Got Containers? Cycle Makes Running Them Easy—and Fast
Jake Warner started his first business when he was 15, buying physical infrastructure and reselling it to automotive companies in his native Northwest Ohio. A few years later, he built a hosting company’s control panel that won Gartner’s cloud portal of the year.
His experience as an entrepreneur and his work with cloud hosting led him to his next big project: founding Cycle in 2014. His goal was to create a platform that would help companies build their websites more easily, no matter their technical expertise. “It was similar to SquareSpace, except more business-oriented,” he says.
From the beginning, Warner wanted to enable companies not just to build great apps, but to deploy them at scale too. At the time, though, “the other technical pieces such as containers just didn’t really exist,” he says. “We tried, but there were just so many potential security issues and scaling issues that made it very difficult. Without containers, it was challenging to accomplish our goal of allowing developers to use whatever languages and tools they were familiar with.”
Containers to the Rescue
And then came Docker. One day, “we were sitting there deciding, ‘How are we going to solve these hurdles,’ when we saw a Tweet about DockerCon,” Warner recalls. “We were like, ‘What the hell is Docker? Oh, containers. Containers could solve this.’ Over the next week, we decided to pivot the platform into a container orchestrator. We had started writing the code for the platform before we ever started a container.” Today, Cycle is part of the Open Container Initiative, alongside giants like Red Hat and Google.
With the advent of containerization, Warner was able to achieve his goal, turning Cycle into a software orchestration platform with a single unified interface that allows people to deploy and manage containers in an efficient way. “Our customers might not have the technical knowledge of how to deploy these applications at scale, or even the time,” he says. “They can just have that problem solved for them.”
This containers-as-a-service business officially launched in September 2016, with its focus on individual developers and a public-cloud approach. “We owned the infrastructure ourselves and people would upload containers to it,” explains Warner. “But as we started talking to more businesses, they said, ‘Hey, the way you run containers is fantastic. It’s so much easier than everyone else. But we want physical isolation between tenants.’”
The Equinix Metal Partnership
That led to another pivot in the spring of 2017—to allow companies to deploy and scale on bare-metal infrastructure—via a partnership with Equinix Metal. Again, it was a matter of finding the key missing piece to help Cycle meet its goal efficiently. After meeting the Equinix Metal team at DockerCon 2016, Warner says, “we started playing around with their API and realized just how incredibly stable it was, and how compared to a lot of other infrastructure APIs, the failure rate was incredibly low.”
Today, customers can create an account at https://cycle.io/, choose what Equinix Metal servers they want, and within minutes, be online with CycleOS installed on those Equinix Metal servers. They don’t have to create separate accounts or manage any integrations. “We wanted to streamline the deployment process,” says Warner. “We don’t want users to have two different invoices, two different accounts and things like that. Someone can go from sign up to a Cycle-powered private cloud on Equinix Metal infrastructure within 15 minutes, which is actually really exciting to us.”
The new partnership required the Cycle team to tear into their existing code, which had taken two years to develop. Luckily, they were able to reuse about 80% of it. “We had some highly respected people in the space, from the cloud computing CTO at Cisco to the CTO of CoreOS, to just a whole slew of people who are deep in the container space, vet the existing platform,” says Warner. “We got really good reviews on it, so we wanted to reuse a lot of the tech.” Most of the work they ended up having to do was to make it possible to automate installations on Equinix Metal.
In December 2017, Cycle brought its first clients onto the new platform. Next up: “pouring gas on the fire and going full steam” on growing its customer base, mostly among dev shops, SaaS providers, and other businesses who manage large microservice-based applications.
The Bare Metal Advantage
But Warner doesn’t think it ends there. “There are a couple of niches that we can target just because of the fact that, unlike many other solutions, people can easily choose what infrastructure is best for their applications,” he says. “We could get into machine learning, blockchain, and data processing companies because everything in Cycle is bare metal; there’s no virtualization in our stack whatsoever. This allows the performance of container-based applications to be unthrottled at native bare metal speeds.”
Partnering with Equinix Metal didn’t just fill a need; it was also a great enabler for Cycle. “The technical capabilities that are included by default, like native IPv6 and Global BGP, allowed us to build our offering faster,” says Warner. “And it’s going to allow the quality of the features that we provide to our users to be even better.”
Cycle’s biggest competitive advantage, Warner believes, is its simplicity of use. “Kubernetes can solve a lot of problems, but it’s a huge hassle to deploy and manage,” he says. “Cycle can automate all of that and have you up and running within 15 minutes on your own infrastructure.” Because Cycle is OCI compliant, any containers that follow OCI’s runtime spec and image spec are compatible with Cycle. “Anyone that’s using Docker will be able to immediately use Cycle,” he adds.
With its new platform successfully launched and plans underway to grow the business, Cycle is settling into its new headquarters in Reno, Nevada. “Reno is starting to become a bigger tech scene with tons of new startups and the expansion of larger established tech companies like Tesla, Switch, and Apple,” says Warner. “Recently, Switch opened one of the world’s largest data centers just outside the city. There’s just so much happening infrastructure-wise, it’s a really exciting place to be.” And, he says, there’s the added bonus of having the Sierra Nevada mountains and Lake Tahoe nearby. “After living in Toledo, Ohio, for my entire life up until the last year, it’s really nice to be in a place that offers year-round things to do outdoors.”