FutureStack 2021 - New Relic champions the data-driven software lifecycle

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright May 27, 2021
The keynote at this year's FutureStack virtual event focused on the role of New Relic's observability platform in harnessing real-time data to build and run software for the digital enterprise

Zain Asgar, New Relic, speaks at Futurestack 2021
Zain Asgar, New Relic (screengrab from Futurestack 2021)

New Relic is on a mission to change the way software is built and run. The opening keynote of this year's virtual FutureStack, the observability vendor's annual user conference, had a strong focus on product news and customer stories, but running all the way through was the message that software engineering teams need real-time metrics to meet the demands and expectations of a digital world. As Chairman and retiring CEO Lew Cirne put it in his opening remarks:

Our vision for observability is a world where all stages of software lifecycle are data-driven. We believe that observability will be open, frictionless, and a natural part of every engineer's workflow as they build and run software.

Pride of place in the keynote went to the news that Kubernetes auto-telemetry is now fully integrated into New Relic — currently in beta but planned for full GA in a month's time — following the acquisition late last year of startup Pixie. The technology, now incorporated into New Relic as an OpenTelemetry source, captures and analyzes application data deep inside a Kubernetes cluster. Because it operates automatically rather than having to be preprogrammed, and without the need for language agents, it begins reporting almost immediately, helping developers debug faster. Pixie co-founder Zain Asgar, now Group Vice President and General Manager of Pixie at New Relic, gave a demonstration, explaining:

You can light up your entire cluster and get data without having to do any work in just a few short minutes.

New Relic recently announced that it is following through on its commitment to make Pixie available as open source, and is in the process of contributing it as a project to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) under an Apache 2.0 license. It has also expanded its relationship with Amazon Web Services with an agreement to provide its Pixie observability offering on AWS.

Instrumenting the software lifecycle

Extending New Relic's reach deep into Kubernetes with this level of automation is an important step towards fulfilling that ambition of instrumenting the entire software lifecycle, emphasizing the platform's ability to ingest a range of telemetry, logs and other data using open standards. Later in the keynote, Rama Rachappa, Senior Director of Application Development at New Relic customer World Fuel Services gave another perspective, explaining the crucial role New Relic plays in measuring and optimizing KPIs across the energy trading company's CI/CD pipeline.

Rachappa showed how the platform aggregates data from issue tracking tools and CI/CD servers in use at World Fuel, such as Jira, Bitbucket and Bamboo, presenting key metrics including number of bugs, issues, repos and check-ins, cycle times and trend charts. He explained how dev leaders can track KPIs such as average sprint velocity, backlog health, frequency of deployments and other sprint metrics. It's also possible to drill down into individual sprints to see details such as unplanned work streams, critical issues and average response times. As well as aiding day-to-day management, these KPIs also feed into regular reviews to help improve performance across both build and deploy cycles. He summed up:

There are very few tools out there that could help us to manage and provide a single comprehensive view of our CI/CD pipeline. We need to see the pipeline from start to finish, from a feature request creation to production deployment, as it goes through DEV, TEST and PROD deployment ...

Before standardizing on NR1 [New Relic One], we had to manually find and gather this data, which was then evaluated in silos. Now, we save a ton of time and have all the context we need by automatically having all the data in one place.

Expanding New Relic's reach

Other announcements included the introduction of New Relic Errors Inbox, which provides a single location for viewing and dealing with errors from anywhere across the application stack, with the ability to see detail down to the stack trace. Bringing errors together in this way speeds resolution and the Errors Inbox can also integrate into Slack channels.

A new partnership with Kentik brings that tool's network observability into the New Relic platform, while a partnership with engineering and design consultancy Formidable brings its open source charting library into New Relic. This builds on a new custom visualizations launcher, which developers use to add their own charts and visualizations into New Relic dashboards.

Other announcements look to expand New Relic's reach into emerging sectors of the software engineering community. One new offering provides discounts and credits for startups, while the launch of a student edition of New Relic offers students and teachers a package providing up to 500 GB of telemetry data per month and three Full-Stack Observability users. Students can also receive automated training and certifications through Gainsight. Finally, the company launched a programmability certification program to validate developer expertise in extending its platform.

My take

New Relic has bet its future on a sea change in the way that software is built and run, anticipating that the need for modern digital capabilities across business is going to drive demand for its end-to-end observability offering. This year's FutureStack is very much about establishing and showing off the techniques and mindsets that are finding success as software engineering teams become increasingly data-driven.

I'll be talking to three New Relic non-profit customers in the Ed Tech space later today in a panel session as part of FutureStack — registration required.

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