In December, VMware acquired a small, 100-person startup called Heptio for $550 million.
Despite its size, Heptio has already made a major splash among developers. Its cofounders, Craig McLuckie and Joe Beda, were two of the creators of Kubernetes, a cloud project that started when they were still at Google.
One of the fastest-growing software projects of all time, Kubernetes helps developers easily move their applications between the cloud and private data centers, and then manages their applications running at massive scales. And, since 2014, the Kubernetes code has been available as open source, meaning it’s free for anyone to use, download, or modify, giving rise to a massive community.
McLuckie and Beda eventually left Google to start Heptio, which offers products and support to help make Kubernetes more friendly to businesses. Now, over eight months after Heptio came to VMware, McLuckie says that so far, they’re a natural fit — namely because of the “deep engineering culture” that they share.
“When you’re a startup founder, you have a choice to make: Are you buying into a vision or selling out?” McLuckie, now vice president of research and development at VMware, told Business Insider.
To that point, he said, VMware is giving Heptio the resources it needs to really dig in on Kubernetes.
“When you’re a small startup with a relatively modest team, there are very few things to move the state of the art forward,” McLuckie said. “VMware has a very strong engineering culture. The quality of engineers here is as good as anything I’ve seen in the industry. When you’re a little startup, everything you do, you have to build from the ground up.”
The future of VMware
For VMware’s part, Kubernetes itself is a big bet on the future of the company.
VMware made its name with a technology called virtualization, which allows for a physical server to be chopped up into any number of “virtual machines,” making more efficient use of its resources. It’s one of the foundational technologies of modern cloud computing, allowing companies like Amazon or Microsoft to serve millions of customers from their hyperefficient data centers.
However, Kubernetes, and technologies like it, are changing the game. The underlying technology here is called “containers,” allowing developers to easily pack applications up such that they run exactly the same on their MacBook as they do on a massive cloud. It’s a simple but powerful idea — and one that some people think could one day replace virtualization, especially when building cloud software.
And so, the company has been doubling down on Kubernetes to stay ahead of the curve. VMware has been contributing even more code to the Kubernetes project. Today, VMware has become the No. 2 contributor to Kubernetes — second only to Google, where the project originated.
Read more:Everything you need to know about Kubernetes, the Google-created open source software so popular even Microsoft and Amazon had to adopt it
VMware has put more money where its mouth is as well: In the time since Business Insider’s conversation with Heptio, VMware announced the $2.7 billion acquisition of the developer-software company Pivotal — which, like VMware itself, is a subsidiary of Dell. Pivotal, too, has its own Kubernetes technology to bring to the table.
VMware’s big push toward Kubernetes
Even before Heptio came along, VMware had been slowly integrating Kubernetes support into core products like vSphere. Still, VMware was looking for people or startups that could bring in more perspective on the technology, McLuckie said.
Now settled in at VMware, Heptio is hard at work using its Kubernetes engineering expertise to help customers get started, even as they influence the direction of the new parent company’s product lines.
For example, this week, VMware introduced a new product at its VMworld conference called Tanzu Mission Control, which came out of a project that Heptio started before its acquisition. It allows companies to manage, secure, and monitor their Kubernetes applications.
Several of VMware’s products now incorporate Heptio’s technology too, like Enterprise PKS and Cloud PKS, two services to help VMware customers manage Kubernetes, right alongside their more traditional VMware infrastructure. And subscriptions to Heptio’s support services are also accessible to VMware customers.
Paul Fazzone, senior vice president and general manager at VMware, said that all of VMware’s major product groups were participating in contributing code to the main Kubernetes project. It’s also investing in features that large companies care about, like compliance with security and regulatory requirements.
“We’re able to bring some of the foremost Kubernetes experts on the planet,” Fazzone told Business Insider. “That’s incredibly valuable to our customers. They’re on budget constraints. They’re implementing a technology for the first time. They want to look good to their boss.”
‘It has certainly changed the game’
Fazzone said the first six months post-acquisition were about bringing together its teams in a “thoughtful” way. Together, they looked at what VMware was building and what Heptio was building to figure out how both teams could complement each other’s efforts.
Now, they’re focusing on building products, as well as engaging with and educating customers.
“Now that we have the team fully integrated and settled down, I’m really excited about the caliber of external product and engineering talent we’re able to integrate into the team,” Fazzone said. “I’m really excited for the next two years, being heads down, building great products, delighting our customers, and emerging as clear leaders in this category.”
Back when Heptio was still on its own, McLuckie said that as he looked at the work that needed to be done to support business customers, he realized Heptio wasn’t going to be able to fully help enterprises on his own. That’s where VMware came in.
One of the best things about the acquisition is having access to even more engineering resources, not to mention sales and marketing capabilities, McLuckie said. He said it has “changed the game,” and now, Heptio has an even more global reach.
And although Heptio was founded by the creators of Kubernetes, McLuckie said VMware has boosted its credibility even further.
“When you’re a 100-person startup and show up at a bank and say, ‘We can do that,’ there were a number of organizations who were willing to take a bet on us,” McLuckie said. “Now the credibility goes up so much more. For me, it certainly has changed the game. I don’t have to explain who we are.”