Kubernetes is a product that, as we all know, is directly descended from the internal systems that Google uses to create its manage its own infrastructure. Of course we can argue about what made Google decide to open source some of its own internal IP, and donate it out to the world, and many people suggest that Kubernetes was fundamentally a Trojan Horse designed to bring more workloads to Google’s own public cloud platform but, notwithstanding the rationale, Kubernetes has enjoyed a pretty meteoric rise.

We see public cloud vendors, private cloud platforms, multitudinous startups and (most importantly) real world enterprises playing with Kubernetes and wondering about how it can help them in their move to a more modular, composable and flexible approach towards their own enterprise IT,

Two of the creators of Kubernetes, Craig McLuckie and Joe Beda, left Google in order to found a startup focused on helping integrate Kubernetes into IT environments and leveraging the benefits that Kubernetes brings, at scale. Heptio offers training, support and professional services all focused on embedded Kubernetes and the cultural, organizational and technological changes that it enables, into the fabric of enterprise IT.

And the investors loved it

When you have two important names in a movement founding a startup, it immediately gets attention. And when the movement in question is the “new cool thing,” investors flock to back it. And so it is with Heptio which is today announcing a $25 million Series B funding round from well known VCs Madrona, Lightspeed, and Accel. The funding comes less than a year after the company’s initial raise of $8.5 million

As could be expected, McLuckie talked up what this funding means, and hinted of a move beyond Kubernetes and deeper into organizational change:

This new funding accelerates our growth and enables us to look beyond Kubernetes to support businesses’ IT transformation efforts in a hybrid-cloud world. We are excited to partner with investors who share our enthusiasm and support our vision to bring cloud native computing to all IT organizations.

Scaling services is hard

Of course, anyone can use Kubernetes for free, it is, after all, an open source product. Companies which are primarily service based, as Heptio is today, leverage the fact that for many large organizations, a service provider who can do the heavy lifting for them is an attractive proposition. It is, after all, the business model that one very successful company, Red Hat, has leveraged for years.

But we need to remember the early days of another open source project, OpenStack. It too was touted as the next big thing. It too attracted huge venture capital investment for service-based startups (sure, they wrapped up their service in a bow and called it a product, but in essence, they were still service-based.) And, lest we forget, the vast majority of those early OpenStack companies no longer exist – casualties of the very real difficulty that scaling a service business brings.

Marching down a similar path?

Boris Renski is the outspoken CMO of Mirantis, a company that was itself an early player in the OpenStack space and has now pivoted somewhat to be a Kubernetes specialist. In a recent post discussing the rise of Kubernetes as a product, and containers as a service (CaaS) as a class, he challenged players to think about historical events in other open source projects and think about whether we’re going down the same road. As he wrote:

Operational challenges are exactly what killed private cloud and dragged OpenStack down with it. So as we move from structured PaaS to composable CaaS are we not marching down the same exact path again? Could it be that for the next few years we’ll all stay busy building CaaS components in the open source and paying professional services fees to the likes of HP (that has armed itself for what’s to come with it’s recent CTP acquisition) to implement an open CaaS? And then we’ll realize that keeping that open, DIY thing upgraded and patched is more expensive then to just use PaaS services in public cloud and we’ll be back where we started?


Heptio has the benefit of being involved with a very popular open source project and being founded by two of the leading lights in that project. That alone will give it a buffer to get beyond the myriad other players doing essentially the same thing. But Renski raises a valid point, in a world where all the PaaS products are embracing containers (witness recent announcements from OpenShift and Cloud Foundry, is all of this attention to Kubernetes actually harmful to the core driver for all this stuff: that is enterprises’ desire and need to move away from wrangling infrastructure and to instead focus purely on higher level work? Time will tell, but for now, Heptio has lined its war chest and that will give it a degree of comfort.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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