TFD10 Prep: Platform9

Platform9 Logo

This is part of my series of posts for Tech Field Day 10.

Platform9 are an interesting company, and seem to be well positioned to take advantage of the growing maturity of OpenStack as an on-site cloud-style deployment method.

I spoke to CEO and co-founder Sirish Raghuram earlier this week as a lead in to TFD10. The audio will get posted on The Eigencast whenever I find the time to edit and produce it, sometime over the next couple of weeks, probably.

When I first met Platform9 at Virtualization Field Day 4, I was impressed with the idea behind what they were trying to do: make something inherently complex easy to use. I went so far as to give it a try myself, which you can read about here. Short version: yep, it works, and it’s easy to use.

There are two main things that impress me about the way Platform9 have gone about things. Firstly, they are focused on a specific use-case–enterprise technology people who want to deploy cloud things and like the openness of OpenStack–, and they have a clear idea of what that person wants to do. There are plenty of opportunities to do something else, like have an on-site version of the controller instead of operating a Software-as-a-Service model, but they say no to those opportunities to stay focused.

Secondly, they support a heterogeneous environment for their customer–KVM and VMware are both supported hypervisors–, because they understand that their target customers–enterprises–don’t have a single monolithic environment. Mergers, acquisitions, shadow-IT brought into central-IT, there are plenty of ways that large environment can end up with multiple solutions to the same general problem. Throwing it all out and starting again isn’t justifiable in most cases, so it’s smart for Platform9 to make it easy (there’s that word again!) for customers to use the software without breaking their existing environments, or having to throw out a bunch of functioning gear.

Platform9 allows a company to incrementally improve, which, given the success rates of major IT projects, is a smart way to do things.

There is one discordant note in the symphony of simplicity that Platform9 are working on: when I asked Sirish which type of business he was building–low-margin, high volume or high-margin, low-volume–he chose the former. That doesn’t match up with the marketing in the carousel on their website, one pane of which boats that Platform9 is “The only private cloud with white glove service.”

White glove service is, to me, a premium offering, which should attract premium prices or it’s not sustainable. True white glove service is expensive to provide, so if you don’t cover the cost of providing it with an appropriate price, then you’ll lose money. That’s not a sustainable way to run a business.

Chalk it up to the inevitable missteps of running a startup, I suppose. I’ll be digging into this possible disconnect some more this week, and hopefully this is just a minor error rather than an indicator of a deeper misalignment that could derails things later on.

Update 1 Feb 2016

Sirish contacted me about this post to clarify the white glove service angle, and it’s a good response, so here is his email:

I wanted to share my thoughts on the consistency, or perceived inconsistency, between the marketing message “white-glove service” and the business model “high volume, low margin”.

We chose to go low-margin and high-volume because we believe that is a key facet of the public cloud that has led to massive success, and the private cloud can and should beat the economics of the public cloud.

Traditionally, white-glove service has been provided with extensive consulting and professional services. Clearly, as you has point out, a traditional white glove service model wouldn’t be viable.

At Platform9, we’ve spent a significant portion of our R&D budget on building a white glove service experience into the _product_, aka our SaaS platform. By this, we’re referring to the ease of onboarding with a white range of existing environments, and the customer success experience going from there on. Both of these are primarily provided by the _product_, not people, and that’s what differentiates us and enables a highly cost and time efficient delivery model.

I hope this helps clarify. I look forward to seeing you in Austin soon.

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