Interviews / Managed Services

“Open source software has the power to change the world.” – Peter Lilley, CEO, Instaclustr

CEO - Instaclustr - open source software

Open source technologies are becoming increasingly appealing for the enterprises. These technologies are cost-efficient and come without the fear of vendor lock-in. Open source software based data solutions can dramatically lower cost and enhance performance of the cloud solutions for the enterprises. We interviewed Peter Lilley, CEO, Instaclustr, a leading provider of fully managed open source data technologies. Founded in 2013, their sole purpose is to help companies unlock the power of open source technologies. We talked about their mission, factors that differentiate them from others, open source technologies and their future plans. Read on..

1. Let’s start with a quick introduction of Instaclustr, which was founded in 2013. What is the company’s mission?

Instaclustr was founded on the belief that open source software has the power to change the world. And, just as importantly, it’s a belief that is also firmly grounded in reality. Open source technologies have come a long way in the past decade particularly, and have earned their trust running many of today’s mission-critical enterprise applications. The data layer solutions we manage for customers – such as 100% open source Apache Cassandra, Apache Kafka, Elasticsearch, and others – offer arguably the most highly available, scalable, secure, and high-performance data environments available. The benefits of these open source technologies are truly transformative. We see it every day.

Our mission at Instaclustr is therefore to help customers unlock the power of open source technologies. The benefits of the solutions are clear, but they can be challenging for businesses to wield on their own without the right expertise. That’s where we come in. We live it and breathe it.

We were originally founded in Australia – which is also where I’m based. We’ve since grown internationally, working with hundreds of data-intensive customers like game tech platform Dream11 in India, home loan provider Lendi here in Australia, and the fast-growing fitness equipment company Peloton in the United States.

  1. Instaclustr has differentiated itself among managed data-layer providers by delivering open source technologies using only 100% open source versions (versus commercialised open source). What’s the thinking here?

Open source really means something to us. And when I say open source, I mean true open source. Software that’s free and open for anyone to use, and backed by robust, nurturing communities. We contribute back to all of the technologies we offer managed services for. True open source tools mean no license fees, no dominant commercial interests, and full portability with no risks of vendor or technical lock-in. Those are the solutions we believe in, and the reasons we believe in them. That’s why those are the technologies, in their 100% open source form, that we choose to provide.

The reason we want to be so clear about our stance on open source is because quite a few solutions out there styling themselves as open source solutions are actually “open core” offerings. With open core, a commercial entity takes an open source solution and tacks on their own proprietary features – in most cases eliminating portability and making vendor and technical lock-in real dangers for their customers. It’s important to us to differentiate ourselves from that practice, and to stand as a trusted option for customers that seek to support their applications with the true advantages of open source.

3. Curious – outside of any of the open source solutions Instaclustr provides, what five open source technologies are most interesting or compelling to you right now?

Kubernetes is certainly one of our biggest interest areas within the open source ecosystem, both from what our customers are asking for and also with our continuing releases of Kubernetes operators for the open source technologies on our platform. From there, we’re keeping our eye on projects like Apache Flink and Apache Ignite and their rates of adoption and customer use cases that could benefit from these offerings through our platform. Looking out more broadly, we’re also keeping our eye on interesting open source projects in machine learning and workflow engines.

  1. Why did Instaclustr recently select Redis as the newest addition to your managed open source platform?

In considering any new open source technology as a potential addition to our Instaclustr Managed Platform, we look at its strength as a solution, its compatibility with our existing offerings, and the value that our expertise and management can add for our customers.

Redis is the leading in-memory database, and a technology our customers are increasingly asking for, given that it’s frequently used in the same data stacks along with Apache Cassandra, Apache Kafka, and other solutions we offer. At the same time, Redis calls for a pretty high level of expertise if you want to deploy and operate it efficiently and at scale. These factors make it a great fit for what we’re built to deliver. Both the technology itself and our hands-on management are in demand, and serve our customers’ needs well.

5. Instaclustr was recently included in Accel’s Open100 – a collection of the fastest-growing open source startups across several layers and functionalities. What is your biggest takeaway from this inaugural list?

Just taking in the scope of Accel’s Open100 list and the breadth of categories included, it’s another clear testament to how far open source has come. Open source solutions are now available, proven, and prominent across all areas of the technology landscape. Given our own belief in open source, we couldn’t be happier to see these technologies receive their due recognition. We’re proud to be one of the contributors to this, as delineated by one of the most respected venture capital firms in the United States.

6. What is the future of managed services like Instaclustr as more and more organizations transition to a fully-cloud infrastructure?

I really believe the future for managed solutions is very bright for managed services, Instaclustr included. In the current environment of COVID-19, enterprises are more than ever looking to transform the way they operate at scale while reducing costs, operating risk, and time to market. Cloud-based solutions like our managed platform are ideally suited to delivering these outcomes for organizations breaking down traditional monolithic software licensing models by better leveraging open source technologies. This lowers operating costs while providing all the benefits of highly reliable elastic scaling and consumption models that have been a feature of cloud-based services.

7. What’s next for Instaclustr? Are there new open source technologies on the roadmap for 2021?

We’re currently expanding our services around managed Apache Kafka to offer dedicated ZooKeeper nodes, and Managed Mirroring. Each of these features are designed to give our customers simple and powerful options for significantly improving the reliability of their Kafka deployments.

In 2021, we’re looking at introducing an enterprise-grade open source relational database technology that complements the NoSQL technologies on our platform. We’ll also continue to innovate and release new platform features that will keep our managed solutions as the best way to deploy and operate the most powerful and scalable open source technologies.

8. You recently took over as the CEO at Instaclustr but were a co-founder and have been with the company as COO for several years. What are you most and least excited about as you take the helm?

I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to lead Instaclustr, and excited about navigating our business through the period of rapid growth we see ahead. We’re obviously very passionate about what we do, and it’s been an incredible place to be a part of since day one. It’s hard not to be excited about that all the time.

With that said, there are always challenges with growth. One of the aspects I’d say I’m least excited about is dealing with the somewhat crazy and variable compliance requirements of the many jurisdictions where we operate. But while dealing with jurisdictional compliance requirements isn’t that much fun, the fact that we have that challenge is a strong sign of the growth drivers in the business and the product-market fit of our solutions for a global customer base.

9. How has Instaclustr fared during this uniquely challenging year, and what advice do you have for smaller startups if pandemic disruption continues well into 2021?

We’ve been fortunate to fare very well this year and have seen solid growth. As our business is driven more about the use case for the technologies we deliver through our platform, we attract customers from across a very wide range of industry sectors. Some of those sectors, like travel, have been severely impacted, whereas customers in other sectors have grown considerably (and that means some gives-and-takes in terms of customer and revenue growth). As a startup ourselves, my philosophy has always been that “cash is king” – you need to remain capital-efficient in these times and look to extend your runway of operation as far as possible for the return to a post-pandemic world.

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