There have never been companies like Airbnb and Twitter before. The bad news is that no company has ever had the problems of Airbnb and Twitter, either.
When you install a new app on your iPhone, for instance, you don’t really think about it. You download it, you open it, it just works.
But when you’re dealing with the huge and constantly changing computers that run giant web services, rolling out new software can be crazy difficult, and hard to run efficiently.
Some estimates place average data center utilization as low as just 5%. That’s a lot of waste.
Imagine how much harder it would be to get anything done on your iPhone if you had to choose which of its two processor cores you had to run each and every app on. That’s what installing software at the data center level can be like.
Which takes us to Mesosphere. This startup, founded by two ex-engineers from Airbnb and Twitter, wants to make it just as easy to install software in the data center as it is to put an app on your phone, helping any company get up to size.
Mesosphere obviously scratches an itch for many in the tech sector: An early preview edition of the Mesosphere product got 3,800 enterprise signups, and it raised its first two funding rounds within six months of each other to the tune of $US47.5 million, with investments from big name VCs like Andreessen Horowitz.
Mesosphere calls its product the Data Center Operating System (DCOS), because it wants to do for the data center what the Windows operating system did for the PC — make it easy for anybody to use, without needing to be a computer scientist.
It says DCOS can increase data center utilization by two to three times right when you install it. Big marketing startup Hubspot, one of Mesosphere’s earliest customers, is using it to save 65% off of its monthly Amazon cloud hosting bills. After all, Amazon’s, Microsoft’s, and Google’s clouds are just big data centres.
“From our experience as engineers, it’s just a better way to do this,” says ex-Airbnb tech lead and Mesosphere co-founder/CTO Tobias Knaup.
Today, Mesosphere announces the launch of its core business model: A subscription service based on how many processor “nodes” you use DCOS to manage. So long as you pay, you get the updates to DCOS, Windows Update-style.
Back to the beginning
Mesosphere has its origins in the Apache Mesos project, a popular piece free software for managing large “clusters” of servers.
A diverse set of large tech companies like Apple and Yelp use Apache Mesos behind the scenes to deal with an ever-growing collection of servers.
Mesos was created by Benjamin Hindman, then a PhD student at UC Berkeley. Once Mesos started to get some attention and grow its fanbase, Hindman took his talents to Twitter, where he put Mesos to work behind the scenes at the social network to help them grow.
In 2013, Hindman connected with Knaup, who had been struggling with similar growth issues in his role as tech lead at Airbnb. The two decided that Mesos would be the underlying core to a new kind of operating system — DCOS.
It just (doesn’t) work
The potential here is to turn an entire data center into one big computer that’s easy to run and manage. Knaup goes so far as to say that if he quit Mesosphere and founded another startup today, he’d make sure it was an application that runs on top of Mesosphere DCOS.
There have been plenty of companies that try to streamline things with data center automation, including recent Cisco acquisition Piston.
But it’s never been easy: Deploying hot technologies like data processing software Hadoop or Google-made container management platform Kubernetes in the data center can take days and cause lots of headaches. That’s a problem if you’re a growing company that needs to scale up quickly, but they’re easy to deploy with DCOS, Knaup says.
With DCOS, “a lot of these hard problems are already solved,” Knaup says. “A minute and a half later, you have Kubernetes.”
Plus, if you’re into that kind of thing, Mesosphere DCOS lets you launch applications inside Docker containers, which can make them even easier to manage still.
And a final benefit, Knaup says, is that a data center running Mesosphere DCOS is more stable, and that it can keep apps running even if a single server fails.
The public cloud, including services from vendors like Amazon and Microsoft, is also a major focus for Mesosphere.
Mesosphere DCOS, the software, doesn’t care whether the servers are in your own data center or hosted with Amazon Web Services. Which makes it ideal for those who want to take advantage of the high scale of the cloud, without giving up the control of (or the cash investment in) their own data center.
The industry term for that kind of “both-and” approach is called hybrid cloud, and it’s going to be something you hear lot more about soon.
“Close to 100% of the companies [we talk to] are looking at hybrid,” Knaup says.
Disclosure: Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, is an investor in Business Insider.