Why New Relic
Provides an easy-to-use solution for monitoring platform operations, user experience, and business performance
- Brought visibility to previously un instrumented sections of the website
- Accelerated innovation through constant testing and deployment
- Improved business decision-making by making important data available to all
In 1966, Knut Kloster and Ted Arison began operating a single 8,666-ton cruise ship/car ferry between Southampton, UK, and Gibraltar under the auspices of their newly formed company, Norwegian Caribbean Line. Today the Miami-based organization—now called Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (Norwegian)—encompasses not only Norwegian Cruise Line but also Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. With a combined fleet of 23 ships and approximately 45,800 berths, the three brands offer itineraries to more than 510 destinations worldwide.
The key to free-style cruising: an ultra-reliable website
Over the years Norwegian has established itself as an innovator in the cruise industry by initiating a series of firsts. It was the first company to offer inter-island itineraries in Hawaii, the first to offer a combined air-sea program, the first to introduce its own website, and (perhaps most important) the first to offer Freestyle Cruising.
Indeed, Freestyle Cruising—which Norwegian initiated in 2000—took the industry by storm by freeing guests from the rigid formal dining experience offered on traditional itineraries. Suddenly, assigned seats, dress codes, and fixed meal times were a thing of the past, and passengers could eat with whomever they wanted, whenever they wanted, dressed as they pleased, and with the ability to choose from a staggering variety of dining options.
Not surprisingly, cruise customers loved it, and today the concept of Freestyle Cruising (or Feel Free Cruising, as it’s now branded) has been expanded to give travelers a wide range of choice in everything from accommodations to entertainment, shore outings, and more.
But allowing guests to “vacation on their own terms” means providing both consumers and travel agents with an enormous amount of freedom and flexibility in setting up their cruise packages. And that in turn demands a website that can handle all of the ensuing complexity. Unfortunately for Norwegian, its efforts were hindered not only by the notoriously slow back-end reservations system used by the travel industry but also by the bevy of disparate underlying code bases that had been developed under contract by various companies before Norwegian hired an in-house development team.
Explains Fidel Perez, Norwegian’s director of enterprise architecture and performance, “Whether you’re a guest or a travel agent, booking a cruise is an intensive process that involves numerous choices. When the website crashes when you’re 10 to 15 minutes into that process, it’s enormously frustrating.” Unfortunately, that was exactly what was happening with Norwegian’s site. With five code bases on five different stacks—all with their own weaknesses and none of them designed to work together—uptime was far below what it should have been. And with no visibility across the entire site, Perez says, “It was like driving a car with the windshield blacked out.”
“New Relic is so easy to use that we now have everyone from our quality assurance folks to our executive team accessing New Relic. The result is a culture based on constant measuring and data-backed decision-making.”
From chaos to control—achieving stability and standardization
Four years ago this problem reached an apex when the company Norwegian had hired to build a new cruise-booking engine delivered a product that fell far short of expectations. The then-CIO knew that it was time to establish an in-house development team that could own the work, handle problems, and gain a true understanding of the system as a whole. Perez was hired to lead the team, and one of the first things he did was obtain the instrumentation that would enable Norwegian to provide insight into its “alien” code base.
This instrumentation turned out to be New Relic. Says Perez, “At the time, there was no other solution on the market that could provide the type of forensic analysis that we needed to stabilize four different code base and their interactions” With the site running at a 30% error rate when New Relic APM was deployed, the team had its work cut out for them. Thanks to New Relic, however, within six months, the site had been stabilized and was ready to be re-launched.
“New Relic was absolutely the driving force in regaining control of the website,” says Perez. “By looking at the error rate, we were able to sort problems by their frequency and assign people to fix them. In that way, everything was prioritized and handled in logical fashion until at last we had the stability, standardization, and reliability we had been looking for.”
Since then, Norwegian has streamlined its environment to include just two primary stacks—PHP (for its content management system) and Scala—a migration that’s been easy to accomplish thanks to the visibility provided by New Relic. In fact, today New Relic is so ingrained in Norwegian’s culture that its use has spread far beyond the IT department.
“New Relic is so easy to use that we now have everyone from our quality assurance folks to our executive team accessing New Relic,” says Perez. “The result is a culture based on constant measuring and data-backed decision-making—a far cry from the old days when intuition and anecdotal evidence were just about all we had to go on.”
“Trying to run our website without New Relic would be like attempting to run a data center without electricity—we simply couldn’t do it. We’ve gone from releasing code monthly with down times at midnight to releasing code in the middle of the day with no down time at all. This allows us to function as a global company.”
Better data means better decisions and zero down time
Today, in the customer surveys conducted by the cruise ship industry, Norwegian’s website consistently comes out on top in terms of usability, design, and accessibility. According to Perez, New Relic has played a large part in that success. “We’ve worked really hard to make our sites 100 percent reliable,” he says. “With New Relic, when a problem comes up, we’re able to capture all the right data. As a result, we’re able to control the chute, and the problem doesn’t occur again. This is an enormous benefit for our users and our company.”
This constant visibility has also lead to accelerated deployment of the features and functionality that continue to delight Norwegian guests and travel agents alike. It’s also led to better-informed decision-making within the organization.
“At this point,” says Perez, “trying to run our website without New Relic would be like attempting to run a data center without electricity—we simply couldn’t do it. We’ve gone from releasing code monthly with downtimes at midnight to releasing code weekly in the middle of the day with no downtime at all. This allows us to function as a global company.”
A global company, however, needs to be able to make smart decisions based on sound data—and in this area, Norwegian now excels as well. Says Perez, “Being able to measure the impact of every change we make allows us to see what works and what doesn’t, and then chart our course accordingly. Without New Relic, this kind of proactive, data-driven decision making wouldn’t be possible.”
Four years into Norwegian’s deployment of New Relic APM, few people at the company can imagine life without the tool. Says Perez, “We need every bit of data we can get our hands on if we’re to optimize website performance and make better business decisions. With New Relic, we can be confident we’re getting that data.