Keeping the world informed about the latest scientific advances depends on high-quality online publishing resources. New Relic is helping one of the world’s oldest and well-respected science publishers, the Royal Society of Chemistry, modernise its software and infrastructure to champion the chemical sciences.
The Royal Society of Chemistry was founded in the United Kingdom in 1841 with a charter from Queen Victoria. Today, the society has more than 54,000 members worldwide and is one of the world’s leading non-profit publishers and knowledge businesses where significant advancements in chemistry are published and shared.
The society has published and stored research since its foundation and has more than 1 million specialist articles, chapters, and records. This invaluable scientific resource is being constantly expanded as the society publishes 40-plus regular scientific journals in which its members share their latest research reports. In addition, there are a range of databases that provide access to high-quality chemical information for chemistry academics, professionals, and students.
Ensuring access to these resources is vital for the society. Although it is a non-profit body, it does compete with other institutions for end users of its services. Any problems with using the database or viewing and downloading papers must be prevented—or remedied quickly.
Moving to a microservices formula
Responsibility for the online services’ hosting and application delivery lies with Chris Callaghan, the site reliability engineering manager. The challenge for him and his team has been the high volume of legacy technical debt and how to keep pace with customer demand that’s increasingly international.
As Callaghan explains, ‘Our systems have all grown organically over a really long period of time. We’re going through a process of modernisation to improve how we provide access to our scientific knowledge and ensure we have the most robust and resilient architectures possible. This is leading us to consider how we can break down the monoliths and migrate to a microservices cloud-based architecture to improve the scalability and delivery performance.’
This led Callaghan and his colleague Graham Creek, senior site reliability engineer, to take the society on a technology journey from its own data centre and towards the AWS public cloud to provide the elasticity, business continuity, and resiliency the society needs. As a result, they are rebuilding and redesigning legacy applications for public cloud.
As new applications were developed, deployed, and updated, it became clear that greater visibility was needed about performance and any underlying issues. As Callaghan explains, ‘We were using tools that were OK but weren’t giving us the detailed information inside the applications that we needed. So, we were blown away when we saw how New Relic could drill down into the code and tell us so much more.’
Being able to share this depth of insight also supported the society’s adoption of both Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) and DevOps approaches.
‘We’ve taken a deliberate approach to mine and utilise the strong knowledge that's already there and take our existing IT operations teams on a DevOps journey where we move them towards scripting and automation’, explains Callaghan. ‘In defining the technology road map, it was also obvious that SRE was the model that was most sympathetic to what we wanted to achieve. New Relic gave us a monitoring platform that guides us on this path.’
As new applications are rolled out, the ability to correlate between the application and infrastructure is important. ‘Before it was a complete black box’, Callaghan says, ‘but with New Relic, we can see into the application performance, drill down into why the error rate spikes and when application latency shoots up, see which particular node is suffering. This is so valuable when a new build has been pushed out because it’s now possible to get a powerful view of where any instability is coming from.’
Creek adds, ‘New Relic gives us a safety net so that when we’re doing the deployments, we can see immediately whether there’s any particular problem with that application. There’s a lot of complexity with some of the systems and how they interact, and the developers don’t necessarily know everything about the wider areas of our infrastructure. So New Relic enables us to see the effects of what we have done and then do rollbacks and make whatever changes we need to do.’