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FutureStack 19 - New Relic boosts observability in quest for perfect software

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright September 23, 2019
New Relic rounds out its observability platform at FutureStack 19 with logging, AIOps and other functions to offer more comprehensive integration and insight

New Relic CEO Lew Cirne at Futurestack19
Lew Cirne, New Relic, at FutureStack last week

Enterprises are struggling to keep up with the rapid evolution of information technology. Vendors of products that help them monitor how that IT performs are having to work even harder to stay ahead. At its FutureStack conference in New York last week, New Relic unveiled the latest chapter in its product roadmap to do just that, adding connectivity and logs to track more resources in more detail, AI-driven filtering, and the ability to write custom applications based on its platform.

The company calls New Relic One, launched earlier this year, its observability platform. The aim is to go beyond tactical monitoring to fully understand what's going on in a company's systems. Therefore it's designed to give customers a view across all of their IT — not just application performance monitoring, where New Relic got started, but also across all of the components of micro-service architectures, containers and cloud infrastructure that they are adopting today.

This pace of adoption has been moving faster than even New Relic had originally expected, its CEO Lew Cirne admitted when discussing a slowdown in growth in the company's last quarterly earning report:

This trend, which we call observability and is an expansion of our current monitoring market, emerged at a faster rate than we initially projected.

The new features announced last week round out the platform to keep pace with this trend, bringing metrics, events, traces, and logs together in one place to provide end-to-end insight into a system’s operation. They include:

  • Logs — for the first time, New Relic is introducing log management, bringing log data into its platform for faster queries, simpler indexing and detailed analysis. Further features are now available in beta, providing the ability to correlate and contextualize log data with data from other sources for end-to-end visibility and analysis.
  • Traces and Metricstwo new APIs bring open-source instrumentation data into New Relic One, based on the OpenTelemetry and W3C Trace Context specifications. These interfaces make it easier to connect to emerging open-source management tools such as OpenCensus or Istio, commonly used in microservices environments.
  • AIOps — now in beta, New Relic AI uses machine learning and big data to help automate IT operations (AIOps). Built around technology from the acquisition of SignifAI earlier this year, it automatically identifies anomalies, learns to suppress trivial alerts, and correlates information to help speed investigation and troubleshooting. It integrates directly into PagerDuty accounts and Slack channels to deliver prioritized alerts and context directly into on-call workflows.
  • Programmability — developers can now build their own applications based on New Relic to present custom analytics and alerts for specific use cases, such as a map-based view that allows a retailer to see how its stores are performing against a set of business KPIs. Applications are built in an SDK that uses the React Javascript framework and accesses New Relic data via APIs, New Relic Query Language (NRQL), and GraphQL. A dozen example applications are available as GitHub downloads, including a tool to identify overspending on AWS, a website performance analyzer and a customer journey tracker.

All these features combine to provide the end-to-end view that allows enterprises to run digitally without errors, Cirne said in his keynote:

It's not enough just to build software. Our mission is to help you build more perfect software. A vision where everything on the Internet works subsecond, every time, and there are no crashes and there are no errors.

Your software is your business and therefore, it's not something you have the option of whether or not you measure it. Today, we call the practice of measuring everything that runs in production, observability.

My take

This is a big but necessary step forward for New Relic — one that may have arrived quickly but nevertheless is already overdue. The competitive landscape is heating up and the company has had to adjust its offering at high speed.

That adjustment has not been without cost. On the eve of its conference last week, New Relic announced the resignations of CTO Jim Gochee and Chief Revenue Officer, Erica Schultz, along with the appointment of Michael Christenson to the newly created position of president and chief operating officer. Christenson is already a board member, representing long-term New Relic investor Allen & Company. At the same time, the company reduced its revenue outlook for the current financial year, shaving off $14 million to bring the forecast just below $600 million.

Cirne has already attributed the company's headwinds to internal factors relating to its product roadmap, and therefore now that the New Relic One platform is out in the market, a recovery in its fortunes should be on the cards. But the market has become more competitive this year, with logging champion Splunk's acquisition of SignalFX in August boosting its observability credentials. Meanwhile last week's stellar IPO for monitoring company DataDog underlines how much the spotlight has shifted onto a newer generation of up-and-coming vendors.

New Relic can no longer claim to be the rebellious upstart. Instead it's been left a little on the back foot, with the latest raft of additions to its platform looking defensive rather than proactive. But its move to enable customers to build applications on its platform is very much in tune with its longstanding mantra of supporting business outcomes.

I would not go as far as Cirne has in likening this move to Salesforce's introduction of its platform. I would see it more in the context of an industry-wide move towards headless applications, which deliver data and functions into a separate user experience that lives elsewhere. But it's the right thing to do and appears already to offer useful extra value to customers.

New Relic is a trusted brand and has done its bit in delivering the new functionality the market demands. What we now need to see are some customer stories that demonstrate the value delivered in the real world. We'll keep you posted.

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