Arik Hesseldahl

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You Won’t Believe What New Relic CEO Lew Cirne Did on His Summer Vacation

lew-cirne-new-relicWhenever Lew Cirne goes on vacation, something cool tends to happen. That is, if you consider coding to be cool.

Cirne is the CEO of New Relic, the white-hot cloud-based software company that monitors the software performance to help its customers make sure it’s running right. And it does it in a big and granular way — a few billion events a day, from Web servers and smartphone apps and all kinds of other places where you find software running, are reported into its database. Customers can then comb through that data with relative ease to find any problems with their software.

Today, Cirne will show off the fruits of his August vacation to the beaches of Mexico’s Cabo San Lucas. He spent nearly the entire month sitting in front of a MacBook Pro, writing code and sipping the occasional cerveza for inspiration, and came away with a new product called Rubicon, which he will preview in a speech at New Relic’s first user conference today in San Francisco.

Rubicon, which will be available next year, is supposed to be New Relic’s “second act,” Cirne told me. He’s quick to demonstrate how complex business questions software and applications performance, and it doesn’t take much to understand. More often than not these days, if you ask how certain software applications are performing, you’re basically asking how well the business itself is performing.

Extracting useful information from this sort of data used to require the presence of an elite priesthood of database jockeys schooled in arcane languages of queries. The queries that Cirne performs before my eyes are about as easy to string together as a Google search.

It’s called Rubicon because the idea came to him on another vacation, to Lake Tahoe’s Rubicon Peak last January — again, he spent most of it writing code.

It has been a busy summer on other fronts for New Relic. After landing an $80 million Series E led by Insight Venture Partners and including T. Rowe Price, it later reeled in Peter Currie, the well-known Silicon Valley power player and Twitter director, to its board of directors.

Now you know why Cirne is a little eager to show off what he did on his summer vacation. A bit of our conversation below:

AllThingsD: So you spent most of the month of August, writing code, while in vacation in Cabo? Did I hear that right? You didn’t get out on the beach at all?

Cirne: It’s true, I was looking out on a beach in Cabo San Lucas, but I might as well have been locked in a cinder-block building. I had a nice view of the beach from where I was working, but I didn’t really do much besides code. … I unplugged my laptop five minutes before the cab was going to take me to the airport. I’ve been thinking and working about it since earlier this year. The goal was innovation, and I think I got there.

So, before we get into the new thing, Rubicon, remind me what New Relic does.

We are a software-analytics company. We collect billions of metrics from live production software minute-by-minute from 70,000 customers. Their software runs in production, and every minute sends deep data about how it’s doing to us. We’re a software-as-a-service provider, easy to use. We have 8,500 paying customers, but we have only 35 support reps for the whole company. … We’re leveraging the fact that we’ve got our code observing the customer’s code and sending data every minute about how it’s doing. And now we’ve got the click-streams of millions of processes. We’re observing purchase transactions, and so we’ve got kind of strategic real estate at some of the world’s biggest companies. They include the likes of Intel and Disney and Nike, but also Groupon and GitHub. They are all entrusting us to help keep their software running. We’re really good at helping people solve tough problems with data.

What is the new thing on which you spent your vacation?

We had to create a second act. We’re going to demo it and show it on Oct. 24 for the first time. If we pull off its potential, it will multiply our opportunity by 10. I’ve shown it to a few customers and, candidly, I’m blown away by their reception of it. They’re telling me they need it now, and will give anything to be in our beta-testing period. I really started building it at the base of Mt. Rubicon in Lake Tahoe last January. I got hit by the idea. She knows when I’m in that zone, and was kind enough to let me be. We’ve always been receiving event data from all the phones and servers and Web pages that we monitor. If we were to aggregate them, you can answer questions that we can anticipate the customer having, but we can’t answer arbitrary questions that we don’t know the customer is going to have. … That’s the essence of big data.

You get totals, but you don’t get particulars?

Right. So, if you wanted to know how many people signed up since December in Germany, and wanted to break them out by product level, you can’t see that from an aggregate. Unless you pre-aggregate it for that question, you’re not going to get the answer. But, if you keep all the raw data, you can answer all those questions. And that’s essentially what we’ve been doing. We’re collecting about five (billion) to eight billion events a day, and we have a lightning-fast cloud database that allows our customers to answer those questions without having to set up or install anything. We call it Rubicon, and it not only collects the data, but makes it super easy to present to business users, and I can easily see every one of our current customers wanting to sign in and run business queries.

And that’s the end goal of all this talk about big data. There are questions that perhaps you never thought to ask, because there was no way to bend the questions in such a way that the data would come out with a logical answer.

Our experience is that there is a lot of frustration with getting started with projects, because it’s hard to even get the data collected in the first place. And if they do, its a bear to actually ask questions of it. We’re accessible to companies of all sizes. Most of our customers haven’t yet had the time to stand up a Hadoop cluster and start crawling through that data. We want to kind of democratize big data.

So, that’s a product for next year that you’re showing an early preview of. Will you announce anything that’s going live?

We’re going to announce New Relic for mobile. People are totally blind to what’s going on inside their mobile apps. We’re going to track all the threads running inside iPhones. We’re going to instrument the code inside the handset, and look at, say, how long it takes to refresh your feed in the Twitter app. We’re going to track all of it together. We’re already inside 100 million devices already. I’m sure you’ve had the experience when an app takes eight seconds to do something, and it won’t tell why, it probably won’t launch again. If mobile is at all important to you, you have to have something like this, and we’re going to be the only people in town doing it.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik