To "open up access to infrastructure, for everyone."
Ten years ago, Chris Psaltis was a grad student researching computer vision, an artificial intelligence field.
Today, Psaltis has a different vision. He’s CEO of Mist.io, a company he co-founded with the goal of making it easy for anyone to manage hybrid and multicloud environments, no matter which infrastructure providers they choose or how many engineers they have on hand.
Here’s the story of how an academic research project focused on AI turned into a platform for optimizing complex cloud architectures.
Living the pain of multi-vendor infrastructure management
Psaltis co-founded Mist to solve a problem that he suffered through firsthand during his work as a consultant while also pursuing his PhD.
To help support the AI research projects that Psaltis was pursuing, he and a few collaborators found themselves having to manage application hosting environments that depended on infrastructure from multiple cloud providers. That was a pain, Psaltis says, because “we were a small team, and it was hard to manage all of the infrastructure.” Figuring out which cloud vendor offered the best pricing for a given workload, let alone configuring and monitoring applications across multiple cloud environments, required a great deal of manual effort – especially because cloud instance types and pricing change constantly.
To address the challenge, Psaltis and his team decided to develop their own multicloud management tool. At first, they used it only internally, to simplify operations within their own projects. But soon enough, they realized that others could benefit from the solution.
So they created Mist as a way to spread and grow their software. “The main idea,” Psaltis explains, “was to make it easier for people to use cloud infrastructure and to open up access,” regardless of which particular infrastructure vendors a customer chose or how many employees they had to manage the infrastructure. Mist automates operations across multiple infrastructure platforms, making it simple to manage hybrid and multicloud environments without bogging down operations teams.
Psaltis was so committed to simplifying multi-vendor infrastructure management that he dropped out of grad school to work on Mist full time, and hasn’t looked back.
Spearheading the multicloud revolution
When Mist launched in 2013, terms like “hybrid cloud” and “multicloud” were just beginning to enter the tech lexicon. Early on, Psaltis says, adoption of Mist was slow because few businesses recognized that they would increasingly find themselves using multiple infrastructure platforms at once.
But that changed in the later 2010s, when hybrid and multicloud architectures exploded in popularity. (Indeed, 90 percent of large businesses report using multiple clouds today.) That trend made Mist an obvious solution for companies seeking to optimize costs and simplify operations when they deployed workloads across multiple clouds.
Mist – which Psaltis describes as ““a cloud portal for twenty different clouds” – meets these goals by removing the guesswork and tedium from deciding where to spin up a given type of infrastructure resource, such as a virtual machine. Users simply tell Mist what kind of machine instance they want, and Mist automatically determines which infrastructure platform is the best fit based on cost and performance criteria. Currently, Mist supports about twenty distinct infrastructure platforms – including the large public clouds, as well as open source infrastructure platforms like Kubernetes and OpenStack.
Mist also fully supports Equinix Metal, which was one of the first infrastructure platforms that Psaltis and his team decided to integrate into their tool. They did so after a chance meeting with a Metal employee inside a San Francisco coworking space, where the value of being able to manage bare metal hardware as easily as virtual, cloud-based hardware “suddenly dawned on me,” as Psaltis puts it. “We had been using bare metal, but the process usually involved waiting days – best case – to get a server up and running.” In addition to allowing Mist users to deploy and manage workloads on Metal, Mist uses Metal internally to host the testing environment for the Mist platform itself.
Beyond automating workload deployment across multiple infrastructure platforms, Mist streamlines a variety of other operations in hybrid and multicloud environments, such as monitoring resources and configuring access controls. Instead of having to juggle a variety of vendor-specific tools to manage workloads, Mist lets users do it all through a central console, API and/or command-line interface.
A commitment to open source
A platform that can significantly streamline management of nearly two dozen infrastructure platforms has obvious commercial value. You might expect Psaltis and his team to keep their technology under close wraps in order to maximize profits.
But they don’t. The vast majority of the Mist code is open source under an Apache license, and anyone can download and run it for free. (A few closed-source add-on features are available as part of Mist’s enterprise offering.)
Psaltis says that his team opted for an open source-centric approach because “it just felt natural, given that we had been working in the open source community ourselves for ages.”
He adds, however, that keeping the platform open source “helps us be as transparent as possible” – which is important because Mist, which can be deployed either on-premises or in SaaS form, has low-level access to users’ cloud accounts and resources, so ensuring trust in the code is important.
The fact that being open source provides “a form of life insurance,” as Psaltis puts it, makes the open source model an even more obvious choice. By life insurance, Psaltis means that, if Mist the company were ever to shut down, users would be able to continue running and expanding the Mist platform, because they have access to the source code.
Coping with continuous change
Infrastructure platforms are always evolving, and Mist evolves with them. That’s part of the reason why the company regularly releases new versions of its platform.
Beyond simply keeping pace with changing cloud infrastructure offerings, though, Psaltis and his team are committed to releasing new features to their users. Their latest initiative is rebuilding the Mist API and CLI to make it even easier for customers to automate workload deployment and optimize costs.
What makes Mist’s commitment to constant improvement especially impressive is that the company has just ten employees. Nonetheless, it has somehow managed to keep evolving along with the hybrid and multicloud world, with plenty of new enhancements on the horizon as Mist approaches its ten-year anniversary.
Published on28 July 2022
Interview byKatie Norchi
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