The keys to OpenStack startup success: Platform9 Systems

Startup acquisition and mergers have rocked the OpenStack community over the past year with Blue Box, Piston Cloud Computing, Metacloud and Cloudscaling joining the ranks of IBM, Cisco and EMC respectively.

Superuser is kicking off a startup playbook series highlighting startups in the OpenStack community to discuss tips for fellow newbies in the ecosystem and their perception of the current playing field.

We start with Sirish Raghuram, the CEO and co-founder of Platform9 Systems.

What is the Platform9 origin story?

The Platform9 co-founders are a group of early engineers at VMware. Having architected much of the vSphere product suite, we recognized a massive gulf between the agility and programmability of infrastructure leased from the public cloud and the limited capabilities of infrastructure owned by enterprises.

Enterprise customers wanted to automate infrastructure provisioning and accelerate software development using private clouds, but struggled with the complexity of integrating and operationalizing the required solutions.

The genesis for Platform9 was when we realized that the integration and operational complexity of private clouds was the key unsolved problem. As we designed our OpenStack-as-a-Service solution, it almost magically eliminated a lot of the associated complexity. And so we named the company after Platform 9 ¾ (from Harry Potter), because the “cloud managed service” felt like that magical gateway to a beautiful new paradigm.

In August, Platform9 Systems raised $10 million USD in Series B funding. What does the round of funding enable Platform9 to do?

Broadly, the additional funding enables us to accelerate our product roadmap and scale the business to acquire and support a larger customer base.

To date, we’ve announced and delivered support for both KVM and vSphere (ESXi) as fully supported hypervisors, and have seen significant demand based on current feature sets. But there are additional features coming that we know will open up even more opportunities, including more enterprise-centric features, support for containers, and even more out-of-the-box integrations with enterprise storage and network solutions.The funding gives us the backing to grow the company by an order of magnitude.

What challenges has Platform9 overcome to be successful?

When we started out (and even today) OpenStack was generally considered extremely complex. The complexity arises because OpenStack supports such a large feature-set, which needs to be integrated with enterprise environments that can also vary widely: different networking setups, storage configurations, deployment considerations, etc. So, it was definitely a steep technology challenge to harness all the power of OpenStack and compress it into a five-minute, SaaS-like on boarding experience, with a full 24/7 service-level agreement from the moment customers onboard.

There is also a marketing challenge: OpenStack supports such a large variety of use cases that customers can lose sight of the core benefits. We’ve simplified the use cases and focus on the core benefits the framework provides to enterprise customers. The payoff for this extreme focus is a great product experience for our customers.

Our approach to these two challenges has been different from other OpenStack vendors, but it has worked very well for us.

What tips would you have for a new startups in the OpenStack ecosystem?

My top advice would be to be laser focused on a core set of use cases, and build a product experience that delivers 100 percent to that core and nurture customer relationships around that core. As a startup, you don’t have a lot of resources and a lot of time in the sales cycle; focus and making the right tradeoffs is what makes the difference between success and failure.

The other point that I think is extremely important and often missed: stay close to OpenStack’s principles. This includes:

  1. Stay aligned to the core release schedule and define an upgrade schedule that matches the guidelines laid down by the Foundation. Customers are interested in OpenStack; respect that they want to stay aligned to the core.
  2. Focus on interoperability: one of OpenStack’s biggest attractions is that it serves as an open, community-driven interconnect between datacenter technologies. Customers want every solution in this framework to interoperate well with others.

OpenStack has been called both good and bad for startups – what do you see as the pros and cons?

I think the advantages hugely outweigh the disadvantages:

Almost every enterprise IT leader is interested in OpenStack. If a startup is supporting use cases in a manner that aligns with OpenStack’s roadmap, doors will open to the enterprise IT market. There is a massive marketing channel that the foundation has enabled: the OpenStack marketplace, Summits and Meetups are all great ways to find and nurture customer relationships. Partnering with technology vendors and channel partners in the OpenStack space can also fuel your go-to-market strategy.

On the downside, startups do need to focus on core competencies and specific problems, otherwise they risk getting lost in the marketplace given the extensive participation from larger vendors.

What differentiates Platform9’s product from other companies’ products in the marketplace?

There are three big advantages that Platform9 Managed OpenStack provides:

Simplicity. Platform9 is OpenStack made easy. Since we deliver OpenStack as a cloud-managed-service, customers can rely on Platform9 for 24/7 monitoring, troubleshooting, upgrades of OpenStack. Platform9 owns and delivers the SLA, and our customers can go to production in minutes after onboarding.

Choice. Platform9 is hardware and platform agnostic, supporting any hardware (compute, storage, network) and any hypervisor (KVM, VMware vSphere). Support for Docker is coming soon as well

Interoperability. Platform9 discovers and interoperates very well with existing environments. Not only does this accelerate the process of getting started, it also allows IT admins to continue to use familiar existing tools and platform-specific workflows without conflicting with OpenStack’s orchestration of that environment. For example, with Platform9 VMware admins can continue to perform operations using vCenter even as OpenStack orchestrates that same vSphere environment.

What is the most common request from Platform9 customers?

VMware (vSphere / ESXi) integration was by far the number one request, and we recently made that integration generally available.

Customers also ask us about support for Hyper-V, Docker and even Amazon Web Services. All of those integrations make a lot of sense, and these requests validate how broad the market interest truly is in OpenStack.

To learn more about Platform9 Systems origin story and how it fits into the OpenStack ecosystem, check out the Superuser TV interview with Roopak Parikh, co-founder and head of engineering.