Sumo Logic CEO on how modern apps benefit from 'continuous intelligence' and DevOps insights

The next BriefingsDirect applications health monitoring interview explores how a new breed of continuous intelligence emerges by gaining data from systems infrastructure logs -- either on-premises or in the cloud -- and then cross-referencing that with intrinsic business metrics information.

We’ll now explore how these new levels of insight and intelligence into what really goes on underneath the covers of modern applications help ensure that apps are built, deployed, and operated properly.

Today, more than ever, how a company's applications perform equates with how the company itself performs and is perceived. From airlines to retail, from finding cabs to gaming, how the applications work deeply impacts how the business processes and business outcomes work, too.

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We’re joined by an executive from Sumo Logic to learn why modern applications are different, what's needed to make them robust and agile, and how the right mix of data, metrics and machine learning provides the means to make and keep apps operating better than ever.

To describe how to build and maintain the best applications, welcome Ramin Sayar, President and CEO of Sumo Logic. The discussion is moderated by BriefingsDirect's Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: There’s no doubt that the apps make the company, but what is it about modern applications that makes them so difficult to really know? How is that different from the applications we were using 10 years ago?

Sayar: You hit it on the head a little bit earlier. This notion of always-on, always-available, always-accessible types of applications, either delivered through rich web mobile interfaces or through traditional mechanisms that are served up through laptops or other access points and point-of-sale systems are driving a next wave of technology architecture supporting these apps.

These modern apps are around a modern stack, and so they’re using new platform services that are created by public-cloud providers, they’re using new development processes such as agile or continuous delivery, and they’re expected to constantly be learning and iterating so they can improve not only the user experience -- but the business outcomes.

Gardner: Of course, developers and business leaders are under pressure, more than ever before, to put new apps out more quickly, and to then update and refine them on a continuous basis. So this is a never-ending process.

User experience

Sayar: You’re spot on. The obvious benefits around always on is centered on the rich user interaction and user experience. So, while a lot of the conversation around modern apps tends to focus on the technology and the components, there are actually fundamental challenges in the process of how these new apps are also built and managed on an ongoing basis, and what implications that has for security. A lot of times, those two aspects are left out when people are discussing modern apps.


Gardner: That's right. We’re now talking so much about DevOps these days, but in the same breath, we’re taking about SecOps -- security and operations. They’re really joined at the hip.

Sayar: Yes, they’re starting to blend. You’re seeing the technology decisions around public cloud, around Docker and containers, and microservices and APIs, and not only led by developers or DevOps teams. They’re heavily influenced and partnering with the SecOps and security teams and CISOs, because the data is distributed. Now there needs to be better visibility instrumentation, not just for the access logs, but for the business process and holistic view of the service and service-level agreements (SLAs).

Gardner: What’s different from say 10 years ago? Distributed used to mean that I had, under my own data-center roof, an application that would be drawing from a database, using an application server, perhaps a couple of services, but mostly all under my control. Now, it’s much more complex, with many more moving parts.

Sayar: We like to look at the evolution of these modern apps. For example, a lot of our customers have traditional monolithic apps that follow the more traditional waterfall approach for iterating and release. Often, those are run on bare-metal physical servers, or possibly virtual machines (VMs). They are simple, three-tier web apps.

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We see one of two things happening. The first is that there is a need for either replacing the front end of those apps, and we refer to those as brownfield. They start to change from waterfall to agile and they start to have more of an N-tier feel. It's really more around the front end. Maybe your web properties are a good example of that. And they start to componentize pieces of their apps, either on VMs or in private clouds, and that's often good for existing types of workloads.

The other big trend is this new way of building apps, what we call greenfield workloads, versus the brownfield workloads, and those take a fundamentally different approach.

Often it's centered on new technology, a stack entirely using microservices, API-first development methodology, and using new modern containers like Docker, Mesosphere, CoreOS, and using public-cloud infrastructure and services from Amazon Web Services (AWS), or Microsoft Azure. As a result, what you’re seeing is the technology decisions that are made there require different skill sets and teams to come together to be able to deliver on the DevOps and SecOps processes that we just mentioned.

Gardner: Ramin, it’s important to point out that we’re not just talking about public-facing business-to-consumer (B2C) apps, not that those aren't important, but we’re also talking about all those very important business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-employee (B2E) apps. I can't tell you how frustrating it is when you get on the phone with somebody and they say, “Well, I’ll help you, but my app is down,” or the data isn’t available. So this is not just for the public facing apps, it's all apps, right?

It's a data problem

Sayar: Absolutely. Regardless of whether it's enterprise or consumer, if it's mid-market small and medium business (SMB) or enterprise that you are building these apps for, what we see from our customers is that they all have a similar challenge, and they’re really trying to deal with the volume, the velocity, and the variety of the data around these new architectures and how they grapple and get their hands around it. At the end of day, it becomes a data problem, not just a process or technology problem.

Gardner: Let's talk about the challenges then. If we have many moving parts, if we need to do things faster, if we need to consider the development lifecycle and processes as well as ongoing security, if we’re dealing with outside third-party cloud providers, where do we go to find the common thread of insight, even though we have more complexity across more organizational boundaries?

Sayar: From a Sumo Logic perspective, we’re trying to provide full-stack visibility, not only from code and your repositories like GitHub or Jenkins, but all the way through the components of your code, to API calls, to what your deployment tools are used for in terms of provisioning and performance.

We spend a lot of effort to integrate to the various DevOps tool chain vendors, as well as provide the holistic view of what users are doing in terms of access to those applications and services. We know who has checked in which code or which branch and which build created potential issues for the performance, latency, or outage. So we give you that 360-view by providing that full stack set of capabilities.

Gardner: So, the more information the better, no matter where in the process, no matter where in the lifecycle. But then, that adds its own level of complexity. I wonder is this a fire-hose approach or boiling-the-ocean approach? How do you make that manageable and then actionable?

Sayar: We’ve invested quite a bit of our intellectual property (IP) on not only providing integration with these various sources of data, but also a lot in the machine learningand algorithms, so that we can take advantage of the architecture of being a true cloud native multitenant fast and simple solution.

So, unlike others that are out there and available for you, Sumo Logic's architecture is truly cloud native and multitenant, but it's centered on the principle of near real-time data streaming.

As the data is coming in, our data-streaming engine is allowing developers, IT ops administrators, sys admins, and security professionals to be able to have their own view, coarse-grained or granular-grained, from our back controls that we have in the system to be able to leverage the same data for different purposes, versus having to wait for someone to create a dashboard, create a view, or be able to get access to a system when something breaks.

Gardner: That’s interesting. Having been in the industry long enough, I remember when logs basically meant batch. You'd get a log dump, and then you would do something with it. That would generate a report, many times with manual steps involved. So what's the big step to going to streaming? Why is that an essential part of making this so actionable?

Sayar: It’s driven based on the architectures and the applications. No longer is it acceptable to look at samples of data that span 5 or 15 minutes. You need the real-time data, sub-second, millisecond latency to be able to understand causality, and be able to understand when you’re having a potential threat, risk, or security concern, versus code-quality issues that are causing potential performance outages and therefore business impact.

The old way was hope and pray, when I deployed code, that I would find something when a user complains is no longer acceptable. You lose business and credibility, and at the end of the day, there’s no real way to hold developers, operations folks, or security folks accountable because of the legacy tools and process approach.

Center of the business

Those expectations have changed, because of the consumerization of IT and the fact that apps are the center of the business, as we’ve talked about. What we really do is provide a simple way for us to analyze the metadata coming in and provide very simple access through APIs or through our user interfaces based on your role to be able to address issues proactively.

Conceptually, there’s this notion of wartime and peacetime as we’re building and delivering our service. We look at the problems that users -- customers of Sumo Logic and internally here at Sumo Logic -- are used to and then we break that down into this lifecycle -- centered on this concept of peacetime and wartime.

Peacetime is when nothing is wrong, but you want to stay ahead of issues and you want to be able to proactively assess the health of your service, your application, your operational level agreements, your SLAs, and be notified when something is trending the wrong way.

Then, there's this notion of wartime, and wartime is all hands on deck. Instead of being alerted 15 minutes or an hour after an outage has happened or security risk and threat implication has been discovered, the real-time data-streaming engine is notifying people instantly, and you're getting PagerDuty alerts, you're getting Slack notifications. It's no longer the traditional helpdesk notification process when people are getting on bridge lines.

Because the teams are often distributed and it’s shared responsibility and ownership for identifying an issue in wartime, we're enabling collaboration and new ways of collaboration by leveraging the integrations to things like Slack, PagerDuty notification systems through the real-time platform we've built.

So, the always-on application expectations that customers and consumers have, have now been transformed to always-on available development and security resources to be able to address problems proactively.

Gardner: It sounds like we're able to not only take the data and information in real time from the applications to understand what’s going on with the applications, but we can take that same information and start applying it to other business metrics, other business environmental impacts that then give us an even greater insight into how to manage the business and the processes. Am I overstating that or is that where we are heading here?

Sayar: That’s exactly right. The essence of what we provide in terms of the service is a platform that leverages the machine logs and time-series data from a single platform or service that eliminates a lot of the complexity that exists in traditional processes and tools. No longer do you need to do “swivel-chair” correlation, because we're looking at multiple UIs and tools and products. No longer do you have to wait for the helpdesk person to notify you. We're trying to provide that instant knowledge and collaboration through the real-time data-streaming platform we've built to bring teams together versus divided.

Gardner: That sounds terrific if I'm the IT guy or gal, but why should this be of interest to somebody higher up in the organization, at a business process, even at a C-table level? What is it about continuous intelligence that cannot only help apps run on time and well, but help my business run on time and well?

Need for agility

Sayar: We talked a little bit about the whole need for agility. From a business point of view, the line-of-business folks who are associated with any of these greenfield projects or apps want to be able to increase the cycle times of the application delivery. They want to have measurable results in terms of application changes or web changes, so that their web properties have either increased or potentially decreased in terms of user satisfaction or, at the end of the day, business revenue.

So, we're able to help the developers, the DevOps teams, and ultimately, line of business deliver on the speed and agility needs for these new modes. We do that through a single comprehensive platform, as I mentioned.

At the same time, what’s interesting here is that no longer is security an afterthought. No longer is security in the back room trying to figure out when a threat or an attack has happened. Security has a seat at the table in a lot of boardrooms, and more importantly, in a lot of strategic initiatives for enterprise companies today.

At the same time we're helping with agility, we're also helping with prevention. And so a lot of our customers often start with the security teams that are looking for a new way to be able to inspect this volume of data that’s coming in -- not at the infrastructure level or only the end-user level -- but at the application and code level. What we're really able to do, as I mentioned earlier, is provide a unifying approach to bring these disparate teams together.

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Gardner: And yet individuals can extract the intelligence view that best suits what their needs are in that moment.

Sayar: Yes. And ultimately what we're able to do is improve customer experience, increase revenue-generating services, increase efficiencies and agility of actually delivering code that’s quality and therefore the applications, and lastly, improve collaboration and communication.

Gardner: I’d really like to hear some real world examples of how this works, but before we go there, I’m still interested in the how. As to this idea of machine learning, we're hearing an awful lot today about bots, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning. Parse this out a bit for me. What is it that you're using machine learningfor when it comes to this volume and variety in understanding apps and making that useable in the context of a business metric of some kind?

Sayar: This is an interesting topic, because of a lot of noise in the market around big data or machine learning and advanced analytics. Since Sumo Logic was started six years ago, we built this platform to ensure that not only we have the best in class security and encryption capabilities, but it was centered on the fundamental purpose around democratizing analytics, making it simpler to be able to allow more than just a subset of folks get access to information for their roles and responsibilities, whether you're security, ops, or development teams.

To answer your question a little bit more succinctly, our platform is predicated on multiple levels of machine learning and analytics capabilities. Starting at the lowest level, something that we refer to as LogReduce is meant to separate the signal-to-noise ratio. Ultimately, it helps a lot of our users and customers reduce mean time to identification by upwards of 90 percent, because they're not searching the irrelevant data. They're searching the relevant and oftentimes occurring data that's not frequent or not really known, versus what’s constantly occurring in their environment.

In doing so, it’s not just about mean time to identification, but it’s also how quickly we're able to respond and repair. We've seen customers using LogReduce reduce the mean time to resolution by upwards of 50 percent.

Predictive capabilities

Our core analytics, at the lowest level, is helping solve operational metrics and value. Then, we start to become less reactive. When you've had an outage or a security threat, you start to leverage some of our other predictive capabilities in our stack.

For example, I mentioned this concept of peacetime and wartime. In the notion of peacetime, you're looking at changes over time when you've deployed code and/or applications to various geographies and locations. A lot of times, developers and ops folks that use Sumo want to use log compare or outlier predictor operators that are in their machine learning capabilities to show and compare differences of branches of code and quality of their code to relevancy around performance and availability of the service and app.

We allow them, with a click of a button, to compare this window for these events and these metrics for the last hour, last day, last week, last month, and compare them to other time slices of data and show how much better or worse it is. This is before deploying to production. When they look at production, we're able to allow them to use predictive analytics to look at anomalies and abnormal behavior to get more proactive.

So, reactive, to proactive, all the way to predictive is the philosophy that we've been trying to build in terms of our analytics stack and capabilities.

Gardner: How are some actual customers using this and what are they getting back for their investment?

Sayar: We have customers that span retail and e-commerce, high-tech, media, entertainment, travel, and insurance. We're well north of 1,200 unique paying customers, and they span anyone from Airbnb, Anheuser-Busch, Adobe, Metadata, Marriott, Twitter, Telstra, Xora -- modern companies as well as traditional companies.

What do they all have in common? Often, what we see is a digital transformation project or initiative. They either have to build greenfield or brownfield apps and they need a new approach and a new service, and that's where they start leveraging Sumo Logic.

Second, what we see is that's it’s not always a digital transformation; it's often a cost reduction and/or a consolidation project. Consolidation could be tools or infrastructure and data center, or it could be migration to co-los or public-cloud infrastructures.

The nice thing about Sumo Logic is that we can connect anything from your top of rack switch, to your discrete storage arrays, to network devices, to operating system, and middleware, through to your content-delivery network (CDN) providers and your public-cloud infrastructures.

As it’s a migration or consolidation project, we’re able to help them compare performance and availability, SLAs that they have associated with those, as well as differences in terms of delivery of infrastructure services to the developers or users.

So whether it's agility-driven or cost-driven, Sumo Logic is very relevant for all these customers that are spanning the data-center infrastructure consolidation to new workload projects that they may be building in private-cloud or public-cloud endpoints.

Gardner: Ramin, how about a couple of concrete examples of what you were just referring to.

Cloud migration

Sayar: One good example is in the media space or media and entertainment space, for example, Hearst Media. They, like a lot of our other customers, were undergoing a digital-transformation project and a cloud-migration project. They were moving about 36 apps to AWS and they needed a single platform that provided machine-learning analytics to be able to recognize and quickly identify performance issues prior to making the migration and updates to any of the apps rolling over to AWS. They were able to really improve cycle times, as well as efficiency, with respect to identifying and resolving issues fast.

Another example would be JetBlue. We do a lot in the travel space. JetBlue is also another AWS and cloud customer. They provide a lot of in-flight entertainment to their customers. They wanted to be able to look at the service quality for the revenue model for the in-flight entertainment system and be able to ascertain what movies are being watched, what’s the quality of service, whether that’s being degraded or having to charge customers more than once for any type of service outages. That’s how they're using Sumo Logic to better assess and manage customer experience. It's not too dissimilar from Alaska Airlines or others that are also providing in-flight notification and wireless type of services.

The last one is someone that we're all pretty familiar with and that’s Airbnb. We're seeing a fundamental disruption in the travel space and how we reserve hotels or apartments or homes, and Airbnb has led the charge, like Uber in the transportation space. In their case, they're taking a lot of credit-card and payment-processing information. They're using Sumo Logic for payment-card industry (PCI) audit and security, as well as operational visibility in terms of their websites and presence.

Gardner: It’s interesting. Not only are you giving them benefits along insight lines, but it sounds to me like you're giving them a green light to go ahead and experiment and then learn very quickly whether that experiment worked or not, so that they can find refine. That’s so important in our digital business and agility drive these days.

Sayar: Absolutely. And if I were to think of another interesting example, Anheuser-Busch is another one of our customers. In this case, the CISO wanted to have a new approach to security and not one that was centered on guarding the data and access to the data, but providing a single platform for all constituents within Anheuser-Busch, whether security teams, operations teams, developers, or support teams.

We did a pilot for them, and as they're modernizing a lot of their apps, as they start to look at the next generation of security analytics, the adoption of Sumo started to become instant inside AB InBev. Now, they're looking at not just their existing real estate of infrastructure and apps for all these teams, but they're going to connect it to future projects such as the Connected Path, so they can understand what the yield is from each pour in a particular keg in a location and figure out whether that’s optimized or when they can replace the keg.

So, you're going from a reactive approach for security and processes around deployment and operations to next-gen connected Internet of Things (IoT) and devices to understand business performance and yield. That's a great example of an innovative company doing something unique and different with Sumo Logic.

Gardner: So, what happens as these companies modernize and they start to avail themselves of more public-cloud infrastructure services, ultimately more-and-more of their apps are going to be of, by, and for somebody else’s public cloud? Where do you fit in that scenario?

Data source and location

Sayar: Whether you’re running on-prem, whether you're running co-los, whether you're running through CDN providers like Akamai, whether you're running on AWS or Azure, Heroku, whether you're running SaaS platforms and renting a single platform that can manage and ingest all that data for you. Interestingly enough, about half our customers’ workloads run on-premises and half of them run in the cloud.

We’re agnostic to where the data is or where their applications or workloads reside. The benefit we provide is the single ubiquitous platform for managing the data streams that are coming in from devices, from applications, from infrastructure, from mobile to you, in a simple, real-time way through a multitenant cloud service.

Gardner: This reminds me of what I heard, 10 or 15 years ago about business intelligence (BI), drawing data, analyzing it, making it close to being proactive in its ability to help the organization. How is continuous intelligence different, or even better, and something that would replace what we refer to as BI?

Sayar: The issue that we faced with the first generation of BI was it was very rear-view and mirror-centric, meaning that it was looking at data and things in the past. Where we're at today with this need for speed and the necessity to be always on, always available, the expectation is that it’s sub-millisecond latency to understand what's going on, from a security, operational, or user-experience point of view.

I'd say that we're on V2 or next generation of what was traditionally called BI, and we refer to that as continuous intelligence, because you're continuously adapting and learning. It's not only based on what humans know and what rules and correlation that they try to presuppose and create alarms and filters and things around that. It’s what machines and machine intelligence needs to supplement that with to provide the best-in-class type of capability, which is what we refer to as continuous intelligence.

Gardner: We’re almost out of time, but I wanted to look to the future a little bit. Obviously, there's a lot of investing going on now around big data and analytics as it pertains to many different elements of many different businesses, depending on their verticals. Then, we're talking about some of the logic benefit and continuous intelligence as it applies to applications and their lifecycle.

Where do we start to see crossover between those? How do I leverage what I’m doing in big data generally in my organization and more specifically, what I can do with continuous intelligence from my systems, from my applications?

Business Insights

Sayar: We touched a little bit on that in terms of the types of data that we integrate and ingest. At the end of the day, when we talk about full-stack visibility, it's from everything with respect to providing business insights to operational insights, to security insights.

We have some customers that are in credit-card payment processing, and they actually use us to understand activations for credit cards, so they're extracting value from the data coming into Sumo Logic to understand and predict business impact and relevant revenue associated with these services that they're managing; in this case, a set of apps that run on a CDN.

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At the same time, the fraud and risk team are using us for threat and prevention. The operations team is using us for understanding identification of issues proactively to be able to address any application or infrastructure issues, and that’s what we refer to as full stack.

Full stack isn’t just the technology; it's providing business visibility insights to line the business users or users that are looking at metrics around user experience and service quality, to operational-level impacts that help you become more proactive, or in some cases, reactive to wartime issues, as we've talked about. And lastly, the security team helps you take a different security posture around reactive and proactive, around threat, detection, and risk.

In a nutshell, where we see these things starting to converge is what we refer to as full stack visibility around our strategy for continuous intelligence, and that is technology to business to users.

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