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Titans of Data with Mirko Novakovic – How Containers are Giving Rise to New Data Services

Titans of Data with Mirko Novakovic – How Containers are Giving Rise to New Data Services

[Update: In December 2017, Instana announced their $20M Series B raise from Accel Partners.]

Mirko Novakovic is the CEO & co-founder at Instana. Instana helps enterprises monitor and manage their microservice deployments with the help of automation and artificial intelligence. An “APM for microservices and containers”.

Mirko is an experienced operator and founder. Before Instana, he co-founded Codecentric, a software development firm based in Germany. Mirko grew Codecentric to 300 people. Codecentric has developed applications for Germany’s largest enterprises. Codecentric was also AppDynamic’s largest reseller. In fact, with Cisco’s acquisition of AppDynamics and the successful New Relic IPO, “APM” has gotten a lot more attention.

Instana works with Fortune 500 enterprises in the US and Germany. I asked Mirko what’s driving the shift to microservices, and containers, and what opportunities arise from it. Collecting data from connected products is a key component. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Q: Tell us first about Instana – what do you do?

Instana is our next generation Application Performance Management (APM) tool. We designed it for the requirements of modern containerized microservices applications. We analyze the health of the running applications, services and infrastructure. We’re doing that by using AI based on a semantical domain model and streaming technology. With that information, we determine the root cause in case of a problem. We do that with the highest degree of automation. Manual configuration gets tough for humans in the dynamics landscape of DevOps and Containers.

Q: Can you explain both APM and microservice applications in a few words? Why they are important concepts?

APM is a monitoring tool that helps you understand our applications and their underlying resources better. APM provides you with:
deep insights into your running code.
informations to eliminate errors and performance bottlenecks.
In the era of microservices, APM also provides a dependency map of these services. We do that by using technologies like distributed tracing.

Microservices are the answer to Agile and DevOps on the software architecture level. As Agile drives for small autonomous teams, we needed an answer on the technology side to eliminate dependencies and gain more speed. Microservices are small units of work that are developed by one team and can be deployed independently from any other service. This means a decoupling of the release cycle. They are also more resilient to failure as microservices come with their own data. Containers are the natural „runtime“ environment.

Q: What’s driving the demand for Instana’s products?

We see a high adoption rate of microservices and containers across all verticals and enterprises. My estimate is that 20% of the 5,000 largest global enterprises already have microservice apps in production. 95% have started internal projects to build these platforms and applications and will go „live“ with new applications in 2018.

Q: Why is the market for APM and microservices growing? What’s different to the previous way of doing things?

In short: The need for speed of all enterprises.

To keep up with digital markets, all enterprises are adopting an Agile and DevOps paradigm. That implies they will naturally also move into the microservices and container world. But they will also gain more complexity, because of much higher scale and dynamics. The result is loss of visibility and the fact that the monitoring tools of the „old world“ do not work in the new platforms. Three things:

First, the monitoring agent technology needs to change. You cannot put one or more agents into each container as our competitors do. It’s too much overhead running hundreds of containers on a host.

Second, the need for high granular data is essential. In a world where containers or functions only run for seconds, a minute-based average doesn’t work anymore. Five minute delays of seeing data or getting an alert is not acceptable with Continuous Delivery pipelines sometimes deploying into production with every developer commit.

Third, the amount of data is exploding with the number of active services under management. This means humans need help from the machine to extract the needed information. Our AI approach is the future of APM in these kind of environments.

Q: Can you share some transformational use cases of microservice applications you’ve seen with your customers?

All products are digital and connected. Take some of the major car companies we’re working with. They are building platforms where every car will be connected in real-time. A car will share information and receive updates. This has massive requirements on availability and performance. IoT and connected products will be one of the biggest drivers of microservices and new types of software architectures in the next 5 years.

Q: Let’s talk about data. The amount of data enterprises have to handle is growing leaps and bounds. What roles do microservice applications & APM play?

As described before, the amount of data is exploding and also the possibilities to analyze this data to get insights is massive. Let’s get back to the connected car example. We already get routed by our navigation system in real-time.

Soon the cars driving in front of us will inform us about road conditions or accidents in near real-time. They will detect a crash, call the police and ambulance right away. They will regulate the damage with our insurance company seconds after the crash happened. Analytics and sensors will make it possible to analyze the damage of the car and the people inside.

Q: Where do you see opportunities for enterprises in working with their data?

Most enterprise have to learn how to use the gold they have in their databases. It is also important to get rid of the data silos. In many companies data is spread over different databases with different data models. Companies need to learn how to use modern and cloud based technologies. We’re talking different database types and technologies for analytics.

Q: What’s the key advice you can give these companies?

Make sure you get the right skills and people. You will need data science and machine learning experts. They will have to extract information out of the data that will give products a competitive advantage. I just read that Amazon built an AI center in Germany with 100 experts in the new “Cyber Valley”. And that is just one center they have. It drives their competitive advantage. They have established a culture for knowledge leadership in this space.

Q: What excites you most about the future of Instana?

We have built Instana based on a modern realtime streaming platform. We have a competitive advantage for the next years. I am excited to see the microservice, container and serverless trends grow. And we are the right solution for our customers to solve the new complexity issues. I am also very exited about our AI plans and our ideas. We will connect business KPIs, infrastructure cost and APM to optimize for the highest business value.

Q: What advice can you give to people who want to work in data?

Don’t stick to old paradigms and chose the right tools for your (data) problem. As they say, „if you have a hammer – everything looks like a nail.“

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