Thoughts on the Microsoft Deis Acquisition

Apr 14 2017

The Microsoft acquisition of Deis is my second major acquisition in a few years. Not long ago, Revolv was acquired by Google.

Earlier this week, Microsoft and Deis jointly announced the acquisition. Wired ran an interesting story with interviews, while TechCrunch and 20+ others explored Deis' history. The Denver Post, ran a nice story on Deis' local roots.

At the end of 2014, Google/Nest acquired Revolv, the startup I left HP to be a part of. Nest was in the midst of a rocky ride, and the Revolv product was shutdown.

It's an enjoyable thing to be part of a startup that builds something from scratch, carves out a valuable niche, attracts big attention, and is then absorbed into a larger organization. That kind of trajectory can't be described as anything else but success. Deis and Revolv both experienced this pattern.

But I wanted to take a moment to explore some differences.

Revolv and the New Ordinary

With Revolv, we built a game-changing IOT platform that even now, years later, nobody else has been able to replicate. Every major IOT device is still hopelessly siloed in a web of vendor lock-in and back-room contractual obligations. At Revolv, we pushed the opposite direction. We integrated with every protocol and platform that we could find. What makes me especially proud of that product (in a bittersweet sort of way) is that even today I miss it. It contributed to my practical life in a tangible way.

But to be candid for a moment, there is a problem with the IOT space. As with many early markets, the industry as a whole has not been able to separate the trendy from tomorrow's new ordinary. Revolv had the potential to build the new ordinary, where your house naturally responds to you. We were on that track. We knew what we were doing. Nest, however, did not. In my opinion they have never learned to view the home as anything other than the trappings for selling trendy thermostats, smoke alarms, and cameras.

Seriously, who wants to upgrade their thermostat to get the newest space-grey version? If that's the way you think about IOT, you don't get it. If IOT has a promise, it's to make the automated home as normal as indoor plumbing and electricity. Nest doesn't understand that.

Deis, Microsoft, and Ten Year Tech

Deis too has experienced a similar meteoric rise. When I started on that team, we were working on a PaaS system designed to be the open source alternative to Heroku. "Cloud Native" was not a term in the lexicon. But we were watching carefully as Kubernetes, Swarm, and Mesos each began to capture the attention of developers, SREs, and operators.

It was one of those moments in technology were there was a visceral feel to the environment: Something was changing, and the change would be big. And maybe it was my post-Google bias, but I couldn't help but identify Kubernetes as the horse to bet upon. Really, I think all of us at Deis felt that way.

Once we had re-focused our attention on Kubernetes, Deis began churning out new high-quality tools. Deis went through (and is still going through) a period of intense productivity. I am convinced that the reason for this is that the team we have just clicks. We like each other. We like this sector of technology. In fact, we're passionate about it.

When I am working on new technologies, I like to classify them as either "two year tech" or "ten year tech". In our fast-paced industry, many successful technologies only enjoy a success period of a couple of years. They are two-year techs. After a brief moment in the limelight, they fade into the background.

A ten-year tech is one that captures the spotlight for a long period of time. They become the new ordinary. Java. Linux. MS Office. GMail. They have staying power. Kubernetes has the potential to be one of those technologies.

What excites me about the Microsoft acquisition of Deis is that we--a team so passionate about this technology--are now situated inside of an existing ten-year-tech group inside of a company known for producing numerous ten year technologies.

I am not an optimist. I am an empiricist. And the available evidence suggests that we're on the cusp of creating tomorrow's new ordinary. That's right where I want to be.

This article is my opinion, and reflects no official position by employers past, present, or future.