In this DevOps Chat we speak with Jonah Kowall, VP of Market Developments and Insights at AppDynamics. Of course prior to that Jonah was a VP of Research IT Operations at Gartner. Jonah actually gave us a great overview of the evolution of APM and how the market has evolved. He also tells where we might be heading now.
It is not often you can get the lay of the land from an expert like Kowall, so I highly recommend you give this a listen.
As usual, immediately below is the streaming audio of our discussion and below that is the transcript of our conversation.
Transcript of the Conversation
Alan Shimel: Hi, everyone. Alan Shimel, DevOps.com here for another DevOps Chat. Our guest on this episode of DevOps Chat is Jonah Kowall of App Dynamics. Jonah, welcome to DevOps Chat.
Jonah Kowall: Thanks, Alan. Happy to be here—great to speak with you and everyone else listening.
Alan Shimel: Thank you. So Jonah, before we jump into App Dynamics, you have a—you’ve had a bit of a career already. Why don’t you share with our audience a little bit about kinda your journey to how you got here today?
Jonah Kowall: Yeah, definitely. Well, I always knew I wanted to be a technologist and, for many years, I worked at about six or seven different startups. I co-founded one of the first content filtering companies back in the early 2000s and, you know, got acquired a couple of times.
And I kinda shifted careers a few years ago, about seven years ago, and moved into the analyst world and kinda moved away from running ops and security and infrastructure and application performance and decided to take the analyst path, and did that for about four years, which was very interesting and different, learned a lot of new skills, a lot of new muscles were built.
And I joined App Dynamics a little bit over two years ago, and I work with our co-founder and CTO running product strategy. I do a little bit of marketing, but quite a bit of product management and kind of looking into where we’re going as a company to solve the next generation of problems that we’re starting to see in our customer base.
So that’s a little summary of where I came from and however you’d like to take it is great.
Alan Shimel: Sure. I guess the real question is, do you know where you’re going, but we’ll come back to that in a second.
Jonah, as I spoke to you offline about, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about what I have seen, you know, as an observer of the market at DevOps.com. In terms of the evolution of what used to be just a few years ago, a very kinda stable space called APM, right? We had, the APM space had a handful of players—App Dynamics was certainly one of them—who were, by the way, all doing pretty well, it seemed.
And what we’ve seen in the last few years is, you know, in the—first of all, more people joining the fray, but more than that, in the race to distinguish one from the other, many players within this space are kinda rephrasing their mission, their—not running away from APM, but their APM plus, maybe. And so we’ve seen, you know, alphabet soups of ARAs and a whole bunch of different combinations.
What’s your take on that, Jonah?
Jonah Kowall: So, when you look back—and, you know, when I started at Gartner, there was a lot of confusion around application performance and application monitoring. And there was like a general belief that anything that monitored some kind of application or even monitored the network and tried to extract application information was, in fact, APM.
And what I kind of tried to do in my time at Gartner, and I think it sort of changed some things, was really focus APM on instrumentation of applications. So, how do we see the code, how do we get inside the application, how do we trace from end to end and really provide that visibility and the diagnostic capabilities that are really gonna be needed in today’s applications, which are incredibly complex and diverse, and consist of a lot of new technologies?
So, building that kind of visibility is really hard to do. I mean, if an APM company—and there are plenty of them that have started over the last couple years—they have many, many years before their instrumentation becomes decent, if they’re even going down that path. And the ability to extract information from a running application, without breaking it, is very, very difficult to solve. It takes a lot of time, a lot of experimentation, a lot of work with customers.
And so this market is very hard to enter into and compete with the three leaders in the space. It’s just a big challenge, and you’re looking at five to six years before these things mature, if they continue to pursue them. So what you’re kind of seeing, and what you alluded to, is that companies are trying to take a different angle and avoiding the deep instrumentation and just trying to provide SVKs and tools for developers to build those, you know, that visibility. But it’s a big challenge, because in enterprise and packaged applications, those products don’t work, and that’s really the challenge that I continually see out there when I observe the industry.
Alan Shimel: Got it. So, you know, certain—I’m sorry, Jonah, I have a little tickle. App Dynamics, you know, in, let’s call it an immature industry, rapidly become an 800 pound gorilla, and I think we’ve all seen the proof of that in recent news around acquisitions and so forth. But I’m not gonna go there, Jonah—suffice to say, App Dynamics is a market leader in its space.
How does this evolution, if you will, changing dynamics, you know, you said you’re working on future problems—how do you think this plays into the future of App Dynamics?
Jonah Kowall: Yeah. Well, I think that applications and technologies will continue to evolve, and you know, we’re already starting to see a lot of new application paradigms that we’re gonna have to shift a lot of our core technology to support and to essentially leapfrog what the rest of the market is able to do, and we’re hard at work doing that.
But aside from the deep, you know, introspection of software, there is also a big push for us to really understand the business, because today’s enterprises, regardless of what they do, whether it’s extracting natural resources from the earth or building cars or providing mortgages—these companies are all software companies, and their businesses depend and are driven by their software. And our goal is really to understand the business execution and the user experience of those transactions that are critical. And, in kind of taking that to the next level is really, how do we look at the outcome of software and of these business transactions as they come together.
So, our vision is not only to increase our capabilities of the core of what we do in APM, but also to really provide a lens into the business that really provides that IT business alignment that everyone talks about and everyone struggles with today. So we really see that as the differentiator in these large enterprises that are really challenged with a lot of legacy and a huge amount of demand to change their businesses.
Alan Shimel: Got it. Got it, got it. So, Jonah, let me pivot a little bit to, there was another area I wanted to touch on with you, and that is this whole area of containers, micro-services—but containerization. Virtually every call, every briefing that I’m on, somehow or another containers make their way into the conversation. How big a focus is it over in the, in terms of product and in terms of the strategy at App Dynamics?
Jonah Kowall: Yeah, I mean, micro-services and containers are definitely the peak hype, let’s say, of the day—there’s no question about that. And they provide a lot of benefit, but a lot of people really feel that containers and micro-services are the answer to every problem. And this is something that we’ve seen over and over in our industry where, you know, there’s a new kind of angle to an existing set of technologies that we feel is really gonna make the biggest difference. And although containers and micro-services are both important paradigms, they’re not the answer to everything.
Our customers are clearly retooling some of their applications around a micro-services architecture, and they’re definitely running workloads on containers, and these things are important for us to support, but are they more important than, you know, building core functionality to support new languages and new frameworks and really helping our customers with their more core business problems. It’s hard to say. I mean, both are clearly critical, but a lot of it is hype, and you know, the hype obviously fades as people become disillusioned with the fact that containers and micro-services don’t solve all your problems. They create a lot of new problems, and that’s just the reality of technology.
So, as an industry, we’re very over rotated to containers, micro-services, and public cloud, and you know, we’ll soon realize those aren’t the answer to all of our problems—and oftentimes, they create new problems, as well. So, you know, I think it continues to be a cycle and, you know, I really think the evolution of cloud into a decentralized model will be a pretty interesting trend over the next, you know, 5 to 10 years as well.
Alan Shimel: Got it. I think we’ve barely scratched the surface. You know, Jonah, I was on a call previous to this and it was around software defined storage and networking and stuff, and it just—listening to it, I had such a déjà vu of sitting back in on the VMware stuff, you know, back in, I guess mid-2005, around then.
Jonah Kowall: Yep.
Alan Shimel: It just seems to promise so much change for us here; it’s crazy.
Jonah Kowall: [Laughter] It always does, and you know, it comes with challenges, always, and people become kind of disillusioned, but there are benefits to those that embrace it, do it well, and you know, have the types of problems that those technologies can solve.
Alan Shimel: Yep. Excellent. Well, Jonah, we’re just about up on our time. I’m gonna give you a surprise question here, if you don’t mind—if you can’t answer, that’s okay.
Jonah Kowall: Sure.
Alan Shimel: But I usually ask, the last question I always ask my guest is—recommend one book to our audience that you really think they should read to help them with their careers.
Jonah Kowall: That is an interesting one. I actually tend to, I do a lot of traveling. I actually flew over 200,000 miles in 2016.
Alan Shimel: Wow.
Jonah Kowall: So, when I actually get to read, I tend to read lighter materials, or I read very deep, technical materials that kind of help with some of the product work that I’m doing. So a lot of the books I read tend to not be too inspirational, but I do really enjoy participating in some of the open Slack communities. I enjoy reading a lot of blogs and other content that tends to be fresher.
Alan Shimel: Mm-hmm.
Jonah Kowall: You know, I read probably about 500 blogs in my RSS feed regularly, so that tends to really be how I get information, and I do really enjoy reading some of the Google Scholar, if you set some interesting alerts up, you can get some great research papers coming out from universities that are very interesting and forthcoming, just kind of highlighting some of the next generation thinking from the educational institutions all over the world.
So that really tends to be more what I tend to read versus, you know, something that’s more career focused, I would say, or inspirational in that manner. So sorry I don’t have the best answer, but that’s what I tend to do.
Alan Shimel: No, no—that’s fine, and that works for us. Well, Jonah, I think we—well, we are out of time, but I want to thank you for joining us today on DevOps Chat, and I look forward to perhaps having you on again in the future.
Jonah Kowall: Sounds great. Thanks for your time, Alan, and thanks, everyone, for tuning in
Alan Shimel: Thank you. Jonah Kowall, App Dynamics, our guest today on DevOps Chat.
This is Alan Shimel for DevOps.com, and we hope to see you soon on another DevOps Chat.