Distributed tracing company LightStep has released a new product based on the same technology as its high-end [x]PM product. Called simply LightStep Tracing, the tool is aimed at individual teams rather than entire organisations, and helps them to understand exactly what’s going on in their complex modern applications.
Mere mortals struggle to comprehend the complexity of modern microservice-based applications, which has given rise to new tools that help humans understand what’s happening as millions of transactions flow across their systems every minute. Distributed tracing helps admins understand the path an individual transaction takes through a microservices application.

Ben Sigelman, CEO and co-founder of LightStep

Ben Sigelman, CEO and co-founder of LightStep

“It used to be possible to enumerate all the ways your system could fail,” says LightStep CEO Ben Sigelman. That’s no longer true as the constantly changing nature of the always-on Internet meets the complex interconnectedness of modern software systems.

Clicking ‘buy’ on a website today could mean touching dozens of services running on hundreds of servers, with networks and containers and service meshes and any number of other systems involved in a delicate and complex web that has to work properly for that simple act of purchasing to succeed. If it doesn’t work, or is slow, the customer frustration is real, as is the lost revenue.

The rise of open-source projects such as OpenTracing, one of numerous Cloud Native Computing Foundation projects (and co-created by Sigelman), has lead to more widespread adoption of distributed tracing by builders of modern software.

“We often find prospective customers have implemented tracing already,” says Sigelman, “And often it’s OpenTracing, which is easy to use.” But the value of tracing comes from the insights it provides into system behaviour, which requires more sophisticated analysis than what the basic open-source projects provide.

“Traces are just raw data. The value comes from using traces as raw materials to do more advanced analysis,” says Sigelman. “We want to save you the trouble of looking at traces.”