Anshu Agarwal has a tremendous record of working in startups that had successful exits. Now for the first time, along with her co-founders, she is actually founding the startup herself. Nimbella is a serverless platform that is cloud-agnostic and makes developing and deploying applications easy. Whether in a public cloud, private data center or both, Nimbella can help.
In this DevOps Chat, we speak with Anshu about her own personal journey and where Nimbella is and what the plans are for going forward.
As usual, the streaming audio is immediately below, followed by the transcript of our conversation.
Alan Shimel: Hello, everyone, it’s Alan Shimel of DevOps.com and you’re listening to another DevOps Chat. Today’s chat actually features a company that’s just starting out here, but it’s a guest who’s had a rather long career in the tech space. As long as mine, even, at some point, but I’m sure I’m much older. Anyway, I’d like to introduce you to Anshu Agarwal. And, Anshu, if I messed up your last name, I apologize. Was that good?
Anshu Agarwal: Thank you, Alan. You said it perfectly right. Thank you for having me today.
Shimel: Thank you. So, Anshu, let’s start off – I referenced that you’d been in tech a while. Let’s give people an idea of your personal journey that brings you here today, even going back to Speedera and beyond, if you’d like, but if you wanna start with Speedera, that’s fine. But let’s give folks an idea of who you are, what your background is.
Agarwal: Sure. Thank you. So I am an engineer by background and I moved into product management and marketing after I finished my MBA. And, after that, I joined a startup and then the startup bug never left me. So I joined Speedera, which got acquired by Akamai. Then I joined another startup, Ankeena, which got acquired by Juniper. Another startup, ConteXtream, got acquired by HP. And my most recent startup, Cedexis got acquired by Citrix, so I have been acquired four times. And, in all of those companies, I kind of delivered the success for other people’s ideas because they were all successful startups, got acquired by very, very large companies, so they were indeed – from value standards, they’re considered successful, but, for myself, I had never really done a company of my own.
So, when I got the opportunity of just starting and being a founder of a cloud infrastructure, because that’s my background – I’ve been doing cloud infrastructure for last 15 to 20 years – there was no question that I wouldn’t do it. And we got started on this company – the company name is “Nimbella.” And it is in the serverless framework or serverless platform space. And we are kind of disrupting what serverless is, so – or we are providing what serverless promises to the developers. So that’s what we are working on now.
Shimel: Excellent. You know, you’re way too modest and humble because, for many people listening, whether they’re in the valley or Boulder or Austin or New York or Boston or London or Bangalore or anywhere else in this world, having four startups that were acquired by companies like Akamai, HP, Citrix, and I forgot the fourth one – I apologize – a lot of people would call that a career. Right? I mean, whether they founded the companies or not, just being associated with four companies that had successful exits to large companies like that is something to be proud of and it speaks volumes as to either you’re really, really lucky or you’re doing something right. Right? So congratulations to you for that.
So you’ve mentioned Nimbella and I wanna kind of share with our audience up front that Nimbella is – you have raised some funds for the company and there’s a great startup – there’s a great founders group involved. You mentioned, I think, one of your cohorts from Speedera; I think there’s two other founders in the group. But the company’s sorta still – I don’t wanna say stealth, but pre-product, let’s call it. Pre-public-product. So I don’t wanna put you on the spot. I’d rather talk, I think, if it’s okay, Anshu, about some of the problems you see and potential solutions that we see.
You know, we live in a great time for developers and engineers. Internet time, right? We’ve gone from servers to hypervisors to containers. Now serverless. And serverless seems to be all the rage, but, like any new technology, it’s not birthed mature, right? It doesn’t come out mature; it doesn’t start mature. And so there’s gonna be growing pains. Can you share with our audience a little bit about what you see as some of the growing pains around serverless or what you’re hearing from people around that?
Agarwal: Absolutely. Well, thank you for – this is a great question because it is definitely the best thing that’s happening for developers. The reason I say that is because what developers really want is to develop their business logic or develop the code and not worry about the infrastructure. And serverless promise is all about that, that you don’t have to worry about the infrastructure. You don’t ever have to worry about how it scales, how it is secured. Anything that requires the knowledge of infrastructure should not be a developer’s worry.
But, in today’s serverless frameworks – and there are a few serverless frameworks and some are very popular ones – there is so much complexity still for the developers because they have to combine many services. And, for instance, they have to think about storage, they have to think about identity management, and they have to learn all these services and integrate. Not only that, the management and debugging is still an issue. And these are growing pains, as you mentioned. The serverless computing is still in a nascent stage and, therefore, it’s lacking all the abstractions that are needed for the adoption to accelerate into new markets and application domains.
Not only that, serverless today, if you look at it, is used only for stateless applications, so you’ll see it in IoT applications, you’ll see it in reactive kind of applications only. It is not suited for long-running or stateful workloads. The reason being is because serverless today is serverless compute; it is not serverless storage. So that’s another problem. We may consider it as a problem or we may consider it as the limited adoption of the technology, but that’s something we have to address if we want this to be adopted in general, across all workloads. Then the –
Shimel: I’m sorry. We may also consider it as an opportunity, right? I mean –
Agarwal: Oh, absolutely.
Agarwal: Absolutely. And that’s what we’re doing. And I’m gonna talk about Nimbella and how Nimbella is addressing it.
Agarwal: Another important aspect of serverless today is, like any new technology environment, there is serious vendor lock-in because, if you are using AWS’s Lambda serverless framework, you are programming to the nuts and bolts of Lambda. If you are using Google, you are programming to GCP, and so it is with Microsoft Azure. So, in a sense, you are programming to proprietary frameworks and, therefore, your code is not cloud-portable.
So, tomorrow, if your company decides that, “Now we are going to move from AWS to Google,” you gotta rewrite the whole thing again. So that is actually, again, the serverless promise, and, therefore, vendor lock-in is very real, especially for the companies, actually, that choose not to go to public cloud because they’re part of regulated industry or whatever _____. They want something to be running in their own private cloud; these serverless frameworks are not an option for them. And then, say, you were able to write code for all different frameworks, but then the complexity of operations is there because you can’t monitor and observe at each level since these are proprietary frameworks across these clouds.
So there are serious issues for widespread adoption and that’s where we come in. That’s the opportunity we looked at when we decided to create this company, is we want to create a platform, a framework, that is providing all the necessary abstractions so the developer is not to worry about how the infrastructure works, how to scale the code, how to secure the code. The code is just nebulous logic that they write. Then it is also suited for long-running, stateful, streaming workloads, such as AI/ML workloads. I mean, we have a greater adoption of AI happening in every industry. If we are not going to be able to handle AI workloads, we are missing a big market.
And those are real, real problems and we are addressing it with Nimbella, you know, the technical problems. Then there are operational issues where you want cloud portability, so we are also addressing that part because we are providing a layer of abstraction and it’s open-core-based, so a developer can program the way they program the business logic and not worry about which cloud they’re writing.
Shimel: Got it. Got it, got it, got it. So, again, I don’t wanna be uncomfortable or make you uncomfortable with what we’re gonna talk about, but, you know, I was at KubeCon out in Seattle last month – seems like a year ago, but it was only last month – and, surprisingly or not surprisingly, “serverless” seemed to be on everyone’s lips. Right? And maybe some people listening to this are saying, “Wait a second, Kubernetes is for containers and containers can run on bare metal, yeah, but they run on VMware or hypervisor as well.” What do you think the role of Kubernetes is in the serverless future? Fair?
Agarwal: Kubernetes is a great technology. I really think it has great future. And serverless frameworks use Kubernetes or something else like that. And we were also at KubeCon. It was actually our first conference as an Nimbella person attending – one of my cofounders, who actually is the creator of OpenWhisk Apache, a serverless framework, he attended it. And he mentioned the same thing that you mentioned, that serverless was on everybody’s slide deck. Okay? It is something everybody is looking at; it is something everybody is kind of they have it on their roadmap, that they wanna work on it. They wanna look at it and see if it works for their environment.
And Kubernetes is perfect, actually. It provides the platform needed because it is widely accepted these days and it provides the necessary environment, but, again, it should not be the burden of a developer to know how to run, work with Kubernetes. It should be the infrastructure serverless framework that provides that to the developer and the developer’s still only programming the logic. It’s not for the developer to worry on what environment, what container environment they are working on and what VMs are being used and what bare metal is being used. That’s all abstracted away for the developer.
Shimel: Got it. Got it, got it, got it. So, you know, I’m sure there are people listening to us today who are thinking to themselves, “This woman has been in four startups and has had tremendous success.” And now I’m sure you’re a CEO, right, of Nimbella and you’re cofounder –
Agarwal: That is correct.
Shimel: Right? And I’m hoping there’s a whole bunch of women engineers out here or women entrepreneurs who are listening to you, saying, “Hey, if she can do it, I can do it.” And we don’t have a lot of time left, but I wanna address those folks there, that are near and dear to me for a lot of reasons. What’s your advice to them?
Agarwal: Absolutely. If I can do it, they can do it. That is a very true statement. And, I mean, you said some great words about me, but I consider myself average successful person and, yes, I have been lucky that the four companies I’ve worked for had great exits. But being a founder and CEO is still very different from what I did for the other companies before. So, basically, when you are part of the company, other companies, you’re not bothered by operational aspects of the company. You’re not bothered by hiring for every possible function in the company. So the skill sets that I’m developing now, there is no other experience that could have taught me that, so, even though – I say, “Everybody can do it and anybody can do it,” but they still have to learn the art of running a company on the job. It just – there is no course. There is no education that can be given because you have to experience it.
So, to all the women engineers that are listening, I would say, “If I can do it, you can do it. You just have to just get into it. You just have to dive into it and it will come to you. You will develop your advisors. You will develop the people who help you on the way because you won’t have all the skill sets, but you will know who to go to for what skill set, as you take that role.”
Shimel: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, women or not women, entrepreneurs – I’ve also founded and helped start my fair share of companies – I don’t know if it’s courage or just pure moxie, if you will, right? You just put one foot in front of the other, right, and you just keep moving forward. And you can’t boil the ocean, right, but you can – these things are incremental, right, and they’re evolutionary. They’re not _____ –
Agarwal: Absolutely. You’re absolutely right. These are such an incremental thing and you may be not finding the best solution, but you are optimizing your solution, at every step, because you’re trying to handle so many things and, if you wait for the best solution to arrive, it may be too late. So you’re kind of optimizing the solution for whatever issue or whatever problem you’re handling, and you move on with that. And it’s just only time will tell how successful I am in the role, but this is my experience six months into this company, six or seven months into this company, and I’m still learning the art.
Shimel: Absolutely, it is. So what do you – short-term future, where can we find out more on Nimbella or when will we find out more, do you think?
Agarwal: Oh, absolutely. So there is some information on the website – very little information, I would say – but it gives you a flavor of what we are doing. Then, in Q1, this quarter, we are going to be releasing our developer playground, which is actually – because the buyer of serverless technology is the developer and developer experience is the most important thing, a developer has to feel one with the programming experience. And that’s the true serverless promise and we wanna deliver on that promise, so, in Q1, we are going to release that.
And, in later quarter, in Q2, since I have mentioned private cloud and hybrid cloud, there will be offering for private cloud in Q2. So, as this quarter progresses, we are going to populate the website more with the content and we’re going to host more meetings like this and make it available to the developer community in general, our solution, and then, later on, for enterprise sites.
Shimel: Great. Great, great, great. Anshu, when I started, I said, “These are only about 15 minutes. It’s gonna go so quick, you won’t believe it.” If I told you we’re closer to 20 minutes already, you’d probably say, “Oh, my,” but we are and we’re gonna need to call an end to this DevOps Chat. You know what? It sounds like there’s a lot going on here and, if we can have you back on, you know –
Agarwal: Oh, that would be great, Alan. I really hope we can –
Agarwal: I really hope we can get back when we have our developer playground because I’d love to talk more about it.
Shimel: I promise you we will.
Agarwal: Thank you.
Shimel: Promise you we will. Thank you. Anshu Agarwal, founder/CEO of Nimbella, our guest here on this DevOps Chat. This is Alan Shimel and you’ve just listened to another chat.