These days, the mantra of businesses large and small is ‘Digitise and modernise.’ Few organisations, however, can match the journey of digital transformation that Dutch publishing and analytics giant Elsevier has undergone.
Founded in 1880 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Elsevier started life as a small publisher intent on spreading knowledge and entertainment throughout Dutch society. In the intervening years, Elsevier evolved from a traditional firm producing static text and images into a business leveraging technology to help science and health professionals make critical decisions across all facets of their work.
This transformation has meant moving Elsevier’s publishing business—which includes more than 470,000 articles published in 2,500 journals annually—online with e-books and electronic journals. More recently it’s meant developing the analytics solutions and digital tools, as well as the big data platform, which aid, accelerate, and lower the cost of medical and scientific research.
In other words, Elsevier has become a technology company. And when Matt Reid came on board as technology infrastructure and operations manager, it was a technology company facing considerable challenges.
From books to data, and from data to the cloud
‘Elsevier started out by selling books (and, in fact, still sells $300 million worth of books annually), but now people expect Elsevier to make all the data contained in those volumes (and more) available electronically’, says Reid. ‘Doing so, however, requires a fair amount of transformation, and we couldn’t achieve that transformation within our existing technology footprint. We were sitting in a data center without the agility we needed. We didn’t have the people we needed. And our support functions were outsourced to third parties.’
Thus, in 2013, when Elsevier CIO Dan Olley charged Reid’s group with removing those constraints and changing the way the company delivered technology, Reid and team quickly looked to the cloud for the agility, flexibility, and cost savings it could provide.
Eliminating white noise
Four years later, Elsevier had migrated much of its environment—including 12,000 servers and more than 400 products—to Amazon Web Services (AWS). But along with the benefits provided by the cloud came a new set of challenges—chief among them was getting a single, unified view of performance from the newly dynamic environment.
“In 2016 and 2017, we were about halfway through our cloud migration, and we'd given people a high degree of autonomy through this journey’, says Reid. ‘What this actually meant was that we’d employed lots and lots of clever people who had preferences for lots and lots of different tools.’
This diverse tool set created a new set of problems because the many monitoring products were configured differently, which meant they were providing inconsistent outcomes. ‘In particular, we had a huge amount of white noise coming out of our infrastructure monitoring’, says Reid. ’Where every tool under the sun was sending alerts left, right, and center.’
Clearly, it was time to retool and consolidate. This was when Reid and team began considering New Relic.
‘We had three key goals’, says Reid. ‘Understand our costs, understand the performance and reliability of our products, and move to a DevOps model of development. New Relic’s story was compelling because they showed us not only how we could align their product with our technology, but also how we could use New Relic monitoring to facilitate a DevOps approach and gain much-needed insight into the reliability and availability of our products.’
Gaining a broad view and deep insights
It didn’t take long for the Elsevier team to decide that the New Relic platform should be embedded in the organisation’s operating model going forward. The first New Relic product the company deployed was New Relic Infrastructure.
‘A lot of people asked us why we didn’t deploy New Relic APM first’, says Reid. ‘The answer is that we knew New Relic Infrastructure would give us the most immediate value because it filled the most immediate need. After deploying Infrastructure, we were able to reduce the white noise and regain operational efficiency by creating standard configurations, employing standard instrumentation, and doing standard reporting across our teams.’
In addition, by deploying Infrastructure across its environment, Elsevier gained deep insight into its cost footprint and utilisation.
‘One of the issues we'd suffered from historically was that we didn't understand the utilisation of our nonproduction environments versus our production ones’, says Reid. ‘That made it really hard to tell whether releases to our nonproduction environments were having an impact on our production environments. By deploying Infrastructure at a base level across the board, we were able to visualise and understand the impact of any changes before a release made its way to production. What’s more, Infrastructure provided the insight we needed to remove six or seven contracts.’
Moving towards a DevOps future
While deploying Infrastructure, the Elsevier team was also busy rebuilding its existing tools for end-user monitoring into New Relic Synthetics. It also deployed New Relic APM across the Elsevier environment.
‘As a result of New Relic monitoring, our developers can now see how their applications are performing from an infrastructure perspective, from an end-user perspective, and from within the application itself’, says Reid. ‘A developer and a SysOps engineer can actually sit next to each other and diagnose and triage an issue. This simply wasn’t possible in the past.’
It is just this sort of change that’s enabling Elsevier to meet its goal of moving to a DevOps model of continuous development and delivery. Says Reid, ‘We’re changing the way we work to become more agile as an organisation, and New Relic has been a real catalyst in that effort. Thanks to New Relic, we now have something called a Dev Squad for each of our products, and included in those teams are DevOps engineers focused on both the development and the operational pieces.’