The story of our investment in Docker (via Unikernel Systems) -- and why enterprises are running their business on their commercial platform
Sometimes it takes a while to announce a new Mosaic portfolio company. In this instance, we invested in Docker in 2015! This is the story of that investment, and why we believe Docker has a very bright future.
It all began with an email intro from an old friend. I was introduced to Balraj Singh in 2014 by Adam Grosser, a buddy from my Silicon Valley startup years. Adam and I had worked closely together in the mid-late 1990s as early employees at @Home, the broadband pioneer.
I had known of Balraj (and his brother Amit’s) reputations from their successful previous startup, Peribit — a Foundation/Accel/Mayfield investment that pioneered WAN optimization, and was eventually acquired by Juniper. Following the exit, Balraj had migrated from the Bay Area to Britain, and mid-career decided to enroll in a PhD program at the Cambridge’s famous Computer Science Department. There, quite by chance, he began a collaboration with a very talented team in what became Unikernel Systems.
In doing our diligence, the three of us on the investment team at Mosaic were blown away by the quality of the team the Balraj had assembled including his fellow founders, CTO Anil Madhavapeddy (a tenured Cambridge professor) and Chief Architect Thomas Gazagnaire. The team had extensive backgrounds in deep systems technology. Anil and few others were part of the original Xen project team – Xen is the virtualization technology that powers the majority of the workloads in the cloud today.
In addition to their background in systems, the team was focused on an open source project called MirageOS, which centered on the idea of packaging only the minimal set of libraries necessary to run a specific application. MirageOS was a great technology, and had a number of applications. We weren’t the only ones who saw its potential…
Docker CTO Solomon Hykes also recognised the potential of both the technology and the Unikernel Systems team. He began to ideate on ways that the project could be leveraged in his developer software. Docker began to seriously to look at Unikernel Systems as an acquisition, just at the time as we were seriously interested in making a Series A investment! Fortunately for us, through our relationship with Peter Fenton at Benchmark (Docker Board member), we had the right introductions to the Docker leadership team and were able to participate in Series D of Docker in lieu of a direct investment in Unikernel Systems.
One of the most exciting outcomes of our investment is the success that Balraj’s team has had within Docker. That team was, and is, directly involved in the architectural and development work of Docker’s incredibly successful Desktop products: Docker for Mac and Docker for Windows. These solutions allow for a native Docker developer experience with a fast and easy installation, which was a major productivity leap forward for its users at the time of launch in 2016. These two solutions to this day represent the most successful developer tools in the entire container ecosystem; in fact in 2017 alone there were an additional one million developers using this software for the speed of development and consistency of dev environment they provide. It is also technology and work from the team that has resulted in successful delivery in the desktop solutions of an integrated Kubernetes distribution. The result is the easiest to deploy Kubernetes solution on the market for developers who want to develop natively in Docker but test deployment of their applications on the Kubernetes orchestrator.
Fast-forward to 2018, and Docker has recently celebrated its fifth birthday with technology that has evolved from open source developer tools to a complete enterprise container platform; Docker Enterprise Edition (Docker EE). Docker EE is the industry’s leading enterprise-ready container platform that has been adopted by over 450 commercial customers including the likes of GE, GSK, MetLife and Societe Generale, etc., who seek a containerization platform to tackle their strategic digital and cloud initiatives.
Enterprises are looking to invest in a containerization platform that provides them the freedom of choice to innovate at their own pace and in their own way, without technology or infrastructure lock-in. It is organizations like MetLife who are taking hundreds of their existing applications and, with no re-coding, containerizing them and putting them in the Docker platform. The result is dramatic operational savings of over 50% that are then helping to fund innovation initiatives within these organizations in the areas of microservices and intelligent applications.
At Mosaic, we remain confident that even more is to come from the business, and we look forward to continuing our involvement!