Identifying Trends in Energy with Advanced Observability

May 19, 2022 Rachna Srivastava

Hive smart meters revolutionized the way customers control their energy use. But since their launch in 2012 by UK energy company British Gas, advances in cloud technology and a rapid increase in the number of smart homes has led to an explosion of data. The Hive operations team is responsible for ensuring the high performance of the company’s smart meters, and for developing the next generation of customer-facing apps and services informed by behavioral insights and trends in the energy sector. 

Among their most important projects is developing solutions that help customers understand how to use energy more efficiently in the face of climate change. Using VMware Tanzu Observability by Wavefront, the team has unprecedented visibility into the entire Hive platform, which smooths the path to creating more innovative products. 

With the introduction of its innovative Hive brand of smart meters, UK energy company British Gas, a division of Centrica, transformed—almost overnight—the way customers managed their energy consumption. A simple dashboard on their smartphones allowed customers to arrive home after a long day’s work to soft lighting and a warm house. Vacationers could control their home lighting remotely to help deter break-ins. And making sure elderly relatives were warm at home became much easier.

But the race to innovate is relentless. To excel in the smart home sector, Hive needs to be able to add new functionality to its solutions and meet changing customer demands. That could be switching from paper bills to digital services, installing driveway ports to charge electric vehicles, and delivering better ways to conserve energy.

The Hive team must modernize existing applications and develop new cloud native applications, but the operations team also needs to support the cloud infrastructure that powers Hive solutions to keep services highly available and functioning seamlessly.

“If you’re always reacting to issues with how the system is operating, it gives you less confidence that the technology can scale to meet projected forecasts,” says Christopher Livermore, head of operations at Hive. 

“We needed to monitor the performance of our AWS cloud infrastructure and empower the development team with a better understanding of customer demands,” says Livermore. “Tracking trends and patterns in customer behavior is vital to develop new releases that are more relevant to customers.”

For example, Hive is currently working on solutions to help customers use energy more efficiently to align with their rising awareness of climate issues and the cost-of-living crisis.

Make way for observability

Monitoring segmented environments and rapidly growing volumes of data are common IT challenges, and the practice of observability is increasingly replacing traditional methods. Observability provides developers the ability to measure a system’s current state based on logs, metrics, and traces, and display that data in centralized dashboards, rather than across multiple monitoring solutions. This telemetry data is generated by end points—such as Hive smart meters—and back-end components of the cloud computing environment. 

“It can be incredibly difficult to identify the root cause of an issue when there’s no smoking gun,” explains Livermore. “We adopted VMware Tanzu Observability to set up alerts, troubleshoot problems, and provide meaningful real-time dashboards to monitor system health.”

The solution provides a visual overview of the entire Hive platform in user-friendly dashboards with graphs to help identify issues before they impact performance. 

Smarter routing accelerates time to market at scale

With more than 100,000 data points per second running through VMware Tanzu Observability, the ability to route issues to the most relevant teams for resolution prevents the Hive staff from being overwhelmed with notifications. The team receives only the most relevant information about the products they’re responsible for maintaining or developing.

And VMware Tanzu Observability makes life better for developers in other ways. Traditionally, software is developed then pushed into the production environment and monitored. Developers now use VMware Tanzu Observability earlier in the lifecycle to aid collaboration on design issues, which helps accelerate time to market. 

“If a developer has an issue with an app they’re working on, they can go to a colleague with the right skills armed with a dashboard to illustrate what they’re seeing. They can then work on fixing it together. That’s now embedded in our quality assurance process, so by the time we’re ready to move to production, a basic level of monitoring is already in place and there are fewer bugs to fix later,” says Livermore.

Elevating customer experience

VMware Tanzu Observability supports more than the internal operations at Hive. It also captures unprecedented levels of insight from customers’ home environments. For example, Hive developed a system called BoilerIQ that captures telemetry data from a customer’s boiler. Using VMware Tanzu Observability, Hive engineers can see what’s happening with the home heating system remotely and, in 18 percent of cases, can diagnose issues before the customer is aware of the problem, or eliminate the need for an on-site service call. 

In fact, in 19 percent of cases, there was no need for a home visit at all. The engineer could simply guide the customer through troubleshooting steps to get the boiler back up and running quickly and easily. This resulted in a 21-point Net Promoter Score increase in customer satisfaction for BoilerIQ customers.

“VMware Tanzu Observability has had more impact than we thought was possible, even on a business level,” says Livermore. “As well as developing new products, we can look at resource utilization and consolidate our estate to make it more lean and cost efficient.”

Reducing vulnerabilities

On the security side, in 2018 Hive was able to react quickly to a hardware vulnerability called Meltdown, a threat that exploits critical vulnerabilities in unpatched microprocessors to steal passwords and other sensitive data. Centrica, the parent company of British Gas and Hive, needed to audit its IT estate to determine how many servers had been patched against Meltdown, and how many were still at risk.

Instead of a time-consuming exercise of checking assets that could take months using spreadsheets, Livermore wrote a shell script to check if machines had been patched, directing the results to VMware Tanzu Observability. Data was then captured in one set of graphs to show business leaders the state of the environment in real time.

“Responding to Meltdown was a real eureka moment for the operations team,” says Livermore. “We realized VMware Tanzu Observability supports compliance and estate management as well as enhanced monitoring and a smoother path to development. Our ultimate goal is to roll out continuous auditing across Centrica and British Gas with VMware Tanzu Observability.”

Delivering efficiencies at scale

The shift from monitoring to observability is as much a cultural issue as a new technology. Where disparate teams were once responsible for specific areas of the cloud infrastructure, Hive can now take a more holistic approach. 

Hive can now fix issues that slow down app development earlier in the lifecycle, take a more consistent approach to security, and consolidate underutilized resources to achieve a 25 percent reduction in monthly cloud spend.

And the best part? It’s truly scalable. As Livermore explains, “We can ramp up the amount of data we’re sending to VMware Tanzu Observability, and we know that it’s going to cope. We’ve thrown obscene amounts of data at it, and it hasn’t batted an eyelid.”

With VMware Tanzu Observability, Hive helps customers adopt next-generation smart home technology while giving developers a better working environment. When it comes to efficient use of resources, Hive is still an undisputed leader in its field.

Start your free trial with VMware Tanzu Observability here.

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