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After a $12M raise, OtterTune dedicated the past year to improving its product

The company’s cofounders told that they’ve spent the past year using its funding to add features to its technology and bring on new employees.

OtterTune founders (L to R) Dana Van Aken, Andy Pavlo and Bohan Zhang. (Courtesy OtterTune)

In 2022, OtterTune secured a $12 million Series A that put it among the Pittsburgh companies with the region’s largest tech deals in Q2 of that year.

At the time, the database automation and optimization startup’s leadership told over email that it planned to use the funding to expand. Now, cofounder and CEO Andy Pavlo said that from product launches to new hires, many of the expansion plans have come to fruition.

“The Series A was about taking OtterTune beyond just being the commercialization of the academic project, which was Dana [Van Aken]’s Ph.D. research,” Pavlo said. “It was addressing some of the needs that we saw from auditors and customers about having a better understanding of what their database is doing, and whether they’re operating with the sort of the quick configuration.”

Van Aken, the company’s CTO and cofounder, said that OtterTune is the first of its kind with regard to database optimization in that it provides recommendations for users to help improve their database performance. Then, Van Aken said, the company can apply those improvements on behalf of the user.

“We can automate the full loop of optimization and we have a bunch of, like, safeguards in place if people want to review the recommendations,” Van Aken said. “In that way, we really distinguish ourselves from, you know, other sorts of monitoring and performance tuning services.”

Van Aken and Pavlo noted that OtterTune had 15 employees as of 2022; now, it has 19 spread out across Pittsburgh, as well as cities such as Seattle, Charleston and New York City. Over the past year, the company has had employees leave to pursue academic opportunities while bringing on additional engineers and a marketing manager.

Pavlo said that in the beginning, when what would become OtterTune was simply an academic project, the primary focus was on just how much faster the database system could be. At the time, machine learning was the most efficient way to optimize the configuration knobs. Pavlo recalled the realization that the database automation and optimization tools worked better in a real-world environment. With that in mind, much of the funding was used to address the needs for other facets of the database system.

“Examples of this would be: We now have additional health checks to make sure that [the] other key parameters or metrics are running correctly, and we check to see whether you have the right number of indexes for your database,” Pavlo said.

Other additions included an index so users would find the database easier to navigate. The company also recently included the ability to query checks where it identifies anti-patterns — meaning signs that it’s been taking the wrong approach to doing something.

One of the most significant milestones since last year has been the launch of OtterTune v2.0, which includes features like current knob configuration, index health, workload activity and query performance.

“People want to know that their database is running correctly over longer periods of time,” Pavlo said. “Now, we expose this health score, which is an amalgamation of a bunch of different calculations that we’re doing to determine whether we think your database is operating correctly or not.”

Looking forward to what remains of 2023, OtterTune’s cofounders plan to focus on auditing to make the technology more “developer-friendly,” according to Van Aken. One way the company plans to do that is by releasing a public API so people can access their data and recommendations programmatically. There are additional plans in place to begin integrating with monitoring services, specifically Datadog, to better serve customers who use the cloud monitoring service. Ultimately, because of the staff’s collective expertise and willingness to keep improving the product, OtterTune’s founders feel they’re in a good position to continue growing inside and outside of the Steel City.

“I think we focus on databases and we have a more than decade of exploration on that. So we are very confident in this area,” OtterTune cofounder Bohan Zhang said.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: OtterTune

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