate OpenTelemetry with your existing development framework and toolchain," Parker from Lightstep recommends.

Work with Stable Components

"Work with what's most stable, such as tracing and metrics, rather than jumping into logging," Parker from Lightstep adds.

Start with the OpenTelemetry Demo

"The OpenTelemetry community provides a polyglot microservice demo application. It demonstrates nicely how easy it is to instrument services. This project allows you to run a great amount of research before even getting your feet wet in your own code," says Cedric Ziel, Grafana Labs Senior Product Manager.

Start with the OpenTelemetry Collector

"OpenTelemetry provides a stand-alone service called the OpenTelemetry Collector. You can use it as a telemetry processing system. It can also automatically collect host metrics such as RAM, CPU, and storage capacity," says Pranay Prateek, Co-Founder of SigNoz.

Start with Auto-Instrumentation

"We suggest you start instrumenting a service or two and play with the data using a visualization tool. If you're starting your observability journey, you can use the auto-instrumentation libraries provided by OpenTelemetry. For example, OpenTelemetry provides a handy Java Jar agent that captures telemetry data from Java applications automatically," Prateek from SigNoz advises.

Torsten Volk from EMA adds, "Understand that automation is critical when it comes to consistently implementing OpenTelemetry-driven observability and visibility. In a nutshell, the auto-instrumentation needs to become part of the DevOps pipeline and therefore also become part of the standard quality assurance routine."

Start with the Connector-Contrib Repository

"Users should be aware there is a connector-contrib repository which contains many more components," Kowall from Logz.io says. "The builder should be used to create the collector which is well suited for your requirements."

Start Out Small

"Take the time to understand what is available with OpenTelemetry and start by experimenting with a smaller environment. The learnings from this can help develop a more accurate plan for larger adoption as well as timeline," says Nitin Navare, CTO of LogicMonitor.

Haberman from Aspecto agrees: "Show value first. Start small with a specific part of your system and a specific use case or a recurring error."

Torsten Volk from EMA explains further, "Start small with your rollout as auto-instrumentation may create performance issues in certain areas, depending on your current infrastructure. For example, focus on areas of user impact and start by auto-instrumenting and visualizing telemetry data for specific user groups. Drill deep into these user groups by tracking telemetry data at the individual user level to learn about potential issues related to the rest of the user community, without jeopardizing overall application performance by continuously running vast numbers of real time queries."

Get Other Teams Onboard

"For OpenTelemetry champions in larger organizations, make sure you have other teams on board so you can lead the adoption successfully," says Haberman from Aspecto.

Pete Goldin is Editor and Publisher of APMdigest
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