At last week’s New Relic User Group meetup in Chicago, David M. Kent, Senior Director, Technical Architecture, of giant food distributor US Foods told the “story of how New Relic introduced us to the concept of DevOps.” It’s a fascinating tale of transforming technology at a 162-year-old company, but let’s take a moment to put his presentation in context.

sean carpenter

Sean Carpenter, Product Mgr., New Relic

David’s talk was the highlight of a rewarding evening for some 50 New Relic users that also featured a spirited round of “Stump the Relics” Q&A as well as our own Sean Carpenter sharing tips on how to manage complexity with New Relic’s new Service Maps. New Relic has a definite outlook on how to monitor, Sean said: The key is to start by focusing on providing a good experience, not tossing in a zillion features into version 1.0. Then you can work on continuous improvement as you learn more about what makes the most difference to actual users.

Step one in US Foods’ quest for DevOps

Formed in 1853 to sell provisions during the California Gold Rush, US Foods launched its first ecommerce site in 1999, and now books more than 50% of its annual e-commerce revenue from more than 107,000 active customers. But after deploying Release 2 of its e-commerce platforms in 2012, the company made the decision to rethink its e-commerce strategy, adopting an agile methodology as it moved toward Release 3 on a completely new architecture stack. (The company is now 40% done moving customers to the new platform, David said, after two years of development and planning.)

David Kent

David Kent, US Foods

For Release 3, the company decided all new servers would be virtual machines, and brought in “agile coaches to teach us how to be agile,” David said. The team worked on automating their build, deployment, and testing processes. The long-term goal? To create a DevOps model comprised of building a culture of collaboration where dev, infrastructure, and QA teams work together harmoniously using advanced tools to automate traditionally manual processes.

Overcoming challenges

The biggest challenge the company faced, David noted, was the mindset of longtime managers on the operations side. As one of his slides noted:

  • Some business apps written 30 years ago are still in production
  • Some managers hired 30 years ago are still in production

“We wanted to refocus on culture and help people understand why DevOps is a good idea [but] they still don’t understand why we needed to go faster… ‘We’ve been doing fine, meeting the business needs for 30 years, why do I need to deploy daily or weekly?’ they’d ask.”

“We’re still trying to figure out how to fix that,” he said. “We are also trying to improve collaboration across teams with more video conferencing and collaboration tools.” But in a big, geographically distributed company (US Foods has its data center in Phoenix while its business development team is located in the Chicago suburbs), he believes travel is still important to “get face time with key people.”

The role of New Relic

David Kent presentation

David Kent presents to the Chicago User Group audience.

US Foods brought in New Relic late in 2012: “We were having problems,” David said, and “we didn’t know how to troubleshoot them efficiently.” Although originally targeted to provide end-to-end transaction monitoring for Release 3, David said, US Foods has found surprising ways to get value out of New Relic in the meantime.

“Any time an app was having performance problem, we said, ‘Hey, let’s put New Relic on it,’ and we can find out what the problem is.”

Broader visibility is another nice thing about New Relic, David said. US Foods now has 121 people with visibility into all of these monitors. “They get the same performance information that the engineers have!”

Going forward, the company is running a proof-of-concept trial with New Relic Mobile on the latest version of its mobile app, and is very interested in using New Relic Insights to incorporate nontechnical data. They want to track things like how many cases they’re shipping, David said.

There’s a role for New Relic Synthetics, too. “Most of our traffic comes during the day,” David said. “Our customers are primarily ordering around noon… there’s no activity at night. But we also want to know if there’s a problem at night before our customers find it, and Synthetics can help with that.”

sprout social signIt was a great presentation and a great night. Big thanks to Sprout Social for hosting everyone in their awesome space!

DevOps Days discount

Finally, for more on DevOps in Chicago, Jerry Cattell told user group attendees that DevOpsDays is returning to Chicago on August 25 and 26. The conference brings development and operations together to solve problems, explore tools, and think big about DevOps concepts and philosophies—and New Relic users can get a 10% discount with the code NEWRELIC10. Also note that the call for proposals is open until June 30 if you want to share something about your company culture, development practices, deployment pipelines, metrics, monitoring, or interesting ways you are using New Relic.

Join our Meetup groups and stay connected

New Relic User Groups are a great opportunity to meet and learn from other New Relic users in your area, hang with the New Relic team, and get answers to lingering questions. If you’re in Chicago, be sure to join our Chicago New Relic User Group page and get notifications for future events.

To see all the New Relic User Group events coming up, visit our Events page (just choose “NRUG” from the pull-down menu to see only the User Group events).

Interested in speaking at our next event or setting up a New Relic User Group in your city? Drop us a note at community@newrelic.comNote: Event dates, speakers, and schedules are subject to change without notice.


Gears image courtesy of'

Fredric Paul (aka The Freditor) is Editor in Chief for New Relic. He's an award-winning writer, editor, and content strategist who has held senior editorial positions at ReadWrite,, InformationWeek, CNET, Electronic Entertainment, PC World, and PC|Computing. His writing has appeared in MIT Technology Review, Omni, Conde Nast Traveler, and Newsweek, among other places. View posts by .

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