Gauging “hotness” in startups is always fun. I’ve spent two of the last four weeks traveling in Silicon Valley, visiting with companies and going to events, and I heard more about Skyport Systems than perhaps any other company (Illumio being a close second).
The news surprised some folks when it became clear that Skyport is a hardware company, selling secure servers. Wait, what? Servers? Hardware? In a containerized, software-defined, virtual world?
We knew Skyport was doing security in the cloud. So I expected something more along the lines with the current buzzwords — say, an “open cloud container SDN and NFV security platform,” or [pick cloud jargon here]. Now that I’ve digested the news, I love the story. It’s simple and easy to understand, and it’s a great market strategy.
It’s refreshing to hear somebody talk about hardware security. A week ago I had a briefing with another company where I had to reach for the Tylenol after 15 minutes of trying to figure out whether the product was SDN or NFV. With Skyport, I don’t have that problem. It’s a secure server.
Skyport’s SkySecure System is a “hyper-secured” platform that integrates security at the hardware and OS level. It does not require software agents, because the security is implemented as policy monitored on server workloads. It secures the OS by whitelisting Linux implementations to monitor and enforce changes at the OS level.
Now, I admit to not being a security expert, but integrating security at the OS and hardware level makes a lot of sense in the cloud world, where the concern is that the perimeter security is breaking down. The bad guys are operating at the OS and cloud workload level — inside the cloud — so it makes sense that you would build your defenses on the server and workloads rather than trying to build a fence around the cloud.
That’s where I think the product strategy makes sense. Skyport has a great spin to penetrate the commoditized cloud server market. It’s got a special security sauce. “Security is on by default,” says Doug Gourlay, Skyport’s corporate vice president.
Gourlay, the former Arista marketing chief, points out that all Skyport has to do is grab 0.5 to 1 percent of the server market and it will be a $500 million (revenue) company. He says that when he first heard the company pitch it was “the best engineering team I’ve seen since Arista.”
This reminds me somewhat of Andrew Feldman’s company SeaMicro, which was sold to AMD for $334 million in 2013. SeaMicro’s strategy was to focus on power, stringing together low-cost Intel Atom chips into a distributed server that consumed much less power. Of course, Skyport wants to be way bigger. Executives see it as a multibillion dollar venture.
We all know things can go wrong in the startup world. One set of bad boards and Skyport’s story would sound less appealing. But this is a great game plan. Take one of these special spins — security or power — and make a server much more attractive to the cloud crew, since things like security or power are huge problems in today’s cloud market.