Issue 02 2023MAGAZINETechnology
GBO_ ThousandEyes

ThousandEyes: X-ray machine of the internet

ThousandEyes maps paths between crucial firm infrastructure and the cloud providers hosting

In the early 2010s, Mohit Lad and Ricardo Oliveira were working late into the night in their startup’s initial office in San Francisco office, developing the internet monitoring software called ThousandEyes. San Francisco is so energy conscious that the light in the building will go off after 6 pm in the evening, and it will take a phone call and passcode to get things back on running. Ricardo Oliveira had enough of this, and created a script using Twilio’s APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) which allow users to call and message anyone, globally.

The script that Ricardo Oliveira created worked for a week until the lights started to go out again. He discovered that the script is perfect after frantically debugging it in the dark. The issue is that a storm has shut down an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centre that houses Twilio on the other side of the country.

Mohit Lad believes this was a foreshadowing moment to depict how the internet functions today. He said in an interview given to Techradar that, “Every time there’s an Amazon outage, something breaks because the way applications are being built right now, there’s a lot more API calls than ever before. Previously, you would see – 10 years ago, 20 years ago – when you were building applications, you would include the code inside through libraries. Now you do an API call. An API call means you insert a dependency into some provider that may be sitting somewhere you don’t know”.

“So as things get concentrated, if there are outages in parts of Amazon’s environment, what happens is even things you don’t anticipate breaking will break, like your doorbell cam may not work because they have an API call were on Amazon. And I think one pattern you will start to find is that there’s more and more unpredictability that will come through in terms of ripple effects. When large networks or large hosting providers, cloud providers go down,” he added.

According to Mohit Lad, the best illustration of how the internet has changed is the switch from data being stored on a business’ own premises to trusting cloud service providers, like AWS, Google Drive, and Microsoft Azure, with the data, usually as a cost-cutting measure. The most obvious advantages are that and a familiar interface, but even those have a cost.

Mohit Lad said, “Companies used to put everything in their own data center. Now they are going into the cloud, they do not control it. They used to build their applications on their own premises, like a CRM, or HR application. And even that is now done on Salesforce, Workday, or Office 365. We are using Teams, right? Teams are hosted in the cloud. The single thing that connects all of this together is the internet. And if it does not work, or portions of it do not work, then it severely impacts user experience. The whole concept of ThousandEyes was started because we believe that the quality of the internet impacts quality of life.”

The ThousandEyes software

The fact that makes ThousandEyes indispensable to over 170 Fortune 500 companies, the top ten banks in the US, and customers such as Mastercard, Volvo, and HP, is that it maps paths between crucial firm infrastructure and the cloud providers hosting.

Mohit Lad said, “Think about Google Maps, or Waze. It is all about providing a visual around what’s happening between point A and point B, so you can make the right decision. “That sort of end-to-end view of what the journey is between your end users and application, which is missing in the current market world.”

According to Mohit Lad, ThousandEyes continues to be an essential tool because of how the internet functions. In addition, he added that “the internet is essentially a collection of different networks. What ThousandEyes is doing is providing a view showing that journey and highlighting if there is an outage somewhere, and that gives you the ability to route around it.”

As an example, Mohit Lad refers to “the 30,000 feet perspective” from the ThousandEyes programme, which gives a comprehensive overview of internet outages together with an interactive map showing their approximate regional impact. Another example of ThousandEyes special is it provides its capacity to pinpoint the precise location of an outage inside a network. He picks up an ongoing random outage — a US provider is down, impacting traffic coming from Australia, via Cloudflare.

“So if we drill down, it shows up as Sydney, and you can look at specific parts of this network in Sydney, where the outages are,” he explains.

He further said, “And knowing this, if you’re using this provider and you have critical customers in Australia, you actually know there’s an outage going on in that part of the environment. You can avoid this network, and make sure your users have a consistent experience and be able to help them out of a blind spot.”

Getting ThousandEyes funding

Mohit Lad claims that since the company began about ten years ago, this conviction has only grown in significance. It turns out that the journey to where he and ThousandEyes are now was challenging. Mohit Lad’s ambitions to enroll at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for the academic study were derailed, and his US visa was about to expire. Mohit Lad started working at an internet company in July 2008, but after just two months he received word that he was being fired due to layoffs brought on by the financial crisis. He said this incident opened his eyes. His UCLA lab partner Ricardo Oliveira had been urging him to launch a business with him, but he wasn’t interested. Mohit Lad claims that redundancy ultimately led him to decide to take a risk even if it initially looked implausible.

“Nobody was willing to fund ThousandEye. A lot of people didn’t think the internet was going to be important enough to be monitored. We ended up raising money from the National Science Foundation, from the US government. That initial grant of USD 150,000 built the first version of ThousandEyes, but Mohit Lad is quick to point out that, in practice, it wasn’t a life-changing sum of money. ThousandEyes’ first data center was built in a garage with servers that had been thrown out into the street. One of the things that came out of (the financial crisis) was a lot of equipment being put in recycle bins outside companies in the Bay Area. Even today, we have the first server we put in place in our office”, he added.

According to Mohit Lad, the current funding situation for technology entrepreneurs isn’t quite as dire.

An enthusiastic Mohit Lad said, “The Year 2021 was quite crazy. Everybody was throwing a lot of money. I think in 2022 investors are more disciplined around fundamentals, and are being pretty selective about where they invest and how they invest. And sometimes these market shifts are a good opportunity to really understand where to focus. Take ThousandEyes as an example. If we had gotten a lot of money from day one, we would have gone and tried all these different things to build a product and probably failed. The fact that we had very little money meant that we had to really focus on the one thing we could sell. And sometimes I feel like over-funded companies are essentially writing their own failure when they raise too much money and try to grow faster.”

“There’s still a lot of investor money. There are other government programmes in different countries, and I would definitely encourage people to leverage them. Sometimes these programmes won’t give you quick money spread out over increments every three months. But it does help you, and puts more discipline in how you operate. So, I think: look for alternative ways. My recommendation to entrepreneurs building software companies is to focus on getting early customers. That’s the best way to build the company, validate the product,” he said.

Internet is the future

Mohit Lad thinks for the internet there are challenges that are coming but he says it is equally to celebrate. He said, “There is not one thing I would say that’s going to change. I just feel connectivity is so critical that people live their lives around just being able to connect to something really quickly. It’s also the devices that are becoming increasingly internet connected. That’s also going to challenge how the internet is evolving and how it needs to support all these billions of billions of devices that are coming online.”

“The last thing I would add is that there’s a large population of the world that is still not online. And there are areas, especially in Africa, and parts of Asia and India, where people are connected through their cell phones. And I do think, in those markets, in particular, the ecosystem is evolving around that lifecycle versus building things for desktops and laptops,” Mohit Lad concluded.

ThousandEyes now more focused

Meanwhile, Cisco has made measures to include ThousandEyes into its Predictive Networks Vision, where the solution may now optimise SD-WAN performance, in an effort to converge its range of solutions.

“As they are adopting that SD-WAN deployment, they’re also taking an increased dependency on the internet,” explained Joe Vaccaro, VP of Products of ThousandEyes at Cisco. “We know that the internet is really predictably unpredictable, right? It is not controlled. You are really working across the same networks that consumers are accessing YouTube videos on. So when you are accessing an internet environment for key applications and key traffic across your SQL, insights will be announced,” Vaccaro said in an interview to CNR news.

With the help of the solution, partners will be able to foresee problems in the IT environments of their clients before they arise and take immediate action to fix them. The solution is used by ThousandEyes partner NTT, which collaborated with Cisco for five years prior to Cisco’s acquisition of ThousandEyes, to fulfil its clients’ needs for hybrid work solutions.

“What we’re seeing in the market is that our clients and our customers are moving to SD-WAN very aggressively and they’re treating the internet a bit like a black box. In other words, they don‘t understand that there are potentially optimal paths for their traffic,” said Joe Maissel, practice director of observability and AI operations for NTT.

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