“A few of our potential investors called us crazy,” was how our conversation with Sirish Raghuram, CEO of Platform9 started. He recognized that anytime innovation happens, there is a little bit of crazy involved – thinking beyond the limitations of conventional thinking, and this was definitely unconventional. Platform9 provides open-source SaaS managed solutions for private and edge clouds, including Kubernetes and OpenStack.
Having experienced virtualization, IaaS and cloud-native industry transitions first hand, Sirish believes that open-source represents the future of the enterprise cloud; and with his three founding partners, they are proud to count companies like S&P Global, Kingfisher Retail, Cadence Design, Juniper Networks and Autodesk as a few of their clients.
So, in his words, “The crazy is working!”
M.R. Rangaswami: What did you see happening in the cloud-management and SaaS marketplace that made you want to start your own business?
Sirish Raghuram: I co-founded Platform9 with three former colleagues from VMware when we saw the need and the opportunity for a managed open-source cloud offering. And, based on the freedom and cost-savings that open-source technologies offer, we quickly realized that open-source represented the future of the enterprise cloud.
When I was hired at VMware, it was at the time a niche startup not very different from how we are today. And, to be honest, I joined the company as a 21-year old software developer driven by my passion for Linux which first began when I downloaded VMware’s technology to run “Age of Empires” on a Linux developer machine. I was very fortunate during my time there to contribute to a number of innovations and patent-filings as we witnessed the evolution of the industry, and in particular the virtualization of data center infrastructure. At the end of the day after virtualizing 20 racks of infrastructure, you would end up with one clean rack! This would save companies a lot of money and space – just think about the decrease in power and cooling requirements.
This is where the Platform9 story comes in. When you go back to the 2009-2012 time frame, we saw innovative companies like Twitter, Netflix and Instagram being built. Those were all made possible by developers who were revolutionizing social networking and communications infrastructure. These developers were not talking to the IT team, they were able to build solutions by subscribing to cloud-computing services from Amazon directly. But then you were locked into the Amazon “royal garden.” There wasn’t a solution for developing applications in a private or hybrid edge cloud architecture. We realized the only way to solve this problem is if you operate cloud management as a SaaS service.
M.R.: You’ve talked about, “Enabling freedom in cloud computing” – how have you adapted your business to suit that?
Sirish: Our mission is to give businesses the agility and economic value of cloud but to do so with freedom through open-source technologies. That in itself is differentiated because when you think about it, the hyperscale providers want you to get the benefits of the cloud but by embracing their system of chosen services. They very much want you to come into their roadmap and help build their kingdom. It would be very hard for you to use a different platform in the future as they all have their own franchises to protect. They are selling a cloud franchise.
We are unique because of our purity of focus – we don’t have any baggage. We decided to start an independent company because we felt that we wanted the latitude to make hard decisions and not be constrained by having to protect any cash cows.
Additionally, our SaaS model is a little different. In fact, we pioneered this architecture which is now starting to become more mainstream as SaaS offers simplicity, the time value, and the cost savings that the public cloud does not. Again, if you think about the three large hyperscale providers and the two large independents, they have a franchise that they are trying to protect and that means that they can’t provide a pure, upstream open-source experience the way we do.
The third major differentiator is that we have the largest range of integrations and can run anywhere. Our solution is used on Bare Metal environments, on VMware environments, on OpenStack environments, and on the big three public cloud providers. Our solutions work in very small cafes with very minimal digital footprints all the way to large data centers.
M.R. Have you noticed a change in demand for cloud computing across industries during this pandemic?
Sirish: We’ve seen a tremendous uptick in our business and the demand for our services as the pandemic has accelerated the progression from cloud-enabled to cloud-native. That being said, we are also experiencing a divide in terms of cloud enabled businesses versus non-cloud enabled businesses.
Let’s take the retail industry for example – as the COVID crisis started to spread most storefronts were shut down and if you didn’t have a digital storefront, you were relatively out-of-business. You couldn’t service orders, you couldn’t generate revenue, you couldn’t move products, and you probably couldn’t make payroll because eventually you would reach a point where you did not have income to pay your employees.
However, on the other hand there are other digital-enabled retailers that are thriving. Look at Instacart which is booming. Restaurants are struggling but UberEats and DoorDash are growing, and helping restaurants survive. Companies that did not invest in digital transformation and cloud transformation have been caught off guard by COVID-19. This is going to continue to happen in the future with companies who do not invest in building a cloud native architecture. It will become a necessity for survival.
M.R. Rangaswami is the Co-Founder of SandHill.com