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(L to R): Oliver Gould, CTO, Buoyant; William Morgan, CEO (Buoyant Photo)
Buoyant CTO Oliver Gould, left, and CEO William Morgan. (Buoyant Photo)

Buoyant, a 13-person startup led by former Twitter engineers and now backed by a former member of Twitter’s board of directors, has raised a $10.5 million Series A round to apply lessons learned from revamping Twitter’s infrastructure to simplify the emerging world of microservices.

The San Francisco-based startup, led by William Morgan and Oliver Gould, is the sole force behind an open-source project called Linkerd that was added to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s stable of projects earlier this year. It allows companies to set up a “service mesh” approach to help manage microservices-oriented infrastructure.

Peter Fenton

Enterprise computing soothsayer Peter Fenton of Benchmark Capital, a member of Twitter’s board since 2009, is leading the new funding round.

Microservices are an evolution of software development strategies that has gained converts over the last several years. Developers used to build “monolithic” applications with one huge code base and three main components: the user-facing experience, a server-side application server that does all the heavy lifting, and a database. This is a fairly simple approach, but there are a few big problems with monolithic applications: they scale poorly and are difficult to maintain over time because every time you change one thing, you have to update everything.

So microservices evolved inside of webscale companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter as an alternative. When you break down a monolithic application into many smaller parts called services, which are wrapped up in containers like Docker, you only have to throw extra resources at the services that need help and you can make changes to part of the application without having to monkey with the entire code base.

The price for this flexibility, however, is complexity.

“That’s the biggest lesson we learned at Twitter,” said Morgan, the startup’s CEO. “It’s not enough to deploy stuff and package it up and run it in an orchestrator (like Kubernetes) … you’ve introduced something new, which is this significant amount of service-to-service communication” that needs to be tracked and understood to make sure the app works as designed, he said.

Twitter’s infamous fail whale error message. (Flickr photo / Manuel Iglesias)

Buoyant’s solution is what the company calls a “service mesh,” or a networked way for developers to monitor and control the traffic flowing between services as a program executes.

Linkerd is the manifestation of its approach, and Buoyant plans to use the new funding round to hire engineers and continue to develop Linkerd: “we’re only going to be successful as a company if we get Linkerd adoption,” Morgan said.

This approach might sound familiar. In May, Google, IBM, and Lyft released Istio, a different open-source project aimed at accomplished many of these same goals by improving the visibility and control of service-to-service communications.

In a blog post scheduled to go live Tuesday, Buoyant plans to announce that it supports Istio with the latest release of Linkerd, and while the projects appear to be somewhat competitive, the company bent over backwards to emphasize that it sees Istio as a complementary part of a microservices architecture.

“Istio was designed based on lessons learned at Google; Linkerd was designed based on lessons learned at Twitter. These two companies are at the leading edge of complex and high volume traffic patterns and rapidly evolving applications, and they’ve both discovered the critical need for comprehensive and systematic way of managing and controlling runtime traffic,” Morgan and Gould write in the post.

Working in engineering for Twitter during the first few years of this decade was a harrowing, eye-opening experience. In order to put an end to the dreaded “fail whale,” which threatened to stop Twitter in its tracks just as it was gaining traction, the company successfully rewrote its code base to take advantage of a microservices architecture that could scale with demand. (Here’s a good technical overview of the process).

Morgan and Gould were part of the team that executed that transition, and Fenton, who was a member of Twitter’s board of directors during this process before leaving earlier this year, knows all too well the degree to which this effort saved the company. Fenton has backed enterprise computing stalwarts such as Docker, New Relic, and Hortonworks, which makes for pretty good company for Buoyant.

All of Buoyant’s existing investors — A Capital Ventures, Data Collective, Fuel Capital, SV Angel, and the Webb Investment Network — joined the current round, and #Angels, an investment firm run by six women with current and past ties to Twitter, also participated. Buoyant says it has raised $14 million to date.

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