Tuesday was extra tough for IT departments at many companies. Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) East Coast operations failed, leaving The Inquirer and thousands of other enterprises that rely on the leading remote-server operator struggling to update content for much of the day.
“It was painful,” said Bob Moul, chief executive of Circonus, an 11-year-old Malvern company that tracks data leaks, remote-server outages, and other network slowdowns for clients. On Tuesday, Circonus sent alerts to customers about AWS’s outage before it spread.
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As Tuesday’s mess reminded us, the internet is a vast, changing patchwork of systems, servers, and data lines. Amazon is the largest provider of remote servers that companies rely on to cut costs and speed traffic, so its failures are public and widespread. (Circonus’ own platform runs on systems managed by rival Google, the distant No. 2, and was not directly affected by Tuesday’s AWS failure.)
A different kind of digital crisis scared corporate America and the public earlier this year, when hackers separately shut the Colonial gas pipeline and the giant JBS meatpacking system, reminding Americans of how complex and fragile the networks we rely on can be.
All of which spells opportunity for companies like Circonus and has attracted investors. The Malvern-based firm raised $10 million last month from a group of East Coast and Midwestern venture capitalists. Moul said he’ll use the cash to double its staff of 25 engineers, managers, and sales-and-marketing people this year.
Clients such as HBO, Major League Baseball, AT&T’s Xandr internet advertising system, the Redfin digital real estate service, Webex by Cisco videoconferencing network, and sports games maker Electronic Arts use Circonus to patch and reroute data and keep it as seamless as possible for users who have come to rely on steady service, the company said.
The Circonus platform “just flat out works,” Frank Pellitteri, vice president of technology for Xandr, said in a statement. “We’re ingesting a quarter billion metrics every minute with Circonus. We use that data” not just to keep the system running fast, but also to detect fraud, he added.
When leaky memory recently threatened to slow Major League Baseball’s digital service, Circonus found the problem and alerted league engineers so they could stop the problems before it slowed streaming to viewers, said Riley Berton, MLB’s principal site reliability engineer.
“To be able to find that quickly and resolve that issue” so fans don’t notice “is a big deal,” Berton added.
The new investors were led by Chicago-based Baird Capital. Participating previous investors included NewSpring Capital, of Radnor; Osage Venture Partners, of Philadelphia; and Bull City Venture Partners, of Durham, N.C.
NewSpring, Osage, and other earlier investors backed the company with an initial $5 million at its first venture capital raising in 2019, Moul said.
The veteran Philadelphia software CEO was recruited to Circonus in 2019 by NewSpring founder Michael DiPiano, with orders to speed growth by focusing on what was then called “machine data intelligence,” a term Moul said was dropped because it suggested the company sold hardware. Theo Schlossnagle, who founded Circonus in 2010, remains active at the company.
Moul learned network engineering at Electronic Data Systems, rose to president at the former SCT Global Solutions in Malvern, and has run start-ups including Berwyn-based cloud-computing pioneer Boomi (sold to Dell Technologies in 2011 and resold to private investment firms led by Francisco Partners and TPG for $4 billion earlier this year). He also led Artisan Mobile and Cloudamize.
Circonus can track, warn, and advise, but it’s not big enough to fix a failure the size of Amazon’s last week.
Circonus’ alerts allowed clients to warn their own engineers, contractors, and customers to brace for a stall, “but there is not much we can do” to help fix damaged systems or switch traffic to sound ones “when an entire region goes down,” Moul said.
If systems were more reliable, companies wouldn’t need consultants, advisers, or “telemetry intelligence,” the current name for what Circonus sells.
But today, companies relying on digital communications need help that system operators alone can’t give them, Moul said. Given the multimillion-dollar costs at big companies of all that downtime, he said, “it’s why performance monitoring platforms like Circonus are so critical in today’s digital economy.”