What works for Freshworks: How one of India’s most celebrated B2B SaaS startups turbo-charged their growth with infrastructure monitoring
This nine-year-old Indian startup has helped tens of thousands of organisations around the world, from Hugo Boss to Cisco, with their customer engagement solutions. Freshworks Inc., one of the first pure-play India-based SaaS companies, makes it easy for support, sales and marketing professionals to better engage and resolve customer issues.
Freshworks office in Chennai, India
In 2018, Freshworks crossed the $100-million mark in annual recurring revenue. The increasing adoption of the company’s flagship customer support product, Freshdesk, and growth of both its IT services management product, Freshservice, and customer relationship management product, Freshsales, have been instrumental in achieving this feat. Other key products include Freshcaller, Freshteam, Freshchat, and Freshmarketer. Their fully-integrated cloud bundle, Freshworks 360, brings together sales, marketing and support applications to provide users with a complete customer engagement experience.
The challenge of infrastructure monitoring and why it is central to the success of this SaaS startup
As a fast-growing B2B SaaS company with thousands of B2B and B2C companies as its customers, some being legacy organisations and others fast-growing billion-dollar companies, Freshworks has to ensure that there are minimal downtimes, outages or latency in its offerings. Its Site Reliability Engineering team ensures high availability by managing the availability and latency and monitoring the all-cloud infrastructure.
“To do this, we need to have visibility into the infrastructure, how it is behaving at any given point of time and how our customers are using our products from an infrastructure standpoint,” says Pradeep Thangavel, Engineering Manager, Site Reliability Engineering at Freshworks.
Pradeep Thangavel, Engineering Manager, Site Reliability Engineering at Freshworks
For Freshworks, the term “customers” includes their customers’ customers as well. “Because Freshworks is integrated on to the customer’s platform, any traffic that comes to the customer’s platform is as good as traffic to the Freshworks platform,” explains Pradeep. And, because each of their customers has different traffic patterns and infrastructure usage, the team needs to be on top of monitoring each individual customer’s needs, every single day, every single hour.
Pradeep demonstrates the significance of infrastructure monitoring: “Consider an online booking platform for movies. Most often there’s a peak in the usage of their platform, and thereby ours, on weekends. In contrast, a payments app may have variable peaks during the month. As a SaaS company, we need to be able to tune our infrastructure according to the needs of the customers.”
This task at hand is challenging because no other India-based B2B SaaS company operates at the scale of Freshworks, explains Pradeep. “Which essentially means we do not have easy access to industry benchmarks or learnings with regards to aligning our infrastructure optimally for day-to-day operations.”
It is here that Sumo Logic, the industry's leading, secure, cloud-based service for logs & metrics management for modern apps, has been a trusted aide for Freshworks.
Using anomaly detection to mitigate challenges before they get out of hand
While there is a generic pattern to how some customers use Freshworks products from an infrastructural standpoint, more often than not there are dips and surges, which at times can be operational or infrastructure issues. Sumo Logic’s Outlier Operator helps the company ascertain whether the occasional surges and dips are anomalies. “Be it an unusual 30 percent dip in the usage of a product belonging to one of our top customers, or an unusual number of failed logins for a particular product, we get alerted on time, which enables us to look into the issue and inform our customers. Once the pattern is detected as an anomaly, we are able to pinpoint the cause of the issue, expedite troubleshooting and stay ahead of production issues,” explains Pradeep.
Sumo Logic’s multidimensional outlier detection is especially useful to monitor the behaviour of each module, server, application feature, or other single ‘entity’, rather than some aggregation across all entities. This ensures that any anomaly that might get lost in what could otherwise be assumed as a normal issue, gets identified.
Pradeep in discussion with the Freshworks Site Reliability Engineering team
“Another advantage of the Outlier Operator is that you don’t need to configure your alert thresholds for each metric we send. We just need to identify the KPI (Key Performance Indicators) and ingest it into Sumo Logic. The Sumo Logic system learns over time and detects anomalies if any.
Interestingly, the outlier isn’t the only Sumo Logic feature that helps Freshworks detect anomalies. Sumo Logic’s Time Compare Operator is another one. It differs from the outlier as it compares active users or production issues with historical data, which could be single or multiple time periods in the past or an aggregate of a defined time period.
“The moment a tenant’s infrastructure usage deviates from its pattern, we get an alert from Sumo Logic. We then use the Time Compare Operator to track this down further with the historical data comparison. For instance, in bookings platform, if we do not see weekend logins or transactions that match the average, you know there’s something wrong. The Time Compare Operator helps to detect the cause of the anomaly.”
With Freshworks’ B2C clients, periodic promotional sales at the client’s end often mean there is a surge in traffic. The Time Compare Operator not only helps with alerts about the surge, but also gives a context if a similar surge happened ‘n’ days ago. “This context not only helps us to identify if the surge is due to the promotion or if it is an anomaly, but also equips us to tune our infrastructure to meet the needs of such periodic promotions.”
Availability and monitoring – two key areas for the Freshworks
Managing the infrastructure for thousands of big and small companies alike is a mammoth feat, which Freshworks does well. “Freshworks is able to pull this off because we get a heads-up from Sumo Logic,” says Pradeep.
He adds, “Ask any Site Reliability Engineering team or expert and they will reiterate that the ability to manage infrastructural changes largely depends on how much heads-up you get. With Sumo Logic this gets easy most of the time. For instance, we receive an alert that for a particular customer, there is a small surge at the moment, which is likely to grow by ‘x’ in the next hour. With that kind of an alert, we are able to tune in our infrastructure accordingly.”
Another advantage that Sumo Logic offers from a monitoring standpoint is that unlike traditional monitoring systems which send an alert when the threshold is reached, Sumo Logic analyses the trend of how the infrastructure is being used and alerts only if there’s an anomaly. “For a growing business like Freshworks, a traditional monitoring system that works on the basis of a threshold can be a pain because the thresholds will need to be constantly changed. On the contrary, Sumo Logic makes this extremely simple. All you need to do is key in the KPIs, ingest the logs, and allow the algorithm to learn over time. And, in due course, the software understands the usage trends not just superficially, but even at a granular level and even spots anomalies on a day-to-day growth basis,” says Pradeep.
Five years of “never failing to impress”
“We would like to think of ourselves as an Emergency Response Team. Whenever something goes wrong, we are often the first ones to get a call. That’s why it is important to understand what went wrong, the reason behind it and respond immediately,” says Pradeep. And, that’s why infrastructure monitoring needs to be built into the DNA of every product organisation. “Today Sumo Logic has helped us take monitoring to the next level, by identifying and predicting abnormalities even before they happen and in cases when they do, enable the fastest response.”
But a few years ago, as a young startup, Freshworks was doing what was considered the industry standard – legacy monitoring systems. “But, as we began to see faster adoption, there was an increasing expectation from customers to provide seamless service. That’s when we figured out we need to bring efficiency and intelligence into our monitoring,” he says.
Freshworks explored options. “In 2014, Sumo Logic was also a startup, but the product experience convinced us to work with them.”
The journey began with Freshworks integrating Sumo Logic onto its platform. “The learning curve with Sumo Logic is really small, which is an added advantage.” While initially, it was only the Site Reliability Engineering team that adopted Sumo Logic, the evident benefits led to other teams wanting to use the product for their own purposes. Within a year, the developers and support team adopted the analytics platform. “The immediate impact that it had for the two teams is that they were able to make informed decisions without having to escalate queries or issues to the next level of engineers.” Today, the use cases are far more advanced.
Sumo Logic Headquarters, US
The use cases have also expanded because “over the years Sumo Logic released features that have been in tune with the needs of customers – be it the live dashboard, the outlier operator, log compare operator, or the time compare operator. Each of the features is today integral to making Freshworks more robust and secure than it already is.”
What started off as a journey to help Freshworks enable infrastructure monitoring today encompasses many key focus areas – bringing enhanced efficiency into day-to-day operations, effective troubleshooting and more. “And, the Sumo Logic experience has been one that never fails to impress,” signs off Pradeep.
About Sumo Logic
Sumo Logic is a secure, cloud-native, machine data analytics service, delivering real-time, continuous intelligence from structured, semi-structured and unstructured data across the entire application lifecycle and stack. More than 2,000 customers around the globe rely on Sumo Logic for the analytics and insights to build, run and secure their modern applications and cloud infrastructures. With Sumo Logic, customers gain a multi-tenant, service-model advantage to accelerate their shift to continuous innovation, increasing competitive advantage, business value and growth.
Founded in 2010, Sumo Logic is a privately held company based in Redwood City, Calif. and is backed by Accel Partners, Battery Ventures, DFJ Growth, Franklin Templeton, Greylock Partners, IVP, Sapphire Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Sutter Hill Ventures and Tiger Global Management. For more information, visit: www.sumologic.com
Freshworks provides customer engagement software to businesses of all sizes, making it easy for customer support, sales and marketing professionals to communicate more effectively with customers and deliver moments of wow. Freshworks offers a full suite of SaaS (Software as a Service) products that create compelling customer experiences and lets businesses share a 360-degree view of relevant customer information internally.
Founded in October 2010, Freshworks Inc. is backed by Accel, Tiger Global Management, CapitalG and Sequoia Capital India. Freshworks is a 2,000 + team headquartered in San Mateo, California, with global offices in India, UK, Australia and Germany. The company's cloud-based suite is widely used by over 150,000 businesses around the world including the NHS, Honda, Rightmove, Hugo Boss, Citizens Advice, Toshiba and Cisco.