Mirantis throws another hand grenade: Services are cool again

Mirantis, the #1 source of contentious and incendiary headlines, is making waves again with cofounder Boris Renski's claim that infrastructure software is dead

Mirantis throws another hand grenade: Services are cool again
OpenStack Foundation

I'm a big fan of Mirantis, the pure-play OpenStack vendor. It is one company that has no problem at all being contentious. Where other vendors tend to think deeply about the impacts of what they say and process their messages through multiple levels of communication staffers, Mirantis has an "ask forgiveness, not permission" approach. This must cause serious headaches for its long-suffering press staff, but it certainly provides serious fodder for the commentators out there.

Looking back over the years, Mirantis has been the source of many high-profile cloud stories. Of course, high-profile is a relative term, and it is, admittedly, a small number of people who watch the space that Mirantis plays in.

Nonetheless, some of the bombs it drops can have broader repercussions. Who can forget the time Mirantis was a big part of a story that suggested that VMware was losing a hugely important customer, PayPal. The story had a material impact on VMware's share price, at least temporarily, and, notwithstanding the somewhat dubious nature of the story, it got tongues wagging. Mirantis' very public falling out with its one-time investor Red Hat is another example of the company essentially writing its own headlines.

Mirantis' way of getting heard above the noise 

I'd like to think that Mirantis' tendency to cause a storm is due to simple naiveté and bluntness, but frankly, I'm pretty sure they're too smart for that. Rather, I think Mirantis has correctly assumed that the best way for them to compete in what is a hotly contested space (after all, they're up against vendors such as HPE, IBM, Cisco and Red Hat in the race for OpenStack hearts and minds) is to provide memorable soundbites that allow them to be heard above the noise.

A case in point is a contentious blog post by Mirantis co-founder and chief marketing officer Boris Renski. Apart from dancing up a storm at Mirantis' legendary OpenStack summit parties, Renski is a master of calling a spade a spade, and he does so today with aplomb in his piece.

The thrust of Renski's blog post is captured in the title, that infrastructure software is dead. The main point of Renski's thesis is that despite a headlong rush by almost all vendors to "productize" what they do, the reality is that service is actually the differentiator—both in Mirantis' particular area of cloud operating systems, but also more broadly in the technology industry. Renski suggests that any business whose model is predicated on selling licenses or subscription to software is doomed. In his post, he takes a few well-aimed kicks. In particular, companies like VMware seem to be the target.

Never one to mince words, Renski opines on the OpenStack space and Mirantis' place within it, suggesting:

"[Mirantis is] behind the largest OpenStack deployments on the planet, able to win deals from a super competent rival with 20 years of open source history. Now, I’d love to tell you that it’s all because Mirantis OpenStack software is so much better than everybody else’s OpenStack software, but I’d be lying. Everybody’s OpenStack software is equally bad. It’s also as bad as all the other infrastructure software. ... It’s all full of bugs, hard to upgrade and nightmare to operate. It’s all bad."

As I said, Renski doesn't pull any punches. But thanks to simply throwing punches, Renski justifies his perspective by suggesting that today's customers don’t care about software. Customers care about outcomes. He goes on to state:

"...the reason Mirantis has been successful is because, despite ourselves, outcomes are what we’ve been able to deliver to our customers by complimenting crappy OpenStack software with hordes of talented infrastructure hackers that made up for the gaps. We didn’t win because of the software. We won because we’ve been shouldering the pain associated turning OpenStack software into customer outcomes."

It is a provocative piece and one that flies in the face of current thinking regarding productizing as much of the service element as possible. Indeed, Mirantis has spent years talking about its "OpenStack product" despite the fact that the elephant in the room existed in that Mirantis is, at its essence, a service shop. Renski suggests that the eternal question of "is OpenStack mature?" is the wrong one, and OpenStack, like any other enterprise software, is never going to actually be ready for enterprise deployment without a service element.

There's a reason, after all, why pretty much every enterprise vendor under the sun has a significant services team—whether it's called that or not. It is also the reason why even vendors who have eschewed traditional enterprise approaches (a case in point being developer tools company Atlasssian, which famously "has no salespeople") still have services team to help their products gain customer success.

Reflecting on Mirantis' business, Renski points out that they get these conversations at their board every day: "People don't get that the long-term capital model for a high-margin service like managed OpenStack is arguably just as good or better than that for building and shipping software bits. It seems that it takes a certain person to understand that services, while creating challenges in terms of scaling, is still a good business to be in."

Mirantis is always a good one to provide entertainment, and there is a touch of theater in Renski's blog post. But beyond this, Renski raises some very valid points. Food for thought in these capitally constrained times.

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