Interview with Bert Armijo, 3Tera

Until recently, infrastructure companies have been completely eclipsed by the interest in Web 2.0 media darlings. However, investors and others are suddenly paying attention to the success of server virtualization and "utility computing" companies, who have been doing well despite the lack of press and sexiness. In an effort to look closer at companies in the infrastructure area, we recently talked with Aliso Viejo, California-based 3Tera ( 3Tera is developing an interesting product which sits at the intersection of both Web 2.0 and utility computing infrastructure, providing grid computing services for Web 2.0 and other online services. We spoke with Bert Armijo, VP Marketing and Product Management at 3Tera, about the firm. Bert was notably a co-founder of Topspin, which was successfully acquired by Cisco in 2005. Ben Kuo conducted the interview.

Explain to us what 3Tera's technology is, how it is used?

Bert Armijo: 3Tera is involved in enabling utility computing, which is the ability for people to run all of their IT and online services without owning or operating their own data center. To do that, we have a product called Applogic, which is a grid operating system, and basically takes all the resources in a data center and packages them up in a way that they can control it by running nothing but a browser. It allows you to set up a large scale computing system, to run your online CRM systems, or online gaming system, where you can run your entire operation from anywhere in the world using just the browser on your laptop.

What's the background of the company, and how did it come about?

Bert Armijo: It was one of those freakish events, where people meet, and don't realize how much they have in common. At TopSpin, a company I co-founded in 2000, we built a datacenter virtualization chip. We sold off the company a few years back. While I was there, I met up with a couple of the cofounders at 3Tera, when they were doing their VC rounds. We talked, and we started talking about how companies are trying to scale their online applications. I told them what we had tried at Topspin, what worked, and what did not. They showed me technology I hadn't seen before, which was Applogic. It was coincidental--if we hadn't met, the product probably wouldn't exist as it does. We have no direct competitors, and it's very unique. Mostly, people try to put together systems on their own, writing lots of scripts, and dealing with lots of elements on their own. We're the only system that can take an online service, a banking service, a gaming service, or a CRM service--if it runs on a server with no human intervention. We're completely unique, and there's an enormous savings in the amount of labor involved in running online applications. With us, you can have one system administrator running hundreds of servers, where the industry average is one administrator for twenty servers. It's an order of magnitude of enablement for small companies, to help them bring to market services they otherwise couldn't do.

How long has the firm been around, and how is the firm backed?

Bert Armijo: We're three years old. We have been in production for about a year, and came out of beta last September, almost exactly a year ago today. We're now on release 2.1, have a little over 100 users on the system, and the company is primarily self-funded. We're funded by the management and employees, with a few angel investors at this point in time. We have no venture capital at this point, though that's not a never, but none at the moment.

It looks like you just announced a recent with with a computer gaming firm--can you tell me a little bit about that?

Bert Armijo: The gaming space announcement was with Emergent Game Technologies, which provides middleware for the gaming space. They're very tight with developers, and provide software and services to bring games online. If you look at what's involved in putting on an online game--for example, World of Warcraft--it's now such a rich experience, it's a very complex and capital intensive investment to bring a game to market. At Emergent, they are putting together a suite of technologies, of which we are just one part, called the Platform. It's a utility computing service for game developers. The logistics and infrastructure are through AppLogic, which allows them to build and host applications. Developers to go to them for a turnkey, one stop shop, and can concentrate on creating the experience, rather than the logistics needed to power their applications. This is more and more necessary as games scale out further. The expectations of games are always accelerating, and there is a pressure on developers to provide better and better experience. This allows them to focus on the experience, and not the logistics. This is the first utility computing offering in the gaming space, and we're pleased to be working with the guys at Emergent.

Are there other areas you are seeing good traction with your product?

Bert Armijo: Most of our users are in the Web 2.0 and software as a service space. Say, if you are a software-as-a-service provider, and you have the software done. Today, without AppLogic, you're forced to rent a colocation cage, buy a lot of hardware, and stitch it all together. As you get more and more users, buying more and more hardware, it becomes a very capital intensive game. With AppLogic, you can go to our partners, and get a virtual data center. That allows you to build your infrastructure to power your application with no capital investment whatsoever. It's so easy to run, you don't need to hire others. You can get to market faster, it's a lot less capital intensive, and scaling is much easier. We've seen customers who really have just the CTO running operations, because it's that simple. These customers tend to run the gamut from four to five people, through a couple hundred people--that's the typical size of these operations. The resources range from a couple of servers, to a hundred servers. We service them either directly, or through hosted providers like Layered Technologies in Texas. Our largest corporate customer is British Telecom, as well as some utility computing users.

Clustered/grid computing always been difficult to implement, how is this different, and what does the API to your service look like?

Bert Armijo: You could call our special API, the fact that we have no APIs. We're different from traditional grid computing. In traditional grid, you write code to specific APIs the grid operating system provides. In AppLogic, we provide you with a way to provide virtual environments, and you run your traditional, exiting code. You can run any existing Linux code, with no code changes. We have users using everything from Zimbra to Apache to MySQL to Oracle. What we do is below the traditional OS level, we control the environment the software runs in, and provide software for people to build their infrastructure.

It's more like using our whiteboard. Today, when you put together an application, you get the folks responsible for your infrastructure in a room. You use a whiteboard, 99 percent of the time, and diagram out what you want to build. A firewall here, load balancer, NAS appliance, database, VPNs, and other boxes, and then you talk about what those boxes have to be--which servers, what software, and whose code. With AppLogic, it's very similar, but it's all online. It still looks like a whiteboard, but instead it's an editor, with drag and drop appliances. You draw what you like on a whiteboard, and then click on the run button. AppLogic captures information to build and maintain the application on the grid. You still write your application, but the infrastructure layer--wires, boxes, racks, and power supplies--all goes away. That's the layer we work at. We're replacing colocation with our virtual data center.

How much of this is your own technology, or are you leveraging other software?

Bert Armijo: We leverage some open source software, but the bulk of our intellectual property is how to assemble those pieces together through our whiteboard, and how to create a real application. That's where our intellectual property lies.

How big is the company now, in terms of people?

Bert Armijo: We have twenty people full time in California, and we also have R&D in Bulgaria and Israel. We've also got some people in Northern California. We're fairly small, but focused on growing revenue, not people.