Published on January 23rd, 2023 📆 | 7556 Views ⚑0
Hyperscaler Shaker, Civo’s Lighter Touch To Heavyweight Clouds
Clouds are heavy - both kinds. Like their meteorological equivalents, cloud computing clouds carry a great weight of water (data), internal weather system complexity (network-layer connectivity) and massive potential to exert kinetic strength and energy (big data analytics, machine learning functions for AI, real-time processing and so much more).
While we could run on and on with the analogies here, the overriding sentiment that appears to be emanating from the cloud computing industry right now relates to the complexity of cloud orchestration and management. Clouds (the ones above us and the computing kind) are very often a maelstrom of forces that we fail to harness as competently as we should, especially when we are paying for them.
On something of a mission to shake up the cloud computing firmament currently established by the big three Cloud Service Provider (CSP) hyperscalers is UK and US-headquartered Civo. The company has grown its initial cloud-native services offering based upon K3s, a lightweight Kubernetes distribution, a widely popular open source technology used to orchestrate cloud containers (smaller components of cloud functionality) and look after their deployment, scaling and management.
What is lightweight technology?
It’s important to note that lightweight is a strange term in enterprise software. In technology engineering terms, lightweight typically refers to algorithmically efficient software code that is essentially optimized for the task it is built to perform. Lightweight can be extremely powerful because it is software built to perform a precision-engineered function and do it well – hence perhaps the need for us to talk (above) about orchestration and the concept of bringing together smaller, better-designed components of software to create more functionally and cost-effective cloud computing services.
British-born Civo CEO Mark Boost and his assembled team of engineers boast a track record in the hosting, connectivity and datacenter sector. Now positioning its technology proposition as rather more than just a Kubernetes platform, Civo wants it to be regarded as a templatefor how modern cloud should work, with community at the heart of its culture.
“Five years ago now, our team was building a cloud platform for a UK cloud hosting company (called LCN.com) which was later sold. It was at that time that we identified the need for a cloud platform with a community-led approach drawing upon open source roots, focussing purely on Kubernetes, so this was the start of Civo,” explained Boost. “We turned our attention to the lightweight Kubernetes distribution Rancher Labs K3s because it was a good fit for our goal of creating a quick and easy platform for developers to integrate with their continuous computing efforrs... and was ideally positioned to leverage the future growth of edge computing and the imminent explosion of Internet of Things (IoT) on their path to ubiquity.”
Platform evolution, secure-by-design
Like any enterprise software offering in the cloud-native space worth its salt, Civo is now turning its attention towards increasing its already robust security stance. Kubernetes enables strict version control (and permits rapid rollbacks) where vulnerabilities are ever discovered, but these functions can be complex to implement. Now expanding its platform to provide more baked-in security controls for software application developers to use from the start, Civo talks about the need to build a ‘secure-by-design’ software pipeline using an open source IT stack i.e. the foundations upon which the organization is based.
Having originally pursued a motor racing career up to Formula Three level, Civo CEO Boost left the racing grid to connect into the early days of the world wide web and draw upon his younger hobbyist tech work connected to experimenting with the bulletin board technologies. Moving logically with the times into emerging Internet technologies, he then launched a web design agency, which spawned a wider domain hosting business and a subsequent small to medium-sized datacenter operation, owning and operating two datacenters in the UK.
“My approach has always been about a relentless pursuit for an unparalleled level of customer service” said Boost, who admits to being goal-driven almost to a fault. “Civo itself is a kind of back-to-roots company born out of a love of the hosting business. When we launched LCN back before the millennium, we did it with no funding and were probably more of a follower than a leader in developing innovative technology.When devising the vision for Civo, I was determined to flip this on its head and make the company a leader of innovation, while also retaining that obsession with customer service.”
A blueprint for a company
Having once dutifully followed the market as a sort of de facto business policy, Boost describes Civo as a company determined to drive change in an industry dominated by just a few - and that means architecting the business around some important key principles.
“We wanted to be the kind of company that people would want to work with, work for and work alongside as customers,” enthused Boost. “That means we are very transparent on pricing and so naturally avoid the hidden charges and lock-in mechanisms typical of bigger hyperscalers. We are community focused from the start and have some 15,000 software engineers on our community Slack channel and we post a wealth of free training video content. We exist not for shareholder profit in the first instance, but for the prosperity of our team and of those who work with us - and we have a defined commitment to sustainability too.”
Although this ‘perfect world’ picture might sound a little cheesy and fanciful to some, at the other end of the spectrum there are some rather more financially-driven market control activities that the industry engages in from time to time. A quick Google of ‘free cloud credit for startups’ provides some insight here - and for those startups that can already boast venture capital funding, the welcoming handshakes are all the warmer. Regulatory bodies such as OFCOM in the UK, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the USA and similar organizations elsewhere are aware of the sensitivities in this space.
Boost has also introduced a 4-day work week for its employees as well as demonstrating his commitment to sustainability with Civo recently investing in (and starting a pilot project with) Heata, a startup who use waste heat from servers to provide hot water to homes.
More than just vanilla
To create, architect, build and sustain the cloud technology platform that it now operates, the company started with a purist open source software mindset and approach. Using the above-referenced Rancher Labs K3s lightweight Kubernetes distribution, the company goes to market with ‘more than just the vanilla’ version of K3s.
Civo offers what it calls ‘extensive’ additional extra networking power, a variety of incremental storage functionalities and has built its own 'Kubernetes operators' - technology designed to look after features such as auto-scaling (when systems need to grow) and key operational aspects such as high-availability controls for IT systems that need to be always-on, which is most IT systems these days. Although Rancher was bought by German open source platform company SUSE back in 2020, Civo has been able to work with open source K3s throughout especially as it was donated by Rancher to the non-for-profit Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF).
“We’re less than 50 employees currently, but we punch above our weight in terms of share of voice, industry recognition, user engagement and ambition to succeed,” said Boost. “Our largest market is the USA, but we have a vibrant operational base in the UK and Europe, with registered offices in all three countries. We describe ourselves as a cloud-native cloud company born in and of the cloud-native age (but perhaps with boardroom staff who remembers earlier times), so that gives us a particular approach and market-facing technology proposition.”
The latest work from Civo see the company partnering with Intel on its new-age Intel SGX (software guard extensions) technology, which works to provide ‘application isolation’ control for advanced security ‘enclaves’ applied at the hardware level. Used in conjunction with the chip giant’s next-gen Sapphire Rapids server processors, this is an emerging technology still to be fully developed at the time of writing.
Obviously, AWS would point to its own Graviton3 processors and AMD is also working to develop technologies in this space, the point here is not so much who or what, but if and when.
Cornerstones for new cloud companies
If Civo’s Boost and team can offer up four cornerstones for how cloud-native companies should operate according to the vision and mantra laid down by the company so far, it might be the following four blocks of logic.
This is a company committed to #1 - customer openness and clarity at the sales level; #2 developer user experience through skills training, inclusivity, accessibility and community support; #3 secure cloud-native operations, bolstered by forthcoming Intel hardware-based security in this case and; #4 customer ability to get a cost-effective, faster and simpler to use cloud product.
Could Civo really shake up the cloud hyperscalers and their market dominance? The big three probably aren’t too worried about their market share and apparent omnipresence and Civo is admittedly focused on a more mid-market customer base (i.e. contracts that are unlikely to be in the ‘tens of millions’ of dollars, as would be standard fayre for Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and AWS) as of now.
While cloud market dynamics may not experience an earthquake as a result of this discussion, there could be a few tremors brought about as a result of what might be a clean and refreshing approach.