Elastic contributes its Universal Profiling agent to OpenTelemetry

Elastic is advancing the adoption of OpenTelemetry with the contribution of its universal profiling agent. Elastic is committed to ensuring a vendor-agnostic ingestion and collection of observability and security telemetry through OpenTelemetry.

Elastic contributes its Universal Profiling agent to OpenTelemetry

Following great collaboration between Elastic and OpenTelemetry's profiling community, which included a thorough review process, the OpenTelemetry community has accepted Elastic's donation of our continuous profiling agent. This marks a significant milestone in helping establish profiling as the fourth telemetry signal in OpenTelemetry. Elastic’s eBPF-based continuous profiling agent observes code across different programming languages and runtimes, third-party libraries, kernel operations, and system resources with low CPU and memory overhead in production. SREs can now benefit from these capabilities: quickly identifying performance bottlenecks, maximizing resource utilization, reducing carbon footprint, and optimizing cloud spend. Over the past year, we have been instrumental in enhancing OpenTelemetry's Semantic Conventions with the donation of Elastic Common Schema (ECS), contributing to the OpenTelemetry Collector and language SDKs, and have been working with OpenTelemetry’s Profiling Special Interest Group (SIG) to lay the foundation necessary to make profiling stable.

With today’s acceptance, we are officially contributing our continuous profiler technology to OpenTelemetry. We will also dedicate a team of profiling domain experts to co-maintain and advance the profiling capabilities within OTel.

We want to thank the OpenTelemetry community for the great and constructive cooperation on the donation proposal. We look forward to jointly establishing continuous profiling as an integral part of OpenTelemetry.

What is continuous profiling?

Profiling is a technique used to understand the behavior of a software application by collecting information about its execution. This includes tracking the duration of function calls, memory usage, CPU usage, and other system resources.

However, traditional profiling solutions have significant drawbacks limiting adoption in production environments:

  • Significant cost and performance overhead due to code instrumentation
  • Disruptive service restarts
  • Inability to get visibility into third-party libraries

Unlike traditional profiling, which is often done only in a specific development phase or under controlled test conditions, continuous profiling runs in the background with minimal overhead. This provides real-time, actionable insights without replicating issues in separate environments. SREs, DevOps, and developers can see how code affects performance and cost, making code and infrastructure improvements easier.

Contribution of production-grade features

Elastic Universal Profiling is a whole-system, always-on, continuous profiling solution that eliminates the need for code instrumentation, recompilation, on-host debug symbols or service restarts. Leveraging eBPF, Elastic Universal Profiling profiles every line of code running on a machine, including application code, kernel, and third-party libraries. The solution measures code efficiency in three dimensions, CPU utilization, CO2, and cloud cost, to help organizations manage efficient services by minimizing computational waste.

The Elastic profiling agent facilitates identifying non-optimal code paths, uncovering "unknown unknowns", and provides comprehensive visibility into the runtime behavior of all applications. Elastic’s continuous profiling agent supports various runtimes and languages, such as C/C++, Rust, Zig, Go, Java, Python, Ruby, PHP, Node.js, V8, Perl, and .NET.

Additionally, organizations can meet sustainability objectives by minimizing computational wastage, ensuring seamless alignment with their strategic ESG goals.

Benefits to OpenTelemetry

This contribution not only boosts the standardization of continuous profiling for observability but also accelerates the practical adoption of profiling as the fourth key signal in OTel. Customers get a vendor-agnostic way of collecting profiling data and enabling correlation with existing signals, like tracing, metrics, and logs, opening new potential for observability insights and a more efficient troubleshooting experience

OTel-based continuous profiling unlocks the following possibilities for users:

  • Improved customer experience: delivering consistent service quality and performance through continuous profiling ensures customers have an application that performs optimally, remains responsive, and is reliable.
  • Maximize gross margins: Businesses can optimize their cloud spend and improve profitability by reducing the computational resources needed to run applications. Whole system continuous profiling identifies the most expensive functions (down to the lines of code) across diverse environments that may span multiple cloud providers. In the cloud context, every CPU cycle saved translates to money saved. 
  • Minimize environmental impact: energy consumption associated with computing is a growing concern (source: MIT Energy Initiative ). More efficient code translates to lower energy consumption, reducing carbon (CO2) footprint. 
  • Accelerate engineering workflows: continuous profiling provides detailed insights to help troubleshoot complex issues faster, guide development, and improve overall code quality.
  • Improved vendor neutrality and increased efficiency: an OTel eBPF-based profiling agent removes the need to use proprietary APM agents and offers a more efficient way to collect profiling telemetry.

With these benefits, customers can now manage the overall application’s efficiency on the cloud while ensuring their engineering teams optimize it.

What comes next?

While the acceptance of Elastic’s donation of the profiling agent marks a significant milestone in the evolution of OTel’s eBPF-based continuous profiling capabilities, it represents the beginning of a broader journey. Moving forward, we will continue collaborating closely with the OTel Profiling and Collector SIGs to ensure seamless integration of the profiling agent within the broader OTel ecosystem. During this phase, users can test early preview versions of the OTel profiling integration by following the directions in the otel-profiling-agent repository.

Elastic remains deeply committed to OTel’s vision of enabling cross-signal correlation. We plan to further contribute to the community by sharing our innovative research and implementations, specifically those facilitating the correlation between profiling data and distributed traces, across several OTel language SDKs and the profiling agent.

We are excited about our growing relationship with OTel and the opportunity to donate our profiling agent in a way that benefits both the Elastic community and the broader OTel community. Learn more about Elastic’s OpenTelemetry support and learn how to contribute to the ongoing profiling work in the community.

Additional Resources

Additional details on Elastic’s Universal Profiling can be found in the FAQ.

For insights into observability, visit Observability labs where OTel specific articles are also available.