Samsung acquires Joyent: A CTO’s perspective

Let me not bury the lede: Samsung is acquiring Joyent, and Scott’s blog entry explains why we feel that this is such a good fit. As Joyent’s CTO, I wanted to offer my perspective and couch this acquisition in its broader historical context: the world’s largest consumer electronics company is acquiring a cloud computing pioneer; what’s going on here?

A decade ago, one probably wouldn't have guessed that the leaders in computing—which at the time included the survivors from the mainframe, minicomputer, workstation and personal computer revolutions—would become a search engine and an online bookstore. In this regard, cloud computing managed to achieve what previous computing revolutions did not: shift the wellspring of innovation away from those who merely design machines towards those who actually use them to solve their own problems. This shift—accelerated (if not outright facilitated) by the rise of open source—has left yesterday's computing leaders displaced and disoriented; not only do they not have the solutions, but at a very real level they don't even understand the problem: these legacy companies have never themselves meaningfully deployed on the cloud and (despite nodding along with cloud computing) they still really struggle to understand why anyone would do it that way.

At Joyent, we have seen this disconnect first hand: over the years, many (all?) computing infrastructure companies have come calling at one time or another, with varying degrees of seriousness and aspiration. In these conversations, it was clear that while impressed with our technology (and gratifyingly, always astonished with the strength of our small team), there was also a palpable sense of fear—as if their worst nightmare was that our technology would thrive under their aegis and pose a mortal threat to their existing (and more comfortable) lines of business. So the conversations—all initiated at their behest—went nowhere, and that always felt (frankly) like a relief.

For me, these clumsy and conflicted courtships stood in stark contrast to the conversations with the companies and technologists actually trying to use cloud computing to solve big, thorny problems—conversations I have always found to be energizing, forward-looking and thought-provoking. And in the past year, with the introduction and enthusiastic reception of Triton, the conversations have taken on new scope and energy: our technology is increasingly viewed not as merely "an amazing work of engineering", but as an essential foundation for a container-native future.

Recently, one such conversation became particularly intriguing: some technologists in the mobile division of Samsung started asking some very probing questions about our Manta object storage system. Clearly savvy, they started testing Manta and our Triton container as a service solution aggressively, and began asking questions that were both deep (e.g., regarding particular implementation decisions) and broad (e.g., about other aspects of our technology portfolio). With respect to Manta in particular, Samsung asked about an attribute of scale that we believed we could achieve in principle, but hadn't yet had the opportunity (read: millions of dollars worth of spare hardware) to validate in practice. One never knows what to think about such grandiose questions (and one certainly doesn't want to succumb to the trap of wishful thinking!), but we knew that things were getting serious when, after we explained that we lacked sufficient hardware to be certain of the system's performance at their desired level of scale, they offered to provide us with the necessary hardware to perform the test. (!) A few weeks later (most of which was spent on the significant logistics of getting access to such a large quantity of hardware and assuring necessary levels of connectivity), we had results in hand: we could indeed achieve the level of scale that they desired (and we learned plenty about how our software behaves at that level besides).

From there, we still didn't necessarily know where things would go: on the one hand, despite counting many large enterprises as customers, we had never had a potential customer this large who was this serious—but on the other, one of the world's largest and most innovative companies betting its future on a startup still seemed more like a Silicon Valley romance novel than a realistic aspiration. Still, as we heard Samsung's vision—which included using Triton and Manta as the server-side foundation for a new generation of mobile- and IoT-based applications—it was hard not to get excited. And as our engineering teams got to know one another, we found that beneath the exciting vision was a foundation of shared values: we both cared deeply about not only innovation but also robustness—and that we both valued complete understanding when systems misbehaved. The more we got to know one another, the clearer it became that together we could summon a level of scale, agility and innovation that would be greater than the sum of our parts—that together, our technology could create a new titan of container-native computing.

Given this backstory, there should be little surprise that Samsung is buying Joyent. We are, if it needs to be said, seriously pumped: not only will Samsung quickly become the largest user of our technology, their use-cases will drive our ongoing innovation in developing and operating our public cloud. We will also continue to set ourselves apart from other public cloud operators by making our software available for operators to run their own. And critically for us personally, we can confirm Samsung's commitment to keeping our platform open source: after we open sourced our stack eighteen months ago—and having seen first-hand not only the technical but also the commercial benefits of being open source—there was no way we would contemplate returning to the dark ages of proprietary software! With their strong commitment to our existing strategy, the acquisition of Joyent by Samsung is not—in Silicon Valley's tacky vernacular—an "exit", but rather an entrance: our new-found level of scale will allow us to use our proven technologies to tackle a new scope of problems, and drive another generation of innovation that will have benefits not just within Samsung but far beyond it.

So if you are a consumer of the services we run or the software we make—either on the public cloud, as a software customer, or as a member of the SmartOS, Triton and/or Manta communities—you should take this as profound validation: one of the world's largest companies (!) sees what you yourself saw, and has seen fit to supercharge the technology with the strength of its size. For those who have been enamored with our technology but have questioned whether our band of systems software renegades can actually compete with larger companies, you can take solace that our future and scale are assured. Finally, for those who have long believed in us and in our technology, a personal note on behalf of all Joyeurs: thank you, from the bottom of our hearts—your faith in us has always inspired us to do our best work, and we look forward to working with you for years to come!

Post written by Bryan Cantrill, CTO