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Startup Honeycomb Vows to Show How Software Runs In the Wild

April 11, 2017, 2:00 PM UTC

Here’s the dilemma modern software developers face: They build applications the best they can, test them, and then release them. At that point, their ability to see how well those applications actually run is severely curtailed.

Allowing programmers a real-time look into how their product works “out there” is the problem that startup Honeycomb is attacking with a new debugging tool that is broadly available as of Tuesday.

Honeycomb co-founder Charity Majors and chief technology officer Christine Yen, know this problem only too well from past experience. Both were with Parse, the mobile application development company acquired by Facebook in 2013.

“There is no substitute for seeing what’s going on,” Majors told Fortune. And what’s going on in the field is that apps are running on myriad devices of different ages, running different browsers. What buttons are users hitting and what is the response time? Why are photos loading slowly for users in France but not for those in Boston? There are many variables, all beyond the developers’ immediate control.

Majors and Yen faced this visibility problem at Parse. “A customer would complain that Parse was not running, and we’d look at our dashboards that showed that it was running,” Yen said. Clearly, there was a disparity between what was happening in the field and what was showing on developers’ screens.

In the software development world, this problem is so acute, that new tools seem to arrive every other week. And yet developers often end up cobbling together logging and monitoring tools in hopes of gaining more insight into the causes of slow performance, Majors said. Honeycomb hopes to change that and offer developers an off-the-shelf service so they will no longer have to do that.

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Nancy Gohring, senior analyst with 451 Research, said Honeycomb took some cues for this work from Facebook’s (FB) Scuba data analysis tool. One goal is to bring the same sort of real-time analysis of application performance that huge consumer software companies like Facebook have to smaller companies.

In some respects Honeycomb competes with products from Splunk (SPLK) or Wavefront, Gohring added. Wavefront, for example, sells a sophisticated analytics engine that engineers can use to collect data about performance, she said. “That is similar to Honeycomb’s approach. They’re collecting different kinds of data but going after the same use case of debugging,” Gohring noted.

San Francisco-based Honeycomb has about $4 million in seed funding from Storm Ventures, Accel, and Data Collective as well as from angel investors including Parse co-founder Ilya Sukhar and Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger.

For the past few months, select customers including software companies Docker and Heptio, food delivery app startup Munchery have been using an early version of the product. In a statement, former Google cloud exec Joe Beda, who is now chief technology officer for Heptio, said Honeycomb’s service “has super powers” compared to traditional monitoring tools.