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Building a cloud computing pioneer

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By Mikael Lirbank, CEO, Witsbits

Lately I’ve been getting lots of questions about being one of the original cloud computing pioneers and the story of Witsbits, so I thought I’d get it down here. My co-founders and I created Witsbits in 2006, and after experimenting with a few different cloud offerings, we eventually shifted our focus onto selling software for cloud deployments. By 2010, everyone wanted to jump on the cloud bandwagon, but we quickly realized that most companies were intimidated by the complexity of available products. This troubled me.

One day in January 2011, I woke up on a typically dark and cold Swedish morning with an idea that I just couldn’t shake. I’d occasionally dreamt up ideas before, but those seemingly great thoughts always turned out to really suck after only a short period of sober contemplation. So I didn’t expect this one to be any different, but it was.

I realized that we could shave tons of time and complexity off virtualization if we, from the customer perspective, could get rid of the virtualization software itself (or at least most of it) and its configuration files, and make the remaining parts self-configuring and self-upgrading. While products offered by industry incumbents like VMware, Citrix and Microsoft offer advanced functionality and flexible customization and configuration capabilities, this also makes them very complex to deploy and maintain. Since most virtualization deployments are quite standard, IT administrators end up spending hours on configuring virtualization with default settings over and over again.

I thought, what if we could drastically simplify the process of setting up and managing virtualized servers, and do it all as a service to meet the needs of most IT departments? This would free up tons and tons of person-hours for more strategic work, and drastically change the day-to-day lives of IT administrators. So we decided to build a one-size-fits-all virtualization service for the 80% of the market that tend to use virtualization in a typical or default way.

The idea seemed almost too simple, but the more I researched it, the more clear the opportunity was. So we went for it, and we’re aiming to do to the virtualization industry what Salesforce.com did to CRM software – by simplifying the experience, lowering the barriers to adoption, and providing much more value than administrators can get with VMware or others.

After our investors approved the change in focus, we put our awesome development team on the task and came out with a prototype in 30 days, and then the first version of our new product in just 60 days. With LIVEvisor, our self-configuring bare metal hypervisor, and Director, our web-based management system, I believe we’ve made virtualization deployment and server management dead simple. We’re making it as easy as pushing the power button on your physical server to magically set it up for hosting virtual machines and remote management.

I’m very pleased at the traction we’re seeing so far, especially amongst managed service providers (MSPs), who run IT departments for several companies at once. Our product lets them get new customers provisioned faster than they could’ve imagined (in minutes versus weeks or months), because it requires no installation or configuration. MSPs tell us that they love how Witsbits lets them easily manage all of their clients’ servers centrally in one place (whether they sit in the cloud or on premise) without spending time writing scripts, juggling APIs, setting up encrypted tunnels, etc.

Towards the end of 2011, we moved our headquarters to San Francisco, but kept our engineering team in Sweden. This enabled us to join the extensive cloud and virtualization ecosystem in Silicon Valley and be close to the latest industry trends, while still having access to Swedish engineering talent and keeping our existing team of great coders intact.

Today, we’re gathering feedback from customers and iterating our SaaS-based virtualization product on a weekly basis. Witsbits provides an easy, quick, affordable on-ramp to the benefits of virtualization (like transitioning workloads between locations and providers, business continuity, etc.), while exposing less and less of its complexities (like time-consuming configuration legwork, etc.).

Feel free to give Witsbits a spin, and let us know what you think!