How Distributed Tracing Saves Time and Money

In this modern era, most companies want to make customers happy using emerging technologies. This is why they utilize multiple types of tools and new technologies to attract customers in their funnel and finally convert them into leads. However, it has some demerits too. Due to the use of multiple technologies and microservice architecture, the systems of modern applications have become more complex and leading to many difficulties in managing, primarily when a newbie interacts with the application.

Observability, as the name implies, helps in observing the performance of the application. Observability provides context and actionable insight by merging four forms of observability data: metrics, events, logs, and traces, among other things. But what is tracing precisely? Tracing is basically a method of debugging using a combination of various software. Traditional tracing has issues when it comes to troubleshooting programs built on a distributed or microservice-based software architecture.

Distributed tracing solutions solve this problem, and numerous other performance issues, because they can track requests through each service or module and provide an end-to-end narrative account of that request. In this article, we will discuss distributed tracing, all of its features, and how it helps businesses save time and money. Let us start now.

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What is Distributed Tracing?

Distributed tracing, commonly referred to as distributed request tracing, is mainly used for microservices architecture. Distributed tracing helps identify where problems occur and sources of bottlenecks. A tracking solution collects the data when users call API, and the requests pass through various microservices of the system. The trace data allows you to see how requests move through your microservices environment and determine where errors or performance issues occur.

Why Do We Need Distributed Tracing?

Nowadays, most companies are moving towards a microservice architecture-based solution because it is divided into components and easily maintained. But it has some drawbacks too, which include less visibility in tracking errors. Because when an error trace is logged, it is difficult to know from where the error is generated exactly, especially when there are multiple layers in the architecture. 

A few days back, I faced some id-related errors in an app backend. But after investigation, I found out that ids were not the actual cause of the error; instead, the exact cause was one attribute missing in the payload, which I figured out after some time. The time it took for me to find the actual reason was small because there were very few layers in my application. But, big tech companies have multiple layers, making bug tracking more complex than a monolithic architecture.

For solving this problem in microservice, you should opt for distributed tracing. Distributed monitoring of the errors in each segment provides the tracing report in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. It clearly shows the parts which caused errors and others that were affected.

Distributed Tracing vs. Tracing in Monolithic Applications

As mentioned above, when you start tracking component-wise in architecture for maintenance, it is called distributed tracing. When you use distributed tracing, you watch how requests are handled as they pass through the microservices of the application.

In contrast to monolithic monitoring, distributed monitoring shows how the individual component works and only provides other metrics related to that component. On the other hand, regular monolithic monitoring sees a complete application as a single architecture. Metrics like overall application availability and response time are tracked through application monitoring.

While it is possible to implement monolithic tracing in microservice-based applications, it would turn out to be highly inefficient and problematic. On the flip side, it does not make sense at all to use distributed tracing in monolithic apps since distributed tracing requires modularised components to trace from, which monolithic architecture lacks.

What is Distributed Logging?

Distributed logging as the name suggests, is the practice of distributing logs to different locations. But what is the need for distributed logging? Distributed logging is generally preferred in applications that generate too many logs and the servers are not placed nearby. Earlier most of the applications were using centralized logging for collecting logs of the application but it had many problems. As the access time could be painful if the server is slow and far, there can be so much pressure on a single system, the cost can shoot up.

Distributed tracing helps to keep our logs at different positions. It is beneficial for applications having a large number of microservices and generating a huge number of logs. Distributed reduces the time taken for accessing the logs from different locations. And also it eases the task of the teams working on the logs generated from different places. It also reduces the cost of handling all the logs from a single server. But you should not be using distributed logging when your team and application are small.

Essential Features of Distributed Tracing

Microservices are getting more popular among businesses. With the growing popularity of microservices, the need for distributed tracing and increased observability is also growing. Distributed tracing is used by frontend engineers, backend engineers, and site reliability engineers alike to accomplish the following benefits.

Reduce MTTD and MTTR

When a system reports any bugs or issues, it can be traced by the distributed system directly. It makes things very easy for the development team as they can quickly know when an error occurs. In other terms, the meantime to detect is lowered. This, in turn, helps the developers respond promptly to the incoming issues, decreasing the meantime to respond (MTTR). The distributed tracing tool can simply reduce the task of finding the source of bugs and the affected parts.

Less MTTR shows that whenever a user faces some problem it is more quickly solved by the concerned team compared to the case when the team is notified lately. Hence it will help us to increase user retention and make the user experience better. MTTD stands for mean time to detect it means how much it is taking for a developer to find the problem. MTTD can be increased by providing detailed logs about the problem so that developers can trace back the problem to its origin find some relevant thing for solving the issue.

Increased In Productivity

In any microservice architecture, when you face any kind of error report, you have to dig down for each component to find the component that caused the error. Also, the cost of monitoring each component is relatively high. The distributed tracing tool simplifies the task of finding the component by giving an overall view of the error, from where it was generated to the place which was affected. It shows the exact tracing of errors and how they propagate throughout the application. Now the team can directly pinpoint the file in which errors have been caused and the reason also making it easier to solve the bugs.

Scout APM shows full error tracing whenever something crashes in your application on a single page so that you don’t have to move anywhere for finding the information of the bugs. Also, it sends you notifications for such bugs and errors.

Better Team Collaboration

In a microservice environment, each process is created by a specialist team for the technology used in that service, making it difficult to pinpoint where a mistake occurred and who is responsible for fixing it. Distributed tracing nullifies such misconceptions by providing the overall view of the error and mentioning which team has to address it. With it, bugs tracing technologies teams can easily see where the bug has happened it clearly shows the files which are causing the error and the reason behind it also. Then the team can decide which microservices have a problem and solve it. It increases the productivity of the team overall and gives better results.

Also whenever a new feature needs to be added, it helps the team to identify the team which is the place that needs changes exactly. Then they can implement things in the best possible way. Better team collaboration also helps to proceed with things in a much faster way, hence benefitting the company.

Better Visibility through the system

Earlier most of the businesses were using monolithic architecture for their application. In monolithic applications seeing everything as a whole was very easy and getting the context of error was also very easy. But after some years when the complexity of applications started increasing and companies have to move from monolithic to microservice architecture. In the microservices, the code complexity, and development time decreased but the tracing of a bug has become very difficult especially when the number of microservices is large.

Traditional methods can not give the full context of error which makes it difficult for solving the bug. Logging could give the error logs from every microservices but getting the context of the error was still difficult. You may have to see thousand of microservices for getting the context and that is indeed very difficult.

Distributed tracing helps to see the full trace of bugs and pinpoint the cause of the issue. It cut down the time for solving bugs by almost half and make developers focus on the important stuff. Distributed tracing helps in finding the whole path that user took before finally reaching to the error.

Flexible Implementation

Distributed tracing tools can easily integrate a wide range of applications and backend services to provide you with an easy-to-configure monitoring setup. Developers can incorporate distributed tracing tools into almost any microservice setup and analyze data via a unified tracing app. You can easily add or remove services and apps as your project evolves over time.

Changing tech stacks can be very difficult if you are working on monolithic services in which the different parts of the application are heavily dependent on each other and share variables, memory, etc. Monolithic applications have tight configurations so changing anyone service might not be just sufficient. You may need to change other services or you need to plan before doing changes so that it will affect the minimum number of services. Distributed tracing helps in making implementation as flexible as possible and easy by providing separate services.

The Business Case For Distributed Tracing

For a long time, monolithic architecture was famous because it was simple to handle, and its construction was relatively straightforward. Then after that, came the microservice architecture when people came to know about the demerits of monoliths. But the problem in microservices is that the monitoring has become more complex than monolithic. Hence, for solving the problem, distributed tracing came into the picture. 

Slowly when the problem of monitoring in microservice started bothering developers, companies began moving towards distributed tracing. In this part, we will see the business cases for which companies adopted distributed tracing.

Productivity Increases For Employees

Distributed tracing makes tracing so simple that developers have to give their time only for solving the bugs, not finding them. It increases the productivity of employees manifold by simplifying the process. Since you have a dedicated setup that looks after the monitoring processes throughout your services, you do not need to spend any time putting in manual efforts to collect and consolidate data together.

Another thing is distributed tracing helps to find the reason for bugs in the easiest manner making them easy to distribute the work between developers. This increases the team collaboration and execution work faster and increases the productivity of the employees. If the reason for the bug is found easily then we can find which layer of microservice is causing the problem. Some distribution tracing tools like ScoutAPM automatically show the name of the developer who pushed the code on the GitHub repository. It helps in assigning the task to the concerned developer.

Working Across Multiple Applications Is Easy

You can use distributed tracing to work across multiple applications simultaneously; for example, traces can be propagated from Ruby on Rails applications to.NET applications over HTTP, RabbitMQ, WebSockets, or other transports. All necessary data can be uploaded, decoded, and viewed by the same tracing application. This further simplifies the instrumentation process as you do not need to come up with non-conventional ideas for unifying monitoring through all of your applications. Also if all the services of your network are separated then is easy for switching the tech stack of a particular service. It also makes the debugging of the applications as the dependency of any two services is very less. This is how distribution tracing makes working on multiple tech stacks very easy.

Reducing The Impact of Microservices on MTTR

Distributed tracing allows teams to see how requests flow across a microservices architecture and pinpoint where and why failures or performance issues arise. It's a given for assisting software teams in reducing MTTR, minimizing customer impact, and understanding the impact of code changes on the customer experience. When you respond to customer issues quicker than your competitors, then customers will have faith in you for using your services. This would customer retention and increase the company’s profit.

But advanced distributed tracing tools can be costly. Hence, companies are forced to accommodate a distributed tracing tool with limited features impacting their sales, advertising, user experience, etc. Therefore, you should consider using ScoutAPM as it has all the features you need at a very affordable price. It shows all of your logs in a single place so that you find all the information about an issue on a single page and reduces the hassles of clicking on different links. You can get started with ScoutAPM with absolutely free 14 days trial plan.

Low-Cost Managed Solution

When you opt for management tools for your application, you will see that you need various types of tools to make a full-proof management system. But a distributed tracing setup reduces the cost of most of your tools. However, you should use that tool wisely because it will do most of what an IT head does. The tool should account for variation in the request, sudden spikes in the graph, some breakdowns, and also send alerts on mishaps. It should notify on issues, provide a detailed report, and can also put some ways to fix it.

But you will be saving a lot of money as you are cutting most of the cost of different employees required to manage different sections of management of the application. A do-it-yourself option, where you handle the program on your own, is almost always less expensive. You're not devoting resources away from your core business, either. But in this case, you have to do a lot of manual effort for making this kind of management successful or the second alternative is to hire more people for this.

Deep Observability Into Microservices

Using a microservices architecture to provide new features quickly is only half the battle. Your engineering and operations teams must keep those features available and working as expected by customers, or your organization risks losing the business benefits that your inventive new digital experiences can provide. Distributed tracing helps you figure out quickly when a service goes down so that you can take measures to counter its impact.

You can still implement monitoring without distributed tracing in microservices, but such a setup will be time-consuming to fix and will also require a lot of complex interfaces because you have to add different for monitoring different services and there can be many blockers in this process. With distributed tracing tools, you can easily unify monitoring throughout your microservice-based application and gain deep visibility into its performance and health.

Helps in meeting targets

Distributed tracing helps developers to see how the app is performing with time and predict the future growth of the application. It shows the metrics which are important for monitoring the application and how it should be monitored. Other than that some clients also sign agreements regarding the growth of the application and the profit they make. Using distributed tracing you can see if your current progress is in compliance with the agreement. These metrics are really important as companies can go through huge losses if they do not meet the agreement signed with the client.

Disadvantages of Distributed tracing

There are a lot of advantages of distributed tracing but still, there are some demerits you should look at before going for it. Here we are listing some important disadvantages of distributed tracing. 

Manual Effort

When we do distribution tracing for the custom code we have to add the codes so that it can send reports to the system. The efforts for adding the code depend from system to system but overall some effort is needed to add the code. It can lead to some errors also as code might get broken while adding the codes and some traces can be missed.

Less Flexibility

When you choose automated distribution tracing over manual tracing you have to accept many features and permissions with the tool. Also in most of the distribution tracing tools, there must be some of the missing features that you may need for monitoring the application. So before getting started with any distributed tracing tool you need to carefully check the features whether it implies your needs or not.

Popular Distributed Tracing Tools

It is crucial to pick the correct distributed tracing tool. How do you know which one is best for you? We have gathered some of the best-distributed tracing tools available in the market. We have categorized them into two parts - open-source tool and paid tool.

One of the most significant differences between open source and paid tools is customer support. With an open-source tool, customer support is nearly non-existent since there are no dedicated teams to answer customer queries. However, paid tools to provide good after-sales support can come in handy if you want to move fast and get set up quickly.

Let us see some tools from both categories one by one.

Open Source Distributed Tracing Tools

Here are some of the open-source distributed tracing tools available in the market.

Paid Distributed Tracing Tools

Here are some of the famous paid distributed tracing tools in the market:

While there are many more tools in each category, what truly matters, in the end, is your specific requirements. If you have a relatively new project and you are looking to explore the possibility of implementing distributed tracing, open-source tools would be a better alternative since they are free and provide essential features in an easy-to-use interface. However, if monitoring is a top priority in your project and you are looking for a severe and long-term tool, you should directly try out one of the paid tools. Most tools offer a trial period in which you can check if the tool meets your requirements perfectly.

The Bottom Line

Microservices have made the life of companies so easy in managing entire applications, but one pain point that is still left is error monitoring. This is what distributed tracing has solved for us. It provides an overall picture of the errors occurring in the application and gives a good amount of detail about each error. It maintains the data of each component separately and monitors them in efficient ways. It helps to solve the unseen issues of the application and identify bottlenecks in the application that are not visible in normal tracing. ScoutAPM is a modern tool for application monitoring of your microservices application. You can get started with ScoutAPM free of cost for 14 days without a credit card. So if you want to monitor your application like a pro, go check out the Scout APM. For more of such content around web performance and development, feel free to check out the Scout APM Blog!