• 9 min read

Thought Leaders in the Cloud: Talking with Erica Brescia, CEO of BitRock

Erica Brescia is the CEO of BitRock, a provider of multiplatform software deployment automation. Through the BitNami.org portal, it has simplified native, virtual, and cloud installations of…

Erica Brescia is the CEO of BitRock, a provider of multiplatform software deployment automation. Through the BitNami.org portal, it has simplified native, virtual, and cloud installations of popular open source software. Since joining the company in early 2005, Erica has been instrumental in earning the business of leading commercial open source vendors.

Prior to joining BitRock, Erica managed several sales teams for T-Mobile and served as a liaison to the mobile enthusiast community. In the past, she held positions as an analyst at Oakwood Worldwide and as a consultant with Chekiang First Bank in Hong Kong, where she helped plan the launch of its Internet banking service. Erica has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern California.

In this interview, we discuss:

  • Growing interest in the cloud for production deployments
  • Portability of virtual appliances to and in the cloud
  • Projects that would have never succeeded were it not for the cloud
  • The location of the datacenter matters for cloud hosted applications
  • The ability of the cloud to provide dynamic scale up, not just scale out

Robert Duffner: Erica, take a moment and introduce yourself, BitRock, and what you’re doing around cloud computing.

Erica Brescia: I’m the CEO of BitRock, which has been in business for seven years now, providing packaging services. We offer a cross-platform installation tool, and we also build the installers, virtual machine images, and cloud templates for a lot of the leading open source companies, such as Alfresco, SugarCRM, MySQL, Jaspersoft, GroundWork, and other companies.

A few years ago, we started a site called bitnami.org that provides a lot of open source packages in easy-to-deploy  packages in the form of installers, VMs, and cloud templates. We’re preparing to launch a new offering called BitNami Cloud Hosting, which makes it easy to deploy the packages we’ve prepared for apps like Drupal, DokuWiki, WordPress, Liferay, SugarCRM, and manage them on top of cloud.

Currently we support Amazon EC2, and we plan to add support for other clouds down the road based on customer demand.

Robert: Through BitNami, you support deployment across physical, virtual, and cloud. Obviously, cloud is at the forefront of the news, but what do you see as core scenarios for each of these deployment types?

Erica: For production deployments, we still see most people using the native installers. We have seen a huge increase in use of the virtual appliances within the last year or so, but mostly just for testing purposes. People want to try a new application, so they download the VM, which keeps it entirely separate from their system and makes it easy to test several different applications side by side.

We actually do that with the native installers as well, but VMs offer even more of a container-like approach.

Certainly with BitNami Cloud Hosting, we’re seeing a lot more interest in using the cloud for production deployments. BitNami Cloud Hosting makes it much easier to do things like schedule automated backups, restore a server if it goes down, and get visibility into the server itself to make sure that the web server databases and everything are still running. You can also easily make clones and update things in the cloud.

So with the new offering, we’re starting to see more production use of the cloud, but I think it’s still very early. Most of the stories that we hear around cloud computing right now involve very specific applications, especially those that are resource-intensive only for certain amounts of time, like batch processing. Or sometimes a social networking game that has to scale up massively and then scale back down when people move on to the next big thing.

And what we see as the next wave are smaller companies that just want to move away from traditional hosting and get a little bit more control and flexibility over their servers. They are just starting to dip their toes into the cloud now.

We built BitNami Cloud Hosting to facilitate that and lower the barrier to adoption a little bit –  many of the cloud platforms are still a little complex and have somewhat high technical barriers to adoption.

Robert: The virtual appliance obviously predates the cloud, and it seems like cloud provides it another distribution channel. How has that affected BitNami and BitRock?

Erica: We don’t really even think of them as virtual appliances in the cloud anymore, even though that’s what they are. [laughs]

The fact that we already had virtual appliances built for BitNami made it a very simple and streamlined process for us to move the cloud. We already have all the processes and technology in place to build completely self-contained images, whether it’s a virtual appliance, an AMI, or a package for any other platform. So that transition has been pretty seamless for us.

In fact, we ported the entire BitNami library of 30 or so application stacks to Amazon, and we had all of the proofs of concept done in under a week because of the technology we already had developed for creating virtual appliances.

Robert: There’s an obvious intersection between BitNami and infrastructure as a service, but do you see any future intersection between BitNami and platform as a service?

Erica: Right now, we see platform as a service as being mostly for people who want to develop custom applications and who are comfortable building them on top of a platform that may be difficult for them to move the application away from in the future. At this point, BitNami Cloud Hosting is really geared toward people who want to develop on top of or customize existing applications.. For example, people might be customizing a Drupal deployment or putting SugarCRM and Alfresco on a server and making some customizations there, as opposed to building applications from the ground up. They can also build on top of our Ruby on Rails or LAMP Stacks, which gives them more portability than they would get with a PaaS-based solution, but we’re not seeing too much of that yet, since it is still early in the product’s lifecycle.

We do see value in platform as a service for some use cases, but from a lot of our customers’ perspectives, it gives them a level of lock in that they’re not entirely comfortable with. This may change over time, but at this point, people still like the idea of having complete control over their environments and their servers, and being able to switch if necessary.

Robert: That’s interesting, in light of virtual appliances for popular open source projects like Joomla and WordPress. Can you talk about BitNami for organizations that are looking to build new applications architected for the cloud?

Erica: We do provide LAMP and Ruby on Rails (and our Ruby on Rails stack is incredibly popular), but again, we’re not really focused on people trying to build custom applications for our platform. We provide a base platform, and they can certainly build on top of our stack and then use our resources to monitor it and deploy new servers and facilitate updates and things like that.

Still, it’s not built up to the same level as Heroku or similar solution that are very specific to one language. The benefit of using BitNami is that you get a lot more flexibility.

As I said before, if you build on top of platform as a service, you really architect your application for that specific platform. This offers a lot of benefits in the sense that it takes away a lot of the overhead of managing a deployment and handling updates,  but many people aren’t quite comfortable with that type of solution yet. With BitNami, they’d have to do more heavy lifting to use our platform, but would get more flexibility and control in terms of how they build their application.

Robert: An article was published a few weeks ago titled, “Cloud Computing: A Shift from IT Luxury to Business Necessity.” The author says 83 percent of cloud adopters agree that cloud solutions have helped them respond more quickly to the needs of their business. Are you seeing projects that would have trouble being successful without the cloud?

Erica: Absolutely. In fact, I was just on the phone the other day with someone who told me it takes six to nine months for them to get access to new servers, and they needed to try out some new applications. They make open source applications accessible for blind people, and they need to stay up to date with the latest applications.

Drupal 7 just came out, and they couldn’t get access to a server to deploy it and give this application a try, but the cloud let them just stick it on a credit card. IT management doesn’t like to hear this, but it’s incredibly easy, even for non-technical people, to use something like BitNami Cloud Hosting to deploy an application.

I was on the phone with somebody else who works for a major oil company who needed to get Redmine set up and said it was going to take nine months, and he needed it for his project now, and the cloud enabled him to do that. While putting technology into the hands of people who wouldn’t have access to it otherwise may be a little frustrating for IT, it certainly enables people to get things done more quickly.

Robert: There’s the notion that one advantage of cloud is that location doesn’t matter. Do you view it that way, or do you think the cloud will actually give the customers more control over the location of their data and processing?

Erica: I think that location definitely matters, at least in terms of large chunks of geographic area. For example, in the beta BitNami Cloud Hosting, we’ve only supported the U.S. East zone on Amazon. And virtually everyone who’s come to us from Europe or from Australia has asked to keep their data within their geographic area. In Australia’s case, Singapore is the closest they have available.

It certainly is important for a lot of data protection laws here and in Europe, to have some control over where in the world your server’s running, and there are also issues with latency.

I heard a very cool use case of a company that built a solution based on Amazon, and they were moving their servers around the globe based on the time of day to get the absolute best performance out of their application for their users.

On the other hand, I don’t think more specific geographical control is generally important for people. As long as they know that it’s within one half of the U.S. or within Europe, for example, people are comfortable.

Robert: Another advantage of the cloud, which of course Microsoft likes to talk about, is the idea of elasticity. Is elasticity also important with appliances, or is it more about portability?

Erica: We think of elasticity for our users in terms of being able to take a small server and make it very large when you need to and then make it small again, as opposed to being able to spin up a thousand servers very quickly, which is what most people refer to as elasticity.

You see a lot of use cases around things like web applications that may take off, and having the flexibility to scale very quickly is important for them, as well as for jobs that only may need to run once a month, like batch processing jobs that need a lot of servers at once. That’s also relevant for testing across a huge pool of servers.

Those are not use cases that we’re really focused on. We think that the next wave of cloud adoption is going to be by smaller companies that need to run five or 10 servers with various business applications. For them, scaling doesn’t involve hundreds of servers; it just involves going from a small to an extra large server and back, or something similar to that.

Robert: When people think about cloud applications, they often think about software as a service. How are you seeing that evolve?

Erica: With traditional software as a service, you think of a big multi-tenant application like SalesForce. With BitNami Cloud Hosting and those platforms that make it easier to manage deployments on the cloud, you can offer more of a single-tenant approach to software as a service. That is very interesting for companies that have to do more customization or integration than you can do easily with a traditional software-as-a-service product.

A lot of companies that are looking at BitNami Cloud Hosting may have a traditional software-as-a-service offering, but they have a subset of customers for whom that’s not appropriate. They may have requirements either around not using a multi-tenant application or around being able to integrate with other applications and have them all run together.

The cloud offers a cool opportunity for doing that and getting a lot of the benefits of software as a service, without losing some of the flexibility and control you get with managing your own servers. I don’t hear that use case talked about much, but I think it is really interesting, and we are seeing a lot of interest in it.

Robert: Erica, thanks for your time.

Erica: Thank you.