Last year some guys at a startup called CoreOS got a crazy idea: The time had come for a new server operating system.
How dare they! Just a few companies make server operating systems that millions of companies and developers depend on. Canonical. Microsoft. Oracle. Red Hat. SUSE.
Well, investors believe in CoreOS’ maniacal plans to help anyone run huge quantities of servers with ease, just like Google, Facebook, and other web companies. Today the startup announced the completion of an $8 million round of funding from some big-name venture capital firms. And that makes CoreOS founder and chief executive Alex Polvi happy, because it allows him to keep following his plans.
“Our business is definitely one that we need to think very long term on,” Polvi told VentureBeat in an interview.
Building trust ranks among the startup’s greatest challenges. For CoreOS’s flavor of Linux to become a new standard in the world of infrastructure, companies must come around to the belief that their applications won’t break if they run on CoreOS Linux.
It helps that CoreOS can talk about how the operating system can be a good deal in comparison with commercial services from other companies. Subscriptions for support — available on a yearly or monthly basis — could cost several times less than what companies might buy from a company like Red Hat, Polvi said.
It also helps that more cloud providers are showing support for the operating system in recent months. Developers can run it on the burgeoning Google Compute Engine, as well as on Rackspace’s new OnMetal service.
Before starting CoreOS, Polvi ran product teams at Rackspace, which acquired the cloud monitoring startup he’d founded, Cloudkick. Earlier, he’d held system administration and product management roles at Mozilla.
And that experience has helped CoreOS, whose original focus, Polvi said, was “to improve the security and reliability of the Internet.”
The startup has taken cues from second-generation browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Chrome. Firefox has a less pockmarked track record than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer when it comes to security vulnerabilities, and Chrome only starts with the latest version, automatically patching itself up.
“It was like a SaaS (software as a service) but delivered as, like, a client piece of software on your desktop,” Polvi said of Chrome. “I believe because of this, we’ve gotten the most secure front end of the Internet that we’ve ever seen.”
And CoreOS could achieve something similar in the server world. The company can automatically update all servers running the operating system.
“To do this, we had to build a lot of technology as well as bring in a bunch of technology, and containers are part of that,” Polvi said.
Containers are a trendy and increasingly widely adopted technology for packaging up application code and moving it from one server to another. Such capability eases up development time. And with containers, there’s no need to split a server up into individual virtual machines for running separate applications at the same time. Containers consume less server resources and can be more economical as a result.
Tooling to implement containers has existed for years, but a startup called Docker simplified it all last year, and so CoreOS ships with Docker’s creation.
CoreOS also comes loaded with a key-value store the team created called etcd. It bears some resemblance to the Zookeeper open-source tool Yahoo built. The point in both cases is to ensure that all servers in a cluster keep track of the latest configuration information they need, so if certain servers fail, a live application won’t collapse with it.
As of today, companies can always boot the latest operating-system code automatically once they sign up for commercial support. Admins don’t need to worry about rolling out new versions to tens, hundreds, of thousands of servers.
More products are on the way, including “supporting entire environments, not just single OSs,” Polvi said.
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers led the round, which is CoreOS’ first. Sequoia Capital and Fuel Capital also participated.
The 15-person startup no longer works out of a Palo Alto, Calif. garage, as it did last year. Now it runs out of a tucked-away office in the southeast corner of San Francisco’s Mission district, in the storied Farm.
“We’re definitely just getting started,” Polvi said.
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