CXO

Robotics firm Anki's data surge at Christmastime was no sweat for Sumo Logic

Anki, a robotics and AI firm, needed a log management and backup solution in time for the holiday season. Sumo Logic exceeded Anki's expectations by handling the data surge on Christmas Day.

anki.jpg
Boris Sofman demonstrates Anki Drive at WWDC 2013.
Image: James Martin/CNET

Consumer robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) firm Anki launched in June 2013 at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, introduced by Apple CEO Tim Cook. Anki CEO and co-founder Boris Sofman, who earned a Ph.D. at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, gave the presentation.

After that "amazing" launch, newly-hired Anki Director of Infrastructure Ben Whaley said his goal "was to get our back-end infrastructure in place so we knew we could handle the scale for our product launch, for the holiday season, and set us up for success going forward."

"One element of Anki's work is to do analytics on gameplay data, on how customers are using our product Anki Drive, and what we can do better to make our customers happy."

"One of the first things I wanted to do," said Whaley, "was partner up with somebody whom I could depend on to collect a lot of my data and provide it to me in a visually appealing, consistent, reliable way."

"Having worked with Sumo Logic before [at a previous company]," explained Whaley, "I decided to turn to them again. I had evaluated several companies and decided on Sumo Logic because the developers on my team enjoyed using them, and they offered features that I wanted at a price that made sense for us."

Log management, real-time analytics, and data backup

Whaley had three main problems to solve for Anki.

Centralized log infrastructure: "This is a really traditional problem in the ops and infrastructure space, that is, having logs. We have all of these applications running, all of them in the cloud, and we don't want everybody logging in to systems all the time. Instead you send your logs to a centralized place, which gives you peace of mind that your logs will not be lost, that your logs are kept with high integrity, that they are not being modified by some attacker, and that you have a centralized interface to store and search for them."

Real-time forensics: "We needed to quickly analyze data in real time. We are building a pretty mature back-end analytics system here at Anki. A lot of that is offline, but we can get real-time insights from a tool like Sumo Logic, where our logs contain not just debugging data about the application, but live gameplay data about what games are being played, what cars are in the game, and how many games are going on in New York City versus San Francisco. Sumo Logic also provides us with a nice query language to do that."

Data backup: "We collect all of our data and put it into a database, that's all very standard. But sometimes you want to have a backup plan, in case something goes wrong. And in fact, we did encounter a problem over Christmas where we needed to take down our database for a while. So we were still able to have our logs that we had accumulated in Sumo Logic. It is a fail-safe mechanism for us."

From selection to implementation

Part of the evaluation and implementation process, said Whaley, was to make sure "I could easily and dynamically include Sumo Logic in our back-end services. All of our services run on cloud infrastructure, on Amazon AWS. I needed to make sure that I could use Sumo Logic in the way that AWS is meant to be used — scaling our infrastructure up and down, dynamically, as demand requires. During the weekend we have a lot more traffic, as a consumer product, than we do on a weekday. Sumo Logic makes it very easy to include the collectors and the software that you need, and makes it very easy to include that dynamically."

Whaley discussed the elements of Sumo Logic's cloud-based solution that he found most appealing.

"One is the method by which you install their software," said Whaley. "It is built in a way that is meant to be automated. The worst situation is when I download the software and have to manually install it on a bunch of systems — nobody does that anymore because it doesn't scale. When it came time to implement, that was a really nice feature. I am able to just install software, and kind of forget about it."

"They also structure it," added Whaley, "so that you can have one collection point per application, or per system, or per network. It is very flexible in how you want to structure it, and the way that you want to send data. I didn't really need to talk to their customer support, their documentation alone was sufficient to get me up and going."

An unexpected gift of a data surge at Christmastime

As it turned out, the high volume of data during the holidays, a critical time for a consumer company, was an unknown unknown. But Sumo Logic easily met Anki's needs and was willing to be flexible on pricing.

"We had a solid launch in October," explained Whaley. "Throughout the month of November things were at a pretty even pace. We were anticipating a large bump in data collection right around Christmastime."

"And on Christmas day, the volume went off the charts! I was not spending time with my family. Instead, I was frantically launching more systems, making sure they were going to handle the load." During the holidays, added Whaley, "I had to take things offline and fix them."

"In the meantime," said Whaley, "all the data is being aggregated into Sumo Logic. I was able to trust that Sumo Logic was going to handle that. I did all the maintenance on my side to make sure that we had the capacity that I needed. And once I turned the systems back on to accept data, I was able to go back, pull out the data that I had accepted into Sumo Logic, and put it back into my system."

"When everyone was back in the office after the New Year," said Whaley, "I called up Sumo Logic and said, hey, I know we went way over our capacity — let's figure it out and plan properly for the next holiday season. And they were really flexible about doing that."

"Obviously we went way over our volume all at once," explained Whaley. "And so rather than ding us with these overage charges, which can add up pretty quickly, Sumo Logic said they would go back and revise our original contract, pretend as if we had the higher contract, and amortize the costs over the next year. So rather than hit us with really big bills, they basically lowered our cost."

"As a consumer-facing company, we are very holiday-focused," added Whaley. "Sumo Logic saw that and worked with us, which made a big difference."

Results of implementing Sumo Logic

"I can basically eliminate a full-time person on my infrastructure team," said Whaley. "I don't need to have somebody setting up a centralized log solution, doing log analytics, and answering questions about logs for developers. Sumo Logic gives me this nice user interface that is very low maintenance. When someone has a question, I can just create an account for them, which takes about 30 seconds, and then send them the account so they can go search themselves. That's a pretty big win."

"There are not a lot of solutions," explained Whaley, "that offer the three elements that I talked about, log centralization, analytics, and backup service, wrapped into one. I can solve three problems at once with it, and it has done that pretty effectively for us. We have used all three of those and we know that it is going to fill those needs."

"Sumo Logic is cost competitive," said Whaley. "It is not super cheap, it is also not exorbitant. The value is that, if it is saving me a full-time engineer, or maybe a half-time engineer, that alone is a serious savings. The cost that you're going to pay for Sumo Logic depends very much on the size of your deployment. Anki is primarily consumer focused; the Anki Drive product—that is all front end. Our back end is fairly small, so we don't have a huge spend with Sumo Logic."

"Sumo Logic keeps adding features to the service," added Whaley. "So just like having an engineer who is contributing new stuff to the organization, I have this outside company where suddenly they are offering this anomaly detection feature. Yesterday I would not have known if my servers were behaving differently. Because they added this, now I know if something is amiss."

"We know based on our Christmas experience that Sumo Logic is a good partner to have," said Whaley. "And we would not consider moving away, because we know they are going to have our back."

About Brian Taylor

Brian Taylor is a contributing writer for TechRepublic. He covers the tech trends, solutions, risks, and research that IT leaders need to know about, from startups to the enterprise. Technology is creating a new world, and he loves to report on it.

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