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Heptio CEO Craig McLuckie
Heptio CEO Craig McLuckie

Two founders of the Google-based Kubernetes project, Craig McLuckie and Joe Beda, have formed Heptio, a Seattle company backed by an $8.5 million Series A investment from the Accel venture capital firm, with participation from Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group.

Kubernetes is the best-known orchestration product for containerized applications, helping to start, stop, monitor and control large fleets of containers. Container technology lets developers bundle up the components of an app to simplify and improve the experience of developing and deploying software.

And these guys are two very big wheels in the containerized software/DevOps/cloud computing movement, having given Kubernetes its very name and brought it outside Google into open-source world. McLuckie even created the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, a part of the Linux Foundation, to superintend the further development of Kubernetes.

RELATED: How did they ever come up with that kooky ‘Kubernetes’ name? Here’s the inside story

Heptio’s first product will be a “relatively simple, accessible Kubernetes distribution and a set of support and services around that,” said McLuckie, Heptio’s CEO. “Then, if the community supports us, over time we’ll have the opportunity to build a lot more interesting products and advance the state of the art. We’re product guys.”

Despite the fact that Kubernetes is open source, it presents “unprecedented” business opportunities, the execs said in an interview this week.

“Kubernetes promises a cloud-neutral and vendor-neutral way to deploy and operate applications incredibly efficiently either on-premises or in the cloud,” McLuckie said. “Customers running on AWS can halve or cut their bills by 80 percent as a result of consolidation. Kubernetes speaks deeply to systems engineers — when they first encounter it, they feel the sun shining down. But there’s a barrier to entry both in starting up a Kubernetes instance and then in using it. The tools and resources aren’t where they need to be to hit the mass-market appeal that we know Kubernetes can achieve.”

Heptio CTO Joe Beda
Heptio CTO Joe Beda

Engineers without the proper background “just want to get a container running,” he said. “They don’t want to be bombarded by a lot of deeper system-engineer concepts. Large companies are constantly coming to me to ask whether Google will support them in their efforts to get Kubernetes running. But no company has emerged as a pure-play Kubernetes (support) company. They’re either tying Kubernetes to a specific operating-system distribution, or to a specific cloud-provider implementation, or to a specific platform-as-a-service opinion or philosophy.”

That doesn’t suit most companies he encounters, he said.

“The vast majority are looking for something highly decoupled. They are still not sure what cloud provider they want to use, they’re still making decisions around which operating system they want to use. It became clear to Joe and me that there’s a gap we’d like to fill, which is providing this very neutral, open, community-friendly company to continue to evolve the agenda we started when were were inside Google. . . . We can create the right set of abstractions to make Kubernetes easier to understand, use and get up and running. When you start applying Kubernetes to larger and larger companies, there’s going to be gaps that need to be filled, and that’s where a lot of product opportunities are going to be.”

Heptio is emphatically a software company, though it will provide consultation as well, the exec said.

logo“By far the highest level of appetite right now for most enterprises is around getting simple support to get Kubernetes up and running,” McLuckie said.

Education also seems part of their goal, and they’ll stress it’s important to see Kubernetes as more than simply a way of dealing with containerized apps, said Beda, Heptio’s CTO.

“The larger thrust is the idea of ‘cloud native,’ which we see as a state of mind, a way to approach technology problems and to build relationships between development and operations teams. So much in our industry over-rotates on containers specifically, when in reality they are part of a bigger picture.”

Added McLuckie, “Containers are just the first step toward a much more robust way of living with the technology you create. Not just designing, architecting and deploying it but operating it, molding it, living with change and making sure it’s solving your business problems. There’s so much more to be done to actually make organizations radically more efficient in how they serve their businesses, and that’s what our mission really is.”

McLuckie and Beda chose to create Heptio in Seattle because the former Microsofties are both “in love with Seattle” and there’s a large pool of system engineers to choose from as the company scales up. “It’s so hard to find great systems-engineering talent in the Bay Area, and it’s in such abundance here because of Amazon and Microsoft,” McLuckie said.

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