An arrogant New Yorker, Charlie Oppenheimer flippantly took what sounded like a fun gig at Apple, thinking two or three years on the West Coast would suffice. Nearly a decade went by with the Cupertino company, and that Pacific air must’ve gotten to Oppenheimer, because he’s since become your average, run-of-the-mill serial entrepreneur. Interestingly enough, all three of Oppenheimer’s startups have been PaaS offerings, the first a catalog data service he sold to Yahoo, eventually becoming an integral part of their e-commerce infrastructure.
It seems Oppenheimer, now the CEO of Loggly, has a longstanding love affair with infrastructure’s underlying data. And as a startup that specializes in machine data, Loggly is out to prove its case. Dubbed the “original big data,” log data is growing exponentially thanks to an increased use of websites and applications. With a growing ability to analyze this log data, it’s become a necessity for painting the complete picture behind end user interactions, organization efficiency and more.
In an era where data analytics is giving businesses the insight to optimize their decision-making processes, log data provides an important layer. For Loggly, the challenge is in building a platform that appeals to the enterprise amidst growing competition from larger service providers like IBM, as well as fellow startups like Splunk, flush with funding and arguably the most recognized player in this space.
Founded by an ex-Splunker, Loggly once held the distinction of being an early supporter of cloud services. But rivals, including Splunk, are beginning to offer their product as a cloud service as well. This is where Oppenheimer’s expertise can truly help guide Loggly.
In today’s CEO Series, Oppenheimer discusses the importance of log data and the business opportunities in this field, as well as the reasons why he welcomes the growing competition.
Why is log data such a fast-growing market, and what’s the biggest opportunity for Loggly?
Logs are continually created by every web, cloud and mobile application in the world. The logs represent a chronology of activities, events and results that assist with application monitoring, troubleshooting and business analysis. The more of these applications, the more users, the more servers and devices, the more logs. It’s a fascinating market because it’s growth is driven by the combined growth of ALL online applications and uses. I’ve never seen anything like it. For Loggly in particular, our focus is on serving companies that build applications in the cloud or for the cloud like AWS users. We’re the most popular cloud-based log management solution.
How has the cloud helped Loggly’s ability to scale its services and differentiate from market rivals, and what are your next steps now that companies like Splunk are offering cloud solutions as well?
The beauty of being a cloud offering is that our customers are able to get the analytical services they need without managing the logging system. That’s actually a big deal because log management is a Big Data application which means it needs regular care and feeding. By analogy, if you run a big database, is there anyone who believes that that’s a “set and forget” resource? Log management systems are much more complex than databases and so if you run it yourself, you will have to allocate an administrator. Our customers say that spending valuable human resources on running log management is simply not a good allocation.
As for competition, the market is so large and so fast growing that we can honestly welcome the new players to the market. Our advantage is that we’re 100% focused on new web, cloud and mobile applications and so our service is tailored to the devops teams who manage continual deployment systems.
What role does the end-user play in redefining enterprise infrastructure?
There is such a wealth of no-cost trial SaaS solutions on the web that virtually any user can start the process of bringing a new solution in house. This is so very different from the traditional enterprise software model where resources need to be provisioned, IT people need to get involved and a structured evaluation needs to be approved. While this model is obvious for software, Amazon Web Services, Rackspace and others have done the same thing with traditional infrastructure.
How can log data tell a story, as diaries from the Victorian era or stone carvings can tell us of times of yore?
Think of logs like a captain’s log from a ship. The captain’s log records every notable event from ports-of-call arrival, to weather, speed and direction while underway to pick up/delivery of cargo and so on. Server, OS and application logs serve the same role providing a detailed chronology of traffic load (weather), ports-of-call (user connections), detours (errors) and so on. The important difference though is that computer system logs are much, much more detailed. This is part of the reason that log management solutions are so important because they help you to get both high-level summaries and to zero-in on events of importance.
Machine data is making its mark in business intelligence and decision-making processes, to prepare for the variables tomorrow brings. What gives you confidence in the future?
I think “machine data” is a misleading term in this context. It suggests the data is about the machines which ultimately is not very interesting. Business intelligence comes not from machine data but from data generated about the uses, demands and needs placed on the machines. That data just happens to live in machines. Business intelligence comes from what I call “user story” data.
If I shop at Amazon and first look for a power tool and then a shop book and then a piece of women’s jewelry, I think there’s a user story there. That’s the valuable business intelligence.
Why is being the CEO of Loggly the most fun job you’ve ever had?
Because there are thousands of people and more every day, literally clamoring to use our product, thanking us profusely when they become a customer and treating us like rockstars (as if!) when we go to tradeshows. When you’re doing something that people love, that’s just fun.
Referring to your life lesson: “Are you one of the people making it happen, or the only one?” Which is better?
It depends on your role and in a young company that changes often. Sometimes you’re the only resource available to do something important for a customer or for the business. At that point, I’m an individual contributor and proud of it. But then as the CEO, ultimately my job is to surround us with fantastic people and then get the heck out of the way.
As a serial entrepreneur and investor, what’s your key to building products?
Here’s the key question to ask if you want to sniff out whether someone is building a great product: “What problem are you solving and for who?” If you get a really crisp compelling answer, a great product is potentially in there. If you don’t, it’s probably going to stink. Here’s another way to know particularly with enterprise products. If the team starts by building all the guts and then late in the process they start working on “a GUI”, that product is going to suck.