HomeArchitectureHow is SRE enhanced when OpenTelemetry is coupled with eBPF

How is SRE enhanced when OpenTelemetry is coupled with eBPF

Those that work as SRE’s (Site Reliability Engineers) are most likely aware of OpenTelemetry, for those that may be unaware, OpenTelemetry is an opensource observability framework and toolkit designed to create and manage telemetry data such as traces, metrics, and logs from cloud-native applications and their supporting infrastructure. It provides a single, open-source standard and a set of technologies to capture and export metrics, traces, and logs from your applications and infrastructure.

The framework offers vendor-agnostic or vendor-neutral APIs, software development kits (SDKs), and other tools; which products like Prometheus, or Sysdig then consume to help users understand the performance and health of their systems. However, OpenTelemetry only goes so deep, what about issues in the Linux or Windows kernels, this is where eBPF enters the room.

What is eBPF?

According to the foundations website, eBPF is a revolutionary technology … that can run sandboxed programmes in a privileged context such as the operating system kernel.” It is well known that the operating system is the perfect layer to implement observability, security and networking functionality due to the kernels inbuilt visibility of the entire system. However, perversely it is also the wrong place for such modifications to be placed, having proprietary code in the Kernel, will directly impact the size, and performance of the kernel. This is where eBPF shines, as it is an open-source extension to the Kernel, that allows applications to run in a privileged but sandboxed state in the kernel. The image below highlights the high-level architecture or the protocol.

what is eBPF
High level Architecture of eBPF (source ebpf.io – modified)

Both eBPF and OpenTelemetry have quickly become recognised by SRE product venters as ground-breaking technologies in the context of modern software development. SRE (Site Reliability Engineering) is an approach for designing and managing scalable and reliable software systems, whereas eBPF (extended Berkeley Packet Filter) is a versatile tool for monitoring and modifying network traffic. eBPF is an acronym for “extended Berkeley Packet Filter.” These technologies, when combined, offer a wealth of benefits, making it possible for businesses to accomplish their goals in a manner that is both more efficient and more effective.

Enhanced Capability to View Network Activity

One of the most significant benefits of eBPF is that it may provide in-depth insights about the traffic on a network. eBPF can discover performance bottlenecks, security threats, and other issues that might otherwise go unreported by capturing and analysing packets at various points in the network stack. This is because eBPF captures and analyses packets at multiple locations in the network stack. This is especially useful in large and complicated systems, when the visibility provided by typical monitoring techniques may not be sufficient.

Improved Safety and Assurance

The enforcement of security policies on the network level is another way that eBPF improves network security. eBPF is able to prevent harmful traffic from entering the system by intercepting packets before they reach their destination and applying the appropriate filters and rules to those packets. This helps to fight against a wide variety of threats, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS), IP spoofing, and malware infestations.

Reduced Waiting Time or latency

In addition to enhancing security and visibility, eBPF has the potential to decrease the amount of delay that is present in network connection. eBPF is able to reduce the amount of overhead that is involved with the processing of packets at the application level since it is able to offload some activities to the kernel. This leads in enhanced overall performance as well as speedier response times, which is especially beneficial in circumstances with a large volume of traffic.

Enhancements to Reliability

On the other side, Software Reliability Engineering (SRE) focuses on making sure that software systems are reliable. SRE teams are able to construct and manage systems that are highly available, scalable, and resilient when they apply a set of best practises and processes to their work. This is especially helpful in mission-critical applications, where even a short period of unavailability can have significant repercussions.

Better utilisation of resources

The importance that SRE places on automation and effectiveness is one of its primary advantages. SRE teams are able to gain more time to focus on more strategic objectives if they automate the mundane duties and processes they perform. Because of this, organisations are able to accomplish their objectives more rapidly and with a lower overall cost.

Improved Collaborative Efforts

In conclusion, SRE has the potential to improve the collaboration between the development and operations teams. These teams can acquire a common understanding of the architecture of the system and the needs by cooperating with one another to construct and maintain systems that are trustworthy. This helps break down silos and improves communication, which ultimately leads to greater results for everyone involved.

SRE Products That Make Use Of eBPF

eBPF technology has been utilised by several SRE devices in order to take advantage of the features that it offers. Container-based applications can take advantage of API-aware networking, load balancing, and network security thanks to Cilium, an open-source networking and security project. Cilium makes use of eBPF to accomplish these goals. Datadog is a well-known monitoring and analytics tool that incorporates eBPF to offer real-time insights into the performance of applications, networks, and infrastructure. A container intelligence platform, Sysdig utilises eBPF for monitoring, diagnosing, and safeguarding Kubernetes deployments. Sysdig was developed by the company Sysdig. Flowmill which has recently been acquired by Splunk to be merged into their Observability Cloud platform is a network observability tool that provides real-time visibility into the performance and security of a network by utilising eBPF. Pixie is an observability platform for Kubernetes that makes use of eBPF to automatically capture data on application performance, network traffic, and other metrics. This is accomplished without the need for instrumentation or changes to the code.

The final word

In conclusion, both eBPF and SRE offer a variety of benefits that can assist organisations in the process of developing and maintaining software systems that are dependable, scalable, and secure. Organisations are able to accomplish their objectives in a manner that is both more efficient and effective if they make use of the capabilities of eBPF for network monitoring and manipulation and use the principles of SRE for improving the reliability and performance of their systems. The effectiveness of the integration of these technologies is illustrated by the aforementioned examples of SRE products that make use of eBPF. These technological advancements should definitely be taken into consideration if you are designing a brand new system from the ground up or trying to enhance an existing one.


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