More than ten years after the DevOps revolution promised to reduce friction to shipping software, Adam Jacob still thinks the workflow required to deploy applications out into the world is too difficult. So he and a small team of engineers created a new way to visualize that workflow, and they think it could transform the way companies ship software.
Jacob and co-founder Mahir Lupinacci are finally ready to talk about System Initiative, their new startup officially launching Wednesday. The company was founded in 2019, but disclosed Wednesday that it has already raised $18 million in funding to create a private beta of what Jacob called a "simulator" that models a company's tech infrastructure — on either cloud services or on-premises servers — using digital twins technology. It allows users to basically drag and drop computing resources into a staging area to prepare for deploying an application, detecting implementation errors and even rewriting code as needed to make sure everything will work when the time is right.
"The tasks that we ask people to do, or the ways the tools that we ask them to use fit together, basically hasn't changed since 2009," said Jacob, CEO of the new company, in a recent interview. That was the year that Chef, which Jacob co-founded as CTO, released the first version of its infrastructure-as-code product as part of a community that helped create the DevOps movement.
Chef and similar tools from Puppet allowed companies to use software instead of manual labor to automatically provision and manage server infrastructure, which sped up the process of launching and running a new application. But the shift to cloud computing and containers created a new level of complexity that Jacob believes hasn't been addressed by the current options for managing infrastructure, which get the job done but leave users with annoying "papercuts," as Jacob put it in a blog post earlier this year.
System Initiative believes it has "completely reinvented the user experience" needed to make the process of getting software out into the world easier, Jacob said. "When your ambition is that you have to redesign how the system works from scratch, it means that once you start pulling on that thread, you kind of unravel the whole ball."
Infrastructure as whiteboard
The simulator looks a little bit like what you might get if HashiCorp acquired Figma and redesigned Terraform as a whiteboard.
When operations engineers fire it up, they're greeted with a digital "workspace" that features a list of the computing resources available to them at their company and the components of their applications. The workspace lets users literally draw the connections between all the components necessary to deploy the application and points out any flaws in their configuration models as needed.
And as users make changes to one part of the puzzle, System Initiative can automatically adjust other components that now require slightly different marching orders. Right now any changes to an initial plan for deploying applications to tools like Kubernetes require operations engineers to write a lot of custom scripting code, which can be a painstaking process.
The idea is to give operations engineers "faster feedback loops" to deal with the inevitable problems that crop up when trying to make software work in the real world, Jacob said. Tech leaders can set parameters around which resources engineers are able to access and which actions they are allowed to take, as well as security policies.
System Initiative believes it can replace CI/CD tools, which have soared in popularity over the last several years as a way to manage the complexity of a modern software development organization. The company expects its first set of customers to come from that world as well as the broader world of infrastructure-as-code tool providers, which includes the major cloud companies.
Anyone who knows Jacob knows that he holds strong views on the evolution of open-source software over the last decade, railing against companies that have released projects they call "open source" under controversial licenses that limit what can be done with that software.
System Initiative is following Red Hat's model for building an open-source business, Jacob said. It will release the code behind the project later this year for anyone to use as they like, but it will sell distributions of the code, which most enterprises need to make it actually work in their operating environments and helps address the supply chain security problem associated with open-source software.
"Our business model is we believe that System Initiative is this transformational technology that can really move the entire DevOps movement forward again. And in order to maximize its potential, it needs to be open source, we need to build a big community around it," Jacob said. "You can get the software for free. But the distribution you can run easily in your environment, that's the thing I produce for money and you should pay me for it if you want to do that."
System Initiative has 14 employees working around the world in a completely distributed environment, said Lupinacchi, chief operating officer of the startup. The private beta, which allows a limited amount of infrastructure configuration options, is available today and the company hopes to release a public beta and open the source code this summer.