Nishant Modak and Piyush Verma see themselves as firefighters. Modern organizations are built with more complex software infrastructure than ever before, point out the founders of Last9, which is today announcing an $11 million Series A funding round. When something goes wrong, it is vital to find the fire quickly before it engulfs the building.
“What firefighters are to civil engineering, site reliability engineers are to software engineering,” says Modak, who serves as Last9’s CEO. “Having been software reliability engineers for more than a decade, this platform is built out of our struggles.”
Those struggles will be familiar to fast-growing companies all around the world, for which cloud computing has changed everything. These companies employ a host of software applications – or microservices – that they access through cloud-based subscriptions, rather than installed on their own premise. It’s an affordable, convenient and agile way to acquire the tools and technologies that businesses need – and therefore to grow at pace as they serve their own customers.
That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, there’s a problem with this model. The more microservices the business adds, the more complex their software infrastructure becomes. Not only does the interaction of each new microservice with the existing infrastructure create more potential for failures and outages, but also, finding the source of the problem within this tangled web of software becomes increasingly difficult.
That is the job of software reliability engineers. But when a problem arises, even the most skilled professionals will require time to manually comb through the infrastructure to pinpoint the issue and find a system. And in the meantime, the business is stuck with an outage that may damage productivity or jeopardize customer service standards .
That’s where Last9’s technology comes in. Modak and Verma have built a package of tools that map businesses’ software infrastructure, identifying connection points and monitoring how different microservices are interacting. The solution also includes a search engine. If and when a problem arises, Last9 enables the business’s software reliability engineers to scan that infrastructure map to identify the issue that is causing it. No more manual searches.
“Once you’ve given us read-only permission to access your system, we can pull down data from all the different silos that have grown up as the software infrastructure has evolved,” explains Modak. “We can see how any given request are routed through the system and where it is breaking down.”
The impact is a dramatic decrease in the “mean time to discovery” of businesses trying to track down how and where systems failures are occurring. That process typically takes engineers operating manually hours or days to complete. Modak says Last9’s approach can reduce that time to minutes.
The business launched in 2020, with Modak and Verma inspired by their experience at a previous start-up they eventually sold. “We scaled the business pretty rapidly but we kept running into the same problem,” Modak recalls. “Each time a software difficulty slowed us down, we thought about how there had to be a better way to resolve the issue.”
Eventually, the founders began developing Last9 as that “better way”. They spent the first year and a half honing the product, but over the past six months, the focus has expanded to customer acquisition and commercial development. One early customer is Disney+ Hotstar, an entertainment company with rights to stream the cricket’s Indian Premier League; it has 30 million customers watching the stream at any given moment, underlining just what is at stake if an outage occurs.
Product development is continuing. Last9 is particularly interested in change intelligence – tools that allow businesses to see in advance what impacts there might be from adding a particular microservice to the infrastructure. “Once you can start to predict the precise problems that new connections and interactions might cause, you have an opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive about reliability,” Modak explains. Think of that as preventing the fire breaking out in the first place.
Equally, Last9’s founders are now focused on scaling up the business from a commercial perspective, with plans to invest in their go-to-market capabilities. The California-based company sees North America as its largest target market, at least initially, but the solution is geographically agnostic.
Today’s fund raising should help with both product development and commercial roll-out, providing the business with significant additional financial firepower. The Series A round is led by Sequoia Capital India, with participation from co-investor Better Capital and a number of angel investors. The $11 million of new capital follows the $2 million that Last9 raised from Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program in April 2020.
“Building software systems that are reliable and can handle the velocity of code change is the need of the hour, but the way reliability is handled today is broken,” says Modak. “As the world is moving towards a microservices-led architecture, we believe it’s high time engineering teams start observing services and not servers.”