Tiger (er, Shark) of the Month: Digital Ocean Makes Getting to Cloud Easy

 
Digital Ocean Shark Whilst at Github Universe last month, on my way to learn more about the conference host’s new hardware two-factor security initiative for its developers, I was sidetracked by the sight of a group of developers crowded around a small kiosk, each holding a blue smiling toy shark. Curious, I stopped by to chat with the kiosk owners’, the crew of Digital Ocean, this month’s featured cloud computing “tiger.”
Why is this particular cloud provider a tiger/shark? Simply put, because they make getting onto the cloud easy for developers at a price point that won’t cause any nightmares as the customer company scales up. But it’s not as simple as calling Digital Ocean an “AWS lite” either because at the moment it’s a very different offering. And particularly for companies that were born pre-cloud, or for the largest unicorns like Uber, DO does not have all the features and support that you would need — at least not yet.
From 0 to 236 countries in Three Years
What Digital Ocean does offer to new companies and other cloud first entities is a facilitated and positive user experience. And developers love them — 700,000+ of them representing 8+ million cloud servers. From a 2012 $3.2 million seed round to a March 2014 $37.2 million Series A to its most recent Series B round in July 2015 for $83 million (Access Industries, Andreesson Horowitz, others), the company has found exponential success with a customer-first approach — delivering a streamlined UX with a straight-forward, transparent “no B.S.” or hard upsell approach.
DigitalOcean currently reaches 230 countries and territories. After their Series A the company added datacenters in Singapore, London and Frankfurt. Another facility was added in Toronto since its Series B, and the company expects to onboard India and South America in 2016.
Starter Web Services 
Digital Ocean has established itself in the web services arena primarily by capturing the entry market. If you look at the three aspects of being in the cloud — Computing, Networking and Storage — DO really only serves the first leg of the stool. Which means that the company can only handle small co or early stage company requirements — non-dynamic content web pages, etc. So a chunk of the developers currently using their services eventually outgrow them. *But* flush with cash and building momentum, the company launched its first networking service in late October — floating IPs that solve the problem of reassigning IPs to any droplet in the same datacenter — and may be able to offer a comprehensive cloud solution as early as next year.
The Hidden Barrier to Cloud is Actually HR
What set’s Digital Ocean’s products from the rest is that you don’t necessarily need a senior engineer to get your company’s web presence set up. So DO is not only cheaper and easier to use, but a platform to get you faster to launch. This provides the business with some breathing room as it develops, expanding the base of potential staff whom can handle the website. This has made DO’s Droplet a popular service for not just newcos, but also for discreet web projects and microsites like the launch of Beyonce’s secret album and Universe.com (owned by TicketMaster).
Customer Service Your Way (It’s All About the Love) 
DO’s UX goes far beyond the product UI. As strange as it sounds coming from a web infrastructure company, one of the company’s core values is “Love” and it is practiced throughout the company. I would characterize this love as a “passion for helping others” and a joie de vivre” that infuses the organization and is transferred to its customers. Duly noted that their mascot shark is a smiling happy one. 

How exactly does this Love manifest itself in the business? Zachary Bouzan-Kaloustian, Digital Ocean’s Director of Support describes its IaaS in this way: “Our entire platform is self-managed, which means that the customer is responsible for what runs on their Droplets. Our Platform Support Specialists provide free support if something’s not working with the infrastructure. One way that we demonstrate our core value of love is to ensure we reply quickly, and our 30-day average response time for 1,000+ tickets / day is under 30 minutes! Of course, our 24/7 team doesn’t stop there. We often do extensive troubleshooting with a customer to diagnose the issue, even if it involves parsing server logs. This involves extensive experience, and great relationship skills as we don’t have access to our customer’s Droplets for security reasons.”

But is this love scalable? Maybe not, but certainly the desire for love amongst developers (and us all) is strong so no doubt there is no shortage of demand for DO’s particular brand of customer relations.

Building the Next Generation Infrastructure 
By getting in with developers early, Digital Ocean has set itself up to take advantage of the tipping point of the Internet of Everything — when not only all major services but customer adoption for them reaches critical mass worldwide — likely well within the next 5 years. While newcos are signing up with Digital Ocean today, the company is fortifying and expanding its technical and services staff — growing from 150 to 200 employees in the past quarter alone.
And the big fish are taking notice: Google, Microsoft and Amazon have sliced their prices 3x since Digital Ocean launched and prices continue to drop. So increasingly the companies will begin to compete on volume — of customers and services used.
Fast forward 5 years and DO will have all the pieces of the cloud stool well established as well as worldwide presence. If DO can maintain its vision of making web services simple to consume, and successfully build out its offerings so that it can scale with its customers, the company is well positioned to become the go-to web services company for the post-millennial generation. Considering that there are some 20-30 million potential developer customers out there — it wouldn’t surprise me to see Digital Ocean as the most distributed — if not the biggest — and certainly the most beloved fish in the sea by 2020.
**This post was updated at 1:38pm on November 11, 2015 to reflect factual corrections. Access Industries, not Accel Partners, is a lead investor in Digital Ocean. 

Twitter board ‘warming’ to idea of Dorsey as full-time CEO

It has been 89 days since Twitter has had a full-time chief executive. That might change now that the company’s board has reportedly warmed to the idea of making Jack Dorsey, the interim CEO, the permanent leader of the company he co-founded.
The New York Times reports that Twitter’s board is considering the possibility of having Dorsey lead the company again, despite initial misgivings about how he’d do the job while remaining the CEO of Square, the payments company he co-founded.
Dick Costolo left his position as Twitter’s CEO on July 1. “I initiated conversations with some members of the board at the end of last year about CEO succession as I contemplated what was next for me,” Costolo said in June. “And ultimately following discussions with the full board and at February meeting and then at our meeting last week, we agree that now is the right time to begin this transition.”
Costolo remains on Twitter’s board of directors, and is presumably helping the company find his replacement. Yet he has reportedly planned to leave the board — thus severing all ties with the company he led between 2010 and 2015 — as well.
Twitter’s board has been searching for Costolo’s permanent replacement since that announcement was made in June. But now, almost three months after Costolo left, the question of whether or not Dorsey will receive the title remains unanswered.
This has frustrated Chris Sacca, a venture capitalist and Twitter board member. “Good board of directors? They can name a new CEO by the end of the week,” he tweeted when Volkswagen replaced its CEO following the emissions scandal. “But the Twitter board? Nothing for months.” Sacca has been vocal about his support for Dorsey being named Twitter’s CEO and praised the company under his leadership.
There has already been one sign that Dorsey leading both Twitter and Square could benefit the companies: A partnership that makes it easy for Twitter users to donate to politicians. That partnership could, as I argued before, increase the visibility of both services while also giving Twitter users a reason to interact with the service. The two companies could doubtless find other ways to complement each other.
The New York Times is quick to note that Dorsey’s ascension to Twitter’s CEO isn’t guaranteed. The board hasn’t yet made its decision, and things can change quickly. But it seems like Dorsey’s appointment is more likely than it was a few months ago.

Docker buys SocketPlane as it builds out its container-networking strategy

You can add another acquisition to Docker’s plate with the startup set to announce on Wednesday that it has bought a small networking startup called SocketPlane. The acquisition, whose financial terms were not disclosed, is just one more step in Docker’s plans to become the de-facto container-management company whose technology can play well on multiple infrastructures.

SocketPlane’s entire six-person staff is joining Docker and will be helping the container-centric startup develop a networking API that makes it possible to string together hundreds to thousands of containers together no matter if the containers “reside in different data centers,” explained Scott Johnston, Docker’s SVP of product.

The upcoming networking API can be thought of as an extension to Docker’s recently announced orchestration services. Although the new orchestration services makes it possible to spin up and manage multiple clusters of containers, the current Docker networking technology built into the platform only works well for “a handful of hosts and containers” as opposed to the thousands needed in complex environments like Spotify’s infrastructure, explained Johnston.

In order for Docker’s orchestration services to really come to fruition and deliver on the promise of spinning up and managing tons of containers, Docker requires an underlying networking API that enables all of those containers to speak to each other at a massive scale. Docker decided that it needed this technology expertise in-house, so it turned to SocketPlane, whose staff includes networking veterans from [company]Cisco[/company], OpenStack and OpenDaylight, said Johnston.

The goal is to create a networking API that can work with the gear and applications from providers like VMware/Nicira as well as Cisco and [company]Juniper[/company], explained Johnston. Theoretically, the API will make it possible for a user to build a distributed, containerized application in one data center that uses Cisco networking gear and have that application move over to an OpenStack-based cloud environment that uses Juniper gear “without breaking everything,” said Johnston.

If VMware has its own networking technology that users like, users should be able to “swap out” the Docker networking technology and use the other technology, said Johnston. Google’s own Kubernetes container orchestration system currently swaps out the existing Docker networking technology for its own networking technology, said Johnston, but once the SocketPlane team builds a workable open networking API, you can imagine a world in which users can alternate between Kubernetes or Docker’s Swarm orchestration service if they choose to.

“Say this works and we have ten or twelve implementations of the API,” said Johnston. “A network operator might want to take advantage of that.”

This makes for Docker’s third publicly-known acquisition. The startup bought devops startup Koality last October, which was preceded by the July acquisition of London-based Orchard Laboratories.

Story clarified to emphasize that the APIs will not be swapped out.

Facebook’s latest homemade hardware is a 128-port modular switch

Facebook has been building its own servers and storage gear for years, and last June announced its first-ever networking gear in the form of a top-of-rack switch called “Wedge.” On Wednesday, the company furthered its networking story with a new switch platform called “6-pack,” which is essentially a bunch of Wedge switches crammed together inside a single box.

The purpose of 6-pack was to build a modular platform that can handle the increase in network traffic that Facebook’s recently deployed “Fabric” data center architecture enables. The Facebook blog post announcing 6-pack goes into many more details of the design, but here is the gist:

“It is a full mesh non-blocking two-stage switch that includes 12 independent switching elements. Each independent element can switch 1.28Tbps. We have two configurations: One configuration exposes 16x40GE ports to the front and 640G (16x40GE) to the back, and the other is used for aggregation and exposes all 1.28T to the back. Each element runs its own operating system on the local server and is completely independent, from the switching aspects to the low-level board control and cooling system. This means we can modify any part of the system with no system-level impact, software or hardware. We created a unique dual backplane solution that enabled us to create a non-blocking topology.”

In an interview about 6-pack, lead engineer Yuval Bachar described its place in the network fabric as the level above the top-of-rack Wedge switches. Facebook might have hundreds of 6-pack appliances within a given data center managing traffic coming from its untold thousands of server racks.

A 6-pack line card.

A 6-pack line card.

“We just add those Lego blocks, as many as we need, to build this,” he said.

Matt Corddry, Facebook’s director of engineering and hardware team lead, said all the focus on building networking gear is because Facebook user growth keeps growing as more of the world comes online, and the stuff they’re sharing is becoming so much richer, in the form of videos, high-resolution photos and the like.

That might be the broader goal, but Facebook also has a business-level goal that’s behind its decision to build its own gear in the first place, and to launch the open source Open Compute Project. Essentially, Facebook wants to push hardware vendors to deliver the types of technology it needs. If it can’t get them to build custom gear, it and dozens of other large-scale Open Compute partners can with immense buying power can at least push the Dells and HPs and Ciscos of the world in the right direction.

Corddry said there’s nothing to report yet about Wedge or 6-pack being used anywhere outside Facebook but, he noted, “Our plan is to release the full package of Wedge in the near future to Open Compute.”

6-packdiff2

If you’re interested in hearing more about Facebook’s data center fabric, check out our recent Structure Show podcast interview with Facebook’s director of network engineering, Najam Ahmad.

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The new LinkedIn homepage is all about the warm fuzzies

LinkedIn introduced small but significant changes to its homepage design Thursday, simplifying its newsfeed and highlighting some interaction features that will come to all users next year. The shifts in the design bring the connection element of the service front and center, encouraging users to build their relationships with each other over time.

The first most obvious change is the number of user views at the top of the page. It gives someone a snapshot of how many people saw the content they post. LinkedIn offered these features before, but they were buried in the righthand sidebar, out of eyesight. “We realized this was something we needed to bring front and center to the desktop,” LinkedIn VP Joff Redfern told me.

New LinkedIn homepage design

New LinkedIn homepage design

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 2.00.10 PM

Old LinkedIn homepage design

 

LinkedIn is also doubling down on its content strategy, no doubt following behind competitors like Facebook. When there are compelling articles and posts to peruse on a social network feed, its users stick around longer. And the best way to motivate users to post is to highlight the feedback they receive when they do.

Keeping with that theme, the company has cleaned up its newsfeed. There’s less button clutter at the top, drawing users attention straight to the content.

The second change to LinkedIn’s homepage is the Keep in Touch system in the top right corner. You can quickly click through profile cards to see who has had big business changes recently, from adding new photos to switching jobs. It makes it easy for you to congratulate them or touch base in these moments, keeping the relationship strong. It’s based on LinkedIn’s Connected app, which was designed to help people stay in touch with professional contacts.

A wide range of users liked it, so LinkedIn decided to introduce it to a wider audience via the desktop app. “These two brand new modules are so important for keeping track of how you’re doing professionally that without them that stuff was harder,” Redfern said. “Now we’re giving the member that ability.”

Facebook shows the promise of SDN with new networking tech

Facebook detailed on Friday a new networking technology dubbed Data Center Fabric that coordinates all of the information flowing throughout its new data center in Altoona, Iowa. The Altoona facility is the first Facebook data center to showcase the new technology and going forward all new data centers will have it installed, said Alexey Andreyev, a Facebook network engineer.

How I learned to stop worrying and love commoditization

Technology entrepreneurs and investors alike have long regarded commoditization as a dark and dangerous force, a destroyer of high-margin businesses, to be avoided at all costs. An exciting new class of opportunity aims to eviscerate that dogma: the “commoditization accelerant.”