Distributed Tracing in Microservices: Benefits and Why Enterprises Need It

Today’s digital transformation is shifting the software delivery paradigm from a centralized model to a distributed one. Microservices architectures are an essential part of this transformation, with numerous benefits such as faster time-to-market, increased visibility and traceability, lower operational costs, etc. With microservices, enterprises can develop and deploy small services that solve specific business problems. A microservice is a self-contained software module that has its own unique functionality. The main benefit of microservices is that they allow businesses to break down their applications into smaller services with their own specific logic and data storage. This approach makes it easy to update and replace individual services while maintaining the integrity of the entire system. There are many other advantages of microservices over conventional applications — they enable continuous integration processes, monitoring of single services, automated deployment of new code versions and many more.

Challenges in Microservices Development

In distributed systems, the problem of tracking down issues and anomalies is more challenging than in centralized systems. This is due to the fact that distributed systems consist of several independent components running in separate hosts, which makes it harder to identify the root cause of a problem. These systems are usually designed for scalability and high availability, so they are particularly complex and difficult to monitor. 

Why Do Enterprises Need Distributed Tracing?

In distributed systems, distributed tracing provides an essential tool for identifying the root cause of problems, troubleshooting, and monitoring the performance of distributed applications. Distributed tracing can help businesses to track application-specific events in distributed systems that are hosted in multiple data centers. With the technology, it’s easier to analyze and discover the performance bottlenecks of distributed systems, identify the root cause of problems and get insights into the overall health of applications. For example, distributed tracing can be used to track the sequence of operations that are executed between the microservices in a distributed system. When distributed tracing is enabled, the microservices can send trace data to a distributed tracing service that is deployed in a central place. The distributed tracing service aggregates the trace data from multiple microservices and generates the sequence diagram that shows the hosts, components and their logical paths. This diagram enables the end-user to identify the problems in the system, such as slow requests, etc.

Benefits of Implementing Distributed Tracing

The main benefits of distributed tracing in microservices include faster identification of root causes of issues, better understanding of the application, easier troubleshooting and serviceability, and reduced operational costs.  

●Faster identification of root causes - With distributed tracing, troubleshooting becomes faster because the sequence diagram shows the logical paths of the request execution. Distributed tracing can speed up the process of finding the root cause of problems, such as slow responses and the error messages that are displayed to the customer.
●Better understanding of the application - With distributed tracing, businesses can get better insights into the application and its performance. The tool can help to understand the impact of new microservices, new versions of services, and new versions of code by tracing individual paths of the request execution.
●Easier troubleshooting and serviceability - With the technology, businesses can easily understand when a service is unavailable and get details on the operations that are executed between the services. The distributed tracing system can generate and save a specific trace that can be used to investigate and trigger a distributed service.
●Reduced operational costs - Distributed tracing can significantly reduce the operational costs by helping to optimize the resources, reduce downtimes, find the root cause of issues, and get insights into the overall health of applications.

Limitations of Distributed Tracing in Microservices

The main limitation of distributed tracing in microservices is that it’s a proprietary technology. It's not a standard technology, so it can significantly differ between the vendors, which makes it hard to integrate with different systems. This makes it also challenging to implement distributed tracing in microservices architectures and use the data that is generated by this technology. Another limitation of distributed tracing is that it uses a centralized approach, which makes it hard to send all trace data to a single centralized service (e.g. tracing data from 10 distributed microservices and sending it to a centralized service). Also, the time-based logging used by distributed tracing is not reliable.

Wrapping Up

Distributed tracing is an essential tool for identifying the root cause of issues in distributed systems, such as microservices. This article discussed the challenges in microservices development, why enterprises need distributed tracing, benefits of distributed tracing in microservices, and limitations of distributed tracing in microservices.

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