Real-Time Telemetry & Enhanced Observability

5 min read Todd Greene on Sep 27, 2023
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What's one of the most crucial components of managing a successful distributed system? 


Decision-makers must have comprehensive insights into today's dynamic computing environments to diagnose issues effectively. Telemetry, or the automated collection and transmission of data from distributed systems, offers a powerful solution to achieve this level of observability. 

Let's explore what goes into the successful implementation of real-time telemetry and dive into the challenges and considerations in distributed systems. 

How real-time telemetry improves operations

Imagine a bustling logistics company with a fleet of delivery vehicles navigating busy roadways across the country. It faces significant challenges in fleet management, including:

  • A lack of real-time visibility into vehicle locations and status

  • Delayed detection of performance issues

  • Inefficient route planning

  • Difficulty promoting driver safety

It also struggles with inaccurate delivery tracking for customers, increased vehicle downtime, and longer delivery times. The data is there, but the company can't access it promptly, hindering its ability to optimize operations, provide timely and accurate information to customers, and efficiently manage its fleet. It's a story as old as time.

But what's missing? Each of these challenges is a direct result of the lack of observability tools and monitoring tools. Decision-makers can't see what's happening across such a distributed system and how these events fit together. By implementing real-time telemetry in solutions like geolocation tracking, this logistics company could transform its workflow and operations from a complex behemoth of fires to put out to a streamlined, well-oiled machine. 

Telemetry sources and transmission

With real-time telemetry implemented, the logistics company above can log and collect data from various sources within its distributed system. This includes capturing performance metrics, log events, exceptions and traces from application code, infrastructure components, network devices, and user interactions.

To ensure efficient data transmission, the company: 

  1. Leverages protocols such as HTTP, TCP, or UDP, which are reliable and efficient communication channels for transmitting telemetry data. These protocols handle error detection, packet sequencing, and flow control, ensuring the integrity and consistency of the transmitted data.

  2. Utilizes frameworks like Apache Kafka or RabbitMQ, which facilitate the seamless transmission of telemetry data by providing features such as message queuing, pub/sub messaging, and fault-tolerant data streaming.

  3. Transmits the collected telemetry data to a central location for analysis. Once the data arrives, it undergoes real-time monitoring, anomaly detection, correlation analysis, and visualization to uncover patterns and insights the logistics company can use to make better decisions.

Thanks to this process, our hypothetical logistics company can now see several operational benefits:

  • Enhanced observability: By collecting data in real time, the company gains immediate visibility into the performance and behavior of its distributed systems, enabling proactive monitoring and issue detection.

  • Rapid troubleshooting: Real-time telemetry provides quick access to relevant data, enabling faster troubleshooting and reducing mean time to resolution (MTTR).

  • Performance optimization: With real-time insights, the logistics company can identify performance bottlenecks, optimize resource allocation, and improve system efficiency, something unheard of with legacy technologies.

But what could this look like in other use cases? Here are some potential examples:

  1. E-commerce: Real-time telemetry can help companies monitor user interactions, track metrics like conversion rates, and detect anomalies in payment processing or inventory management systems.

  2. Healthcare: Real-time telemetry in healthcare can be used to monitor patients' vital signs and health parameters continuously, providing immediate updates to healthcare providers, who can then intervene sooner and reduce the risk of complications. Additionally, real-time telemetry can support remote patient monitoring.

  3. Cloud computing: telemetry allows monitoring and optimizing the performance of virtual machines, containers, and microservices in cloud environments, ensuring efficient resource allocation and scalability.

Real-time telemetry in practice 

Where does all the data come from? In distributed systems like fleet management, supply chains, or telecommunications, there is a wide variety of data sources companies can leverage to increase full observability. Our hypothetical logistics company might choose:

  • Application code: Instrumenting application code with telemetry libraries or agents allows the company to capture application-specific metrics, trace requests, and log relevant events.

  • Infrastructure components: Telemetry informations from infrastructure components such as servers, databases, load balancers, and caches provides insights into system resource utilization, response times, and error rates.

  • Network devices: Monitoring telemetry data from network devices allows our company to understand network performance, detect bottlenecks, and ensure smooth data transmission.

When the logistics company considers its goals and chooses those sources wisely, the project comes together. 

Common data collection techniques

Regarding data collection techniques for general telemetry, the logistics company can adopt push-based or pull-based methods. 

Push-based telemetry involves sending data from telemetry sources to a central location, allowing real-time telemetry to occur. Pull-based telemetry retrieves data from sources upon request and is suitable for gathering historical (or simply less time-sensitive) data.

Transmission techniques

Real-time data transmission strategies encompass choosing appropriate data formats and protocols, as well as ensuring the reliability and security of that data. 

Formats like JSON, Protocol Buffers, or Apache Avro can balance data size and parsing efficiency. Protocols like HTTP, TCP, or UDP are selected based on reliability, ordering, and latency/uptime requirements.


Implementing real-time telemetry requires building a lifecycle strategy, defining monitoring objectives, designing schemas, defining metrics and alerts, and integrating telemetry solutions with existing monitoring systems. Based on these decisions, our logistics company can implement a holistic real-time telemetry strategy for managing its fleet.

What to consider when implementing real-time telemetry

It's not all fun and games. Implementing real-time telemetry in distributed systems comes with its own set of challenges and considerations. Our hypothetical company must carefully consider:

  • Scalability and performance: High-volume environments may pose application performance challenges in processing and analyzing large amounts of data in real time.

  • Data privacy and compliance: The logistics company collects and stores telemetry data and must comply with privacy regulations and standards associated with its sector and/or data collection best practices. Violations can lead to severe penalties.

  • Overhead and resource requirements: Gathering this much data from many different sources across a vast and complex system takes up significant computational resources and bandwidth.

To overcome these challenges in their logistics operations, our logistics company can leverage distributed computing and scalable data stores to handle high telemetry data volume. 

The company can protect any data they collect by ensuring compliance with data privacy regulations through anonymization and encryption measures. It can optimize resource utilization by selecting essential data, efficient data formats, and bandwidth management techniques. 

And much like any tech deployment, investing in robust backend infrastructure such as scalable cloud platforms is key to implementing the collection, processing, and monitoring required by real-time telemetry practices. 

Implement real-time telemetry with one key partner

Real-time telemetry plays a crucial role in enhancing observability for distributed systems. Because of it, our hypothetical logistics organization can gain immediate insights into system end-user behavior, proactively monitor performance, and optimize its fleet operations.

For companies in the real world dealing with real-world challenges, leveraging the expertise of a partner will make all the difference. PubNub provides a reliable, real-time edge messaging network to ensure the seamless transmission of telemetry data with low latency and high availability. Its platform can handle high data volumes and spikes in traffic for an improved user experience, thanks to its scalable infrastructure. 

PubNub also offers end-to-end encryption and access control mechanisms to protect sensitive telemetry data. Integration with popular programming languages, cloud platforms, and third-party tools makes it easy to incorporate telemetry into existing systems, and embedded analytics features enable faster decision-making. By leveraging PubNub's capabilities, companies can implement real-time telemetry to make informed decisions and optimize their operations based on real-time data insights.

Contact us today to know more. Or sign up for a free trial to see what PubNub's platform can do.