Midokura opens its startup playbook, highlighting the importance of collaboration in the ecosystem and offering tips for fellow startups.


OpenStack’s largely diverse and interoperable community has lead to a surge of startups joining the ecosystem over the past year.

Superuser’s startup playbook series highlights startups in the OpenStack community to discuss tips for fellow newbies in the ecosystem and their perception of the current playing field.

This time, Superuser features network virtualization innovators, Midokura.

What is the Midokura origin story?

The founders of Midokura began their careers building distributed systems for the world’s preeminent e-commerce website: Amazon.com. That experience was career-defining, but these bright minds couldn’t stay confined inside the behemoth forever. They recognized that companies around the world faced similar network performance challenges, and needed similar network infrastructure not found in conventional networking. So our founders applied their experience to develop a comparably secure, scalable and performant network virtualization overlay solution available to organizations worldwide. MidoNet is that solution.

What challenges has Midokura had to overcome to be successful?

The computer networking industry has long been dominated by an entrenched set of hardware-focused incumbents, funding their massive marketing war chests from oligopoly profits, based on their ownership of proprietary technologies.

As a newcomer with a new approach, Midokura has had to overcome three major hurdles:
Brand awareness: Even with clearly superior technology, any startup faces an uphill battle for mindshare, competing against large marketing and advertising budgets. Partnership (e.g. Dell, Fujitsu, Red Hat) have been key to Midokura’s awareness strategy.
Proprietariness: Proprietary technology may be acceptable from industry incumbents, but not from startups. Midokura recognized and solved this problem with the radical (for us, at the time) step of open sourcing MidoNet at the 2014 Paris OpenStack Summit.
Status quo bias: Enterprises are accustomed to “how things are done,” even when that’s slow, inefficient, and very expensive. In the old days “no one got fired for buying IBM,” and some of that risk-averse attitude persists (toward other incumbent vendors). Now that OpenStack in general and Midokura in particular have gathered an impressive set of references, the status quo seems to be shifting in our favor.

What tips would you have for a startup that is new to the OpenStack ecosystem?

When you’re small, every customer is a potential reference, and every customer interaction matters. Our engineers around the globe offer follow-the-sun support to delight our customers, not merely satisfy them. It means long hours, but for the first years, that’s what you need to do.

The other advice is to dog food your product at scale. We don’t just sell an OpenStack plugin, we operate two production OpenStack clouds ourselves, to stay in sync with the requirements and the pain of our customers. Surprisingly many startups don’t use their own product; don’t fall into that trap.

OpenStack has been called both good and bad for startups – what do you see as the pros and cons?

OpenStack represents a change – really, a paradigm shift – in the networking marketplace. Like any change, OpenStack will benefit those who can adapt to ongoing uncertainty, and who can continuously innovate on both technology and business fronts.

The bad is that startups need to cope with all this change from a position of having much fewer resources than incumbents, all of whom have their own OpenStack initiatives

What differentiates Midokura’s products from other companies’ products in the marketplace?

Many competitive products are based on closed technologies, in some cases adding to already high software licensing costs with dependence on expensive and proprietary hardware. Our customers tell us that proprietary technologies have negative implications for security, cost and long-term lock-in. MidoNet is open source, so network admins can look at the code before running it, and have the reassurance that it will always be available. And for your DIY customers, open-source MidoNet can be tested and run in production completely free, as in beer. Our enterprise customers often choose to pay for commercially supported Midokura Enterprise MidoNet (MEM), based on the same open-source core. MEM also adds big-data analytics to trace live and historical flows through the virtual network – a feature not available through any other vendor.

MidoNet’s second great differentiator lies in its distributed architecture, eliminating the centralized controller with all its inherent risks and limitations. MidoNet is much quicker and simpler to set up, simpler to administer, and because its intelligence lives on entirely distributed “agents,” is far more stable and scalable than any single-point-of-failure architecture.

What is the most common request from Midokura customers?

The most common request by far is for seamless integration with the top three OpenStack distributions: Mirantis, Red Hat, Canonical/Ubuntu. We work closely with all three vendors, and recently announced our integration with Mirantis Fuel. The other two installer projects are in the works, very near certification.

Midokura announced a partnership with Fujitsu in July 2015. How does collaboration with other companies in the OpenStack ecosystem impact your products and business?

A close collaboration with partners is fundamental to our business!

Unlike the mousetrap in the old saying, a better software-defined network solution doesn’t sell itself. As a small company, Midokura simply doesn’t have the sales and marketing heft to reach all our prospects around the globe. Our partnership with Fujitsu, as well as with Dell, QCT, Red Hat, Mirantis, Canonical, and many others, is central to our ability to successfully market, sell, and support our products worldwide. The relationship is entirely synergistic, as our larger partners can better satisfy their own customers by providing them the most agile and scalable SDN overlay on the market.

Our blue-chip partners also bring us great credibility. Knowing that MidoNet is the default (built-in) networking overlay for Fujitsu ROR, helps alleviate any possible doubt about using MidoNet as a mature distributed network underlying any web-scale application.

Midokura has been sponsoring the OpenStack Summit since Hong Kong. What benefits does your team see to sponsorship?

Midokura would not be what it is without our active participation in the OpenStack community, and without the community’s support of MidoNet. “Should we sponsor the Summit?” is not a question we seriously ask ourselves. A more common question is “how can we give the best possible presentation to create the biggest impact?”

The moment one Summit ends we begin to think forward to the next. The benefits are corporate visibility, developer networking, recruiting, meeting and signing up partners, gathering quality leads.

Lots of real work happens too: At the Tokyo summit, we discussed how Project Kuryr could bring container networking to OpenStack Neutron (with Gal Sagie from Huawei). This could not have happened without being present at the last Summit and finding people in adjacent communities to work on Kuryr.

The OpenStack startup series will regularly feature playbooks from startups in the global ecosystem. If you’re interested in sharing your company’s story, email us at [email protected]

Cover Photo // CC BY NC

Allison Price