We Use That / PagerDuty

What startups use to get stuff done

SaaS on-call scheduling, alerting and incident management solutions. Integrates with any monitoring solution to send alerts via SMS, phone or email to IT organizations when systems break.
Posted on 02 Aug 2012 in

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Alex Solomon and I am the CEO and co-founder of PagerDuty. At PagerDuty, is an alerting and on call management system for IT Ops. PagerDuty integrates into your monitoring system tools. When systems breaks, like your servers or website going down, we wake you up in the middle of the night so you can fix it. We do a lot around on-call management ranging from schedules for your team to escalations in case alerts are missed.

We have over 1,000 paying users and we’re doubling that every 6 months. Our users range from small startups to Fortune 500 companies. Some of our customers are Intuit, Microsoft, Heroku, EngineYard, Adobe as well as cool startups like Pinterest, Instagram and Square.

We are hiring for multiple positions in engineering and customer support.

What is your technology stack?

We power our SaaS app with Ruby on Rails and MySQL. The PagerDuty service is a notifications dispatch system powered by Scala and Cassandra. The notifications dispatch system alerts people via phone calls and SMS’s. It’s distributed across multiple, and different, data centers such that if one datacenter goes down, our app still functions. This is due to the nature of Cassandra, it’s a multi-node database and it can survive one or even two node outages and continue to function.

We also use Capistrano for deployments and Jenkins as a continuous integration server.

We use Monit, a process monitor, which kills processes that grow too large in terms of memory and restarts processes.

What software do you use to run your business?

Our hosting providers are Amazon and Linode. For our primary stack we are on Amazon US-West. We were on Amazon US-East but then switched to West because a lot of our customers are on US-East so we would end up having correlated failures with our customers if East went down. In case our Amazon US-West goes down, we also have a full redundant, hot backup stack of PagerDuty running on Linode, enabling us to do an emergency swap. We are also on multiple, and different, availability zones on Amazon US-West, but as we all know Amazon sometimes goes down an entire region at a time so hence the redundancy on Linode. Right now we run Cassandra on our primary Amazon stack and we replicate to the secondary (Linode) If the primary provider actually goes down altogether, then we can do an emergency flip, which would actually cause a few minutes of downtime. The future plan is to run one Cassandra cluster across multiple providers.

For internal communication amongst our team, we use HipChat . Most of our team is based in San Francisco but we have one person who is remote and other people who work from home occasionally. It avoids the constant interruptions you get from people working in the same office, they can just use the chat instead of bugging someone in person, we’re really happy with it.

We also use Skype, it’s for video chat and also a good backup for HipChat because HipChat sometimes goes down when Amazon goes down. Those are times when communication is especially important because for us, we can have problems or load issues when Amazon goes down. As many of our customers are on Amazon, we will in turn send a lot of alerts to them, notifying them when Amazon is down. Skype is great for those types of situations.

We’re an agile shop so we do sprints and scrums. A great tool we use for this is Acunote. It keeps track of all the tasks that are happening in your sprint and the burn down, making sure that people complete their tasks.

We use a few different telephony services. One of our main providers is Twilio. We’ve used Twilio since the start of the company, and they are absolutely great - low cost and very developer friendly. We also use Tropo, it’s the backup for Twilio because Twilio does not have 100% uptime. It’s great for voice calls and as a backup.

We also use a few different SMS gateways, Twilio is one of them as well as another gateway called UpsideSMS. There’s also another one we use called eSendex based in Europe. Since PagerDuty is fully international, we need to use some gateways to send international SMSs and others for domestic users.

In terms of email providers, we use Mailgun as our primary and we also have a backup called AuthSMTP. Sometimes Mailgun has load issues so we have to swap over to our backup. For business use, we use and pay for Google Apps

We use Braintree as our payments gateway and we’ve ended up writing our own billing system. We’re very happy with Braintree. They work great but, we had to build our own billing system. The way we charge our customers can be a little complex. An example is that we end up charging overages if a customer goes over their alert quota for international alerts. We haven’t found any great billing systems that can handle those types of scenarios.

We use Olark on our front page so that new, and soon to be, customers can chat with us. Our customer support team uses it on a daily basis to answer questions. We also use ZenDesk for support.

We also use UserVoice for our feedback and feature requests from our customers. Customers can suggest new ideas or vote up existing ideas for features on PagerDuty. Luckily our customer base consists of DevOps, IT Ops and developers. In general, a not so shy group that loves sharing their opinon and giving us their feedback… we have a pretty active community.

For analytics, we use Google Analytics like everyone else and it’s pretty good. We also use KISSMetrics for measuring events in the application, funnels, keeping track of how many people click the free trial button or how many people go down the signup process. We also measure in-app metrics with KISS as well. We use CrazyEgg to see heat maps of how people click on our front page and our other marketing pages. We also use Optimizely for A/B tests. We hired a VP of Marketing recently and he’s started to use it on a daily basis to optimize our landing pages and main marketing pages. We’ve also started using Marketo for marketing campaigns and email campaigns.

We use Trello for maintaining our roadmap. We use New Relic for application performance monitoring of our Rails stack. They show which pages are slow on our site and allow us to dig in and find the root cause. Pingdom monitors our website from multiple locations around the world, it’s very reliable.

We also use PagerDuty for non-critical alerts, such as server load average and disk space alerts. We can’t use ourselves for critical alerts because if we were to ever go down, we wouldn’t get alerted!

What business software do you most wish existed?

The thing that we really wish existed is a better “out-of-the-box” billing system that can handle more complex scenarios. For example, a good percentage of our customers, especially our enterprise customers, don’t pay by credit card, their cost are much higher and simply can’t use a credit card to pay, so they opt to pay an invoice with a check. We haven’t found any good billing systems aimed at startups that can actually handle that scenario. All of the ones that are out there like Recurly or CheddarGetter, they only handle credit card billing.