SmartStateIndia
Interview

Driving Innovation and Observability: Insights from Nic Benders, Chief Architect and GVP of Engineering at New Relic

In an era where digital transformation is paramount, companies are constantly seeking innovative solutions to enhance their operations and stay ahead of the competition. New Relic, a pioneer in observability and application performance monitoring, is at the forefront of this technological evolution. SmartStateIndia had the privilege of speaking with Nic Benders, Chief Architect and Group Vice President of Engineering at New Relic, to gain insights into the company’s strategic initiatives, the significance of their Innovation Center in Hyderabad, and their vision for AI adoption and innovation. In this exclusive interview, Nic shares his thoughts on the challenges faced by digital businesses in India, the emerging trends in observability, and how New Relic is positioning itself to address these evolving needs.

What strategic role does New Relic’s Innovation Center in Hyderabad play in the company’s global operations, and how does it contribute to New Relic’s growth and development?

New Relic was founded on the U.S. West Coast 16 years ago, where we grew from a small business to a medium-sized company. However, as we expanded, hiring individuals with the desired mindset became challenging due to increased competition and saturation in the local talent pool.

In 2013, we expanded to Barcelona, establishing a center of excellence for our user interface (UI) areas. This move enabled us to access a new talent pool in Europe, which would have been geographically out of reach otherwise.

Similarly, the Innovation Center in Hyderabad represents another strategic expansion. India offers a unique market with professionals possessing not only tech experience but the right blend of skills—people with backgrounds in both large corporations and small startups, often with entrepreneurial experience. This combination is highly attractive to us because it brings a startup mentality of not just writing software but building products.

When recruiting for the Innovation Center, we consistently find candidates with this ideal mix of startup mindset and big company experience. This is crucial for our growth, as these individuals drive product engineering with a focus on innovation and practical implementation. Therefore, the Hyderabad Innovation Center is pivotal in sourcing the talent necessary to continue our global expansion and maintain our competitive edge.

Have any of New Relic’s innovative solutions been developed from its operations in India? If so, can you provide some specific examples?

Yes, certainly from the customer side. We have been working with customers in the Indian market for several years, and we’ve noticed trends originating here that have later gained global traction.

The customer base in India is notably price-sensitive, often seeking to maximize value through open-source solutions and strategic investments. This focus on cost-efficiency is now a global trend. Techniques we developed to succeed with our Indian customers are now being applied worldwide, especially in the current economic climate where there is a pervasive fear of recession. Globally, customers are scrutinizing their investments, asking if they are getting their money’s worth and using products in the most cost-effective ways. Our experience in India has equipped us to help these customers optimize their use of our software, ensuring they derive maximum value without overspending.

A major trend we’ve observed globally, which has roots in our work here, is the rise of open telemetry. This is a significant development in observability, offering customers full control over their data—how they preprocess, filter, aggregate, and where they send it. Open telemetry mitigates concerns about vendor lock-in by leveling the playing field. Customers can choose the right tools for their needs without being constrained by their current instrumentation.

We encourage the adoption of open telemetry as a data source because we believe in the strength of our backend solutions. This flexibility allows customers to send data to their internal systems and also to New Relic, which we view as an optimal approach, ensuring they use the best tools for each specific task.

What are the key challenges faced by digital businesses in India, and how does New Relic plan to support these businesses in overcoming them?

We observe a diverse range of companies in India, from traditional enterprises and multinational divisions to local startups and digital natives.

Digital native companies often understand the importance of modern practices, though they may not yet be fully mature due to their smaller size. As these startups grow into successful businesses, we can partner with them to provide not just tools, but also the necessary practices to enhance their operations. This includes improving mean time to recovery, introducing cloud cost optimization practices, and more. Our goal is to ensure they derive significant value from our solutions, whether it’s saving money, reducing recovery times, or improving sales conversion rates.

In the enterprise sector, challenges often include compliance and data privacy. Here, we leverage our international experience with financial and healthcare companies to offer best practices for maximizing the value of an observability platform. This can be through our solutions, a hybrid approach with in-house tools, or other vendors, all while maintaining stringent privacy standards. By addressing these varied challenges, we aim to support digital businesses in India in achieving their goals and sustaining their growth.

Considering the rapid advancement of Generative AI globally, how does New Relic foresee India’s role in AI adoption and innovation over the next five years?

We are approaching generative AI from two angles: monitoring generative AI systems for our customers and building our own generative AI-based features to help users explore observability data using AI interactions.

As we develop these features, we essentially become the first customer, enabling us to identify and address issues early. The AI landscape is evolving rapidly, with new tools and APIs emerging frequently. Most teams today use commercial offerings like OpenAI combined with open-source components, although custom model implementation is starting to gain traction.

A significant challenge in this space is cost management. Teams are often satisfied with their AI systems until they receive unexpectedly high bills. Correctness is another major issue, as debugging AI outputs can be complex. With insights from our own teams, we focused on creating monitoring solutions for Python and Node.js that integrate with OpenAI APIs and popular tools like Pinecone and LangChain. This allows users to monitor their entire AI stack, track costs, performance, and identify correctness issues.

Our limited preview and general availability releases have revealed that the rapid pace of change remains a top concern for customers. Many companies experiment with AI but struggle to keep up with evolving tools, as seen with recent announcements from OpenAI and Google. Data privacy is another major concern, with customers needing assurance that their confidential data is protected.

The rapid evolution of generative AI reminds us of the early days of Node.js. Large companies, including major retailers and financial institutions, adopted Node.js to solve specific problems but faced challenges with operability and efficiency. Our goal, and that of other players in the field, is to help customers gain confidence in these new technologies, enabling faster market adoption and broader benefits.

India is well-positioned to play a significant role in this AI revolution, leveraging its growing tech expertise and innovative spirit. We anticipate that over the next five years, India will be a key player in AI adoption and innovation, contributing to and benefiting from the global advancements in generative AI.

From an observability perspective, what emerging technology trends should enterprises be prepared for in the coming years, and how is New Relic positioned to address these trends?

In terms of observability, New Relic is focused on enabling customers to gain insights and create auditability within their systems. Our platform allows customers to sample and scrutinize their data to determine whether their systems are performing as expected.

For instance, many platforms utilizing AI have feedback mechanisms such as thumbs up or thumbs down for responses. These feedback inputs are captured in the observability data, allowing teams to analyze why a particular response was rated negatively. They can examine the system prompts used, the APIs called, the tokens processed, and the overall context. This detailed breakdown helps identify whether issues stem from the search data, the prompt, or the model itself.

In dealing with our own AI systems, we face the challenge of balancing flexibility with accuracy. It’s essential to allow for unexpected queries while ensuring that responses are logical and meaningful. To address this, we integrate generative AI systems with traditional computational frameworks. For example, when generating an answer, we use conventional computational methods to validate the response before presenting it to the user.

This approach ensures that enterprises can harness the power of generative AI while maintaining control and accuracy. As we continue to evolve, New Relic aims to stay at the forefront of these trends, providing robust solutions that help enterprises navigate the complexities of modern observability and AI integration.

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