The soul of a new computer company

Over the summer, I described preparing for my next expedition. I’m thrilled to announce that the expedition is now plotted, the funds are raised, and the bags are packed: together with Steve Tuck and Jess Frazelle, we have started Oxide Computer Company.

Starting a computer company may sound crazy (and you would certainly be forgiven a double-take!), but it stems from a belief that I hold in my marrow: that hardware and software should each be built with the other in mind. For me, this belief dates back a quarter century: when I first came to Sun Microsystems in the mid-1990s, it was explicitly to work on operating system kernel development at a computer company — at a time when that very idea was iconoclastic. And when we started Fishworks a decade later, the belief in fully integrated software and hardware was so deeply rooted into our endeavor as to be eponymous: it was the “FISH” in “Fishworks.” In working at a cloud computing company over the past decade, economic realities forced me to suppress this belief to a degree — but it now burns hotter than ever after having endured the consequences of a world divided: in running a cloud, our most vexing problems emanated from the deepest bowels of the stack, when hardware and (especially) firmware operated at cross purposes with our systems software.

As I began to think about what was next, I was haunted by the pain and futility of trying to build a cloud with PC-era systems. At the same time, seeing the kinds of solutions that the hyperscalers had developed for themselves had always left me with equal parts admiration and frustration: their rack-level designs are a clear win — why are these designs cloistered among so few? And even in as much as the hardware could be found through admirable efforts like the Open Compute Project, the software necessary to realize its full potential has remained cruelly unavailable.

Alongside my inescapable technical beliefs has been a commercial one: even as the world is moving (or has moved) to elastic, API-driven computing, there remain good reasons to run on one’s own equipment! Further, as cloud-borne SaaS companies mature from being strictly growth focused to being more margin focused, it seems likely that more will consider buying machines instead of always renting them.

It was in the confluence of these sentiments that an idea began to take shape: the world needed a company to develop and deliver integrated, hyperscaler-class infrastructure to the broader market — that we needed to start a computer company. The “we” here is paramount: in Steve and Jess, I feel blessed to not only share a vision of our future, but to have diverse perspectives on how infrastructure is designed, built, sold, operated and run. And most important of all (with the emphasis itself being a reflection of hard-won wisdom), we three share deeply-held values: we have the same principled approach, with shared aspirations for building the kind of company that customers will love to buy from — and employees will be proud to work for.

Together, as we looked harder at the problem, we saw the opportunity more and more clearly: the rise of open firmware and the broadening of the Open Compute Project made this more technically feasible than ever; the sharpening desire among customers for a true cloud-like on-prem experience (and the neglect those customers felt in the market) made it more in demand than ever. With accelerating conviction that we would build a company to do this, we needed a name — and once we hit on Oxide, we knew it was us: oxides form much of the earth’s crust, giving a connotation of foundation; silicon, the element that is the foundation of all of computing, is found in nature in its oxide; and (yes!) iron oxide is also known as Rust, a programming language we see playing a substantial role for us. Were there any doubt, that Oxide can also be pseudo-written in hexadecimal — as 0x1de — pretty much sealed the deal!

There was just one question left, and it was an existential one: could we find an investor who saw what we saw in Oxide? Fortunately, the answer to this question had been emphatic and unequivocal: in the incredible team at Eclipse Ventures, we found investors that not only understood the space and the market, but also the challenges of solving hard technical problems. And we are deeply honored to have Eclipse’s singular Pierre Lamond joining us on our board; we can imagine no better a start for a new computer company!

So while there is a long and rocky path ahead, we are at last underway on our improbable journey! If you haven’t yet, read Jess’s blog on Oxide being born on a garage. If you find yourself battling the problems we’re aiming to fix, please join our mailing list. If you are a technologist who feels this problem in your bones as we do, consider joining us. And if nothing else, and you would like to hear some terrific stories of life at the hardware/software interface, check out our incredible podcast On the Metal!

Posted on December 2, 2019 at 5:30 am by bmc · Permalink
In: Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Robin Harris
    on December 2, 2019 at 11:09 am

    Bryan, I applaud your embrace of private clouds. As I noted ( darn near a decade ago:

    “Public and private will not displace each other: they will coexist just as public and private power sources coexist today.”

    Since then I’ve come to believe that the economic benefits that the hyperscale cloud vendors claim are overstated. AWS profit margins come from customers, and are ripe for recapture by enterprises.

    Good luck!

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  3. Written by Michael
    on December 2, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    This is SO exciting!

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