The Kubernetes Current Blog

For Alation, Speed of Application Deployment is the Game

John Walter on “theCUBE” welcomed two guests as part of their AWS startup showcase during AWS re:Invent 2022 in Las Vegas. He spoke with Anant Verma, who is the Vice President of Engineering at Alation and Haseeb Budhani, who is the CEO and Co-Founder of Rafay Systems. Here’s what they had to say:

For those at home who might not be familiar with what Alation is up to these days, can you give us the 30,000 foot level view?

Anant Verma: Alation is both a startup and a leader in the enterprise data intelligence space. That includes many things, including data search, data discovery, metadata management, data cataloging, data governance, and data policy management. It’s a lot of different things that companies want to do with the hoards of data that they have. At Alation, our product is the answer to some of those problems. Alation has been running for about 10 years now and is a series A startup.

Alation and Rafay have worked together; tell us about that relationship.

Anant Verma: I joined Alation in January 2022, and this is part of the move of Alation to a more cloud-native solution. We have been running on AWS since last year, and as part of making our solution more cloud native, we have been looking to containerize our services and run them on Kubernetes. That’s the reason I joined Alation in the first place, to make sure that this migration to cloud-native actually works out for us.

This is a big move for a lot of companies that have done this in the past, including moving to Confluent or MongoDB. To do that we were looking at Kubernetes as a solution. I was personally looking for a way to speed up things and get things out in production as fast as possible. That’s when we met Rafay.

How has the Kubernetes platform influenced the work that the two of you are doing together?

Haseeb Budhani: The business we’re in is to help companies who adopt Kubernetes as an orchestration platform, to do it easier and faster. It’s a simple story. Everybody’s using Kubernetes, but it turns out that Kubernetes is actually not that easy to operationalize. Playing in a sandbox is one thing. Operationalizing this at a certain level of scale is not easy. Now we have a lot of enterprise customers who are deploying their own applications on Kubernetes, and we have many, many of them. But when it comes to a company like Alation, it’s a more complicated problem set, because they’re taking a very complex application, their application, but then they’re providing that as a service to their customers. So then we have a chain of customers we have to make happy. Anant’s team, the platform organization, has its internal customers who are the developers who are deploying applications, and then the company also has customers.

They also have to make sure that they get a good experience as they consume this application that happens to be running on Kubernetes. So that presents a really interesting challenge. How do we make this partnership successful? I will say that we’ve learned a lot from each other. And at the end of the day, the goal is for my customer, Anant specifically, to feel that this investment pays off. Because he has to pay us money, and we would like to get paid.

Of course, it reduces his internal expense expenditure, because otherwise, he’d have to do it himself. And perhaps most importantly, it’s not just the money, it’s that he can get to a certain goalpost significantly faster. The invention time for the platform that you have to build to run Kubernetes is significant because it is a very complex exercise. It took us four and a half years to get here. Do you want to do that again as a company? Why would you want to do that? As Rafay, we sell a product, but to what end? The product is why every enterprise and every ISV is building a Kubernetes platform in-house. But they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t need to. They should be able to consume that as a service. They should consume that as an engine, but still, the management layer is a gap in the market. How do I operationalize Kubernetes? What Rafay is doing is going to the world and saying “Hey, your team is technical. You understand the problem set. Would you like to build it? Or would you rather consume this as a service so you can go faster?” And resoundingly, the answer is, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I would prefer to buy.”

“The invention time for the platform that you have to build to run Kubernetes is significant because it is a very complex exercise. It took us four and a half years to get here. Why would [an enterprise] want to do that?” – Haseeb Budhani, CEO, Rafay Systems

Anant Verma: As Haseeb said, speed is the game. When we started talking, it only took us a couple of months to figure out whether Rafay was the right solution for us. We ended up purchasing Rafay in April and launched our product based on Rafay, Kubernetes, and EKS in August. That’s about four months later.

I’ve done some things like this before. It usually takes a couple of years just to figure out how to work with Kubernetes in production at a large scale. Right now we are running a 600-node cluster on Rafay, and that, in turn, is serving our customers.
One of the biggest things that show our progress is that we are running what we call a virtual hands-on lab. There are probably going to be about 500 people who are going to be attending it. We will spin up an Alation instance for each attendee right on the spot. Now, think about this enterprise software running. People just sign up for it, and it’s there for you right on the spot. That’s the beauty of the software that we have been building. That’s the beauty of the work that Rafay helped us to do over the last few months.

“We ended up purchasing Rafay in April and launched our product based on Rafay, Kubernetes, and EKS in August. That’s about four months later.” – Anant Verma, who is the Vice President of Engineering at Alation

Each customer has their own complexities and their own organizational barriers. How are you juggling that end of it?

Anant Verma: I think a lot of our customers who are large enterprise companies have a lot of data that they want us to work with. So one of the things that we have learned over the past few years is that we used to ship our software to the customers and then they would manage it, for their privacy and security reasons. But now that we are running in the cloud, they don’t need to juggle the infrastructure and the software management and upgrades and things like that, we do it for them. Now they don’t need to deal with all these software management issues. So that frees our customers up to do the things that they want to do. Of course, it makes our job harder, and I’m sure in turn it makes Rafay’s job harder.

What does your relationship with AWS do for you, when you go out and are looking for work? What kind of cache that brings to you?

Anant Verma: With AWS, there are a lot of programs in place making sure that as we move our customers into AWS, they can give us some, I wouldn’t call a discount, but there are some credits that you can get as you move your workloads on onto that platform. Our customers love it. They want us to do more things with AWS. It’s a pretty seamless way for us as well when we were talking about or thinking about moving into the cloud. AWS was our number one choice and that’s the only cloud that we are in today. We’re not going to go to any other place.

Haseeb Budhani: As the EKS team knows very well, we support Azure’s Kubernetes and Google’s Kubernetes and the community Kubernetes as well. But the number of customers on our platform who are AWS native, either a hundred percent or a large percentage – that’s the majority of our customer base. And AWS has made it very easy for us in a variety of ways to make us successful and our customers successful.

Anant mentioned the credit program they have, which is very useful because we can readily bring a customer to try things out, and they can do that at no cost. So they can spin up infrastructure, play with things, and AWS would cover the cost. I think, beyond that, there are multiple programs and you keep getting on bigger and bigger benefits.

As you make progress, what I’m finding is that there’s a great ecosystem of support that they provide us. They introduce us to customers, they help us think through architecture issues. We get access to the roadmap. We work very, very closely with the guest team. We spend a lot of time together. They take us seriously as a partner. They spend time with us because they understand that if they make their partners like Rafay successful at the end of the day, that helps the customer.

Anant’s customers, my customers – they are AWS’s customers also. AWS benefits because we are collectively helping them solve a problem faster. The goal of the cloud is to help people modernize, and reduce operational costs because data centers are expensive. Kubernetes at the enterprise level is a complex solution. If we don’t collectively work to save the customer effort, and essentially reduce their TCO for whatever it is they’re doing, then the cost of the cloud is too high. And AWS clearly understands and appreciates that, and that’s why they are going out of their area, frankly, to make us successful and make other companies successful in the startup program.

Anant Verma: Cloud is not new. It’s been there for a while. People used to build things on their own. And so what AWS has really done, is they have advanced the technology enough where everything is really as simple as just turning on a switch and using it, right? I love managed services, because I don’t need to put my own people in place to build and manage things right? If you want to use search, they have the open search; if you want to use caching, they have elastic cache, and so on. It’s really simple and easy to just pick and choose which services you want to use. And they’re ready to be consumed right away. And that’s a beautiful thing. and It’s how we can move really fast and get things done.

Alation uses Kubernetes and Rafay to achieve speed of application development by increasing ease of use and efficiency in their operations. Which ultimately saves them money and gets new products to market faster. And that is a winning combination.


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