Like most technology, as cloud computing has matured over the past decade, it has become considerably more complex.

On the plus side, the inherently complicated nature of cloud has created numerous opportunities for startups and large incumbents alike to create new services and standalone businesses. HashiCorp was one of the earliest companies to identify the multiple entry points in the cloud ecosystem.

Founded in 2012, HashiCorp is an provider of products that are foundational to mission-critical cloud applications and infrastructure. As such, the company has become an essential partner to numerous organizations ranging from startups to the Big 3 cloud providers. It is both a competitor and a collaborator, and is perhaps the best representation of the open-source, multi-cloud paradigm in which almost all companies now operate.

As we discussed in the most recent Castles in the Cloud funding analysis, HashiCorp’s public market debut in late 2021 represented not only a milestone for the cloud sector overall, but the growing reality that functioning in today’s ecosystem requires a multi-cloud approach.

HashiCorp CEO Dave McJannet joined me on the Greymatter podcast to discuss the current cloud landscape, how the company continually innovates to keep up with the increasing complexity of the cloud ecosystem, and the new opportunities for startups.

You can listen to the conversation at the link below or wherever you get your podcasts.



Jerry Chen:
Hi everyone. Welcome to Greymatter, the podcast from Greylock where we share stories about company builders and business leaders. I’m Jerry Chen, general partner in Greylock, and today my guest is David McJannet, CEO of HashiCorp.

HashiCorp is one of the defining companies in the cloud and we’re super excited to have David today. Hashi was started in 2012 and went public last year. And it’s been one of the category-defining cloud infrastructure, cloud open source companies.

I’ve had the privilege to work with David for many years. So Dave and I worked together first at VMware over 10 years ago, and then he was briefly at EIR at Greylock.

So Hey David, thank you for coming on the podcast today.

David McJannet:
Thanks for having me. Yeah, it has been 10 years shockingly, but probably slightly more.

It’s been 10 years and obviously the news a couple weeks ago of VMware Broadcom acquisition, I want to talk about all things cloud.

But first, maybe [we’ll] just riff about our times there, and Cloud Foundry/vFabric is how you and I first came to work together, where we tried to build this first effort around cross cloud multi-cloud software. What do you think we got right back then, and what do you think we got wrong?

To me there’s such a consistent pattern to this stuff of existing spend categories transitioning from old world to new world. And essentially what Cloud Foundry was, was a bet that the app server market, (basically how people were going to run and deploy applications) was going from a world of WebLogic, WebSphere, maybe Tomcat to a world of this highly curated runtime platform, which at that time we were just messing around the wording web as a platform-as-a-service.

And so that turns out, the platform-as-a-service notion is just a modern version of an app server and I think we got that right. I think we also got the idea right that developers just want to be able to do a CF push rather than declare all the infrastructure that underpins that application, they just want to push that application element.

I think that part got right, and Cloud Foundry then became a thing. In fact, we were joking about how that got started. It’s actually amazingly simple how these things you get ideated become these things. And I remember the picture on the whiteboard of what ultimately became Cloud Foundry got propagated around the internet. I think you got the design from 99 designs or something similar. It was not very complicated how it all got started, but it turned out to be pretty right.

Best $99 we spent back then.

So maybe we’ll segue that to this journey to HashiCorp. You did a brief stint at a couple of the companies before landing at Greylock as EIR. We’re going to get in the weeds around cloud and open source and HashiCorp, but for those that listen to podcasts that may be less familiar about, deep, deep infrastructure technology, tell me a little bit about HashiCorp, what are the products you sell and how do they work together?

Sure. So of course the thesis was that the infrastructure transition underway is from people running private data centers to people running cloud, which is just a different operating model with very different paradigms for the core aspects of infrastructure. And so we provide a suite of products that address the challenges of running and securing apps in distributed systems i.e. outside of the data center.

We took a very Unix view of the world which is, “Let’s create one product that does one thing and then another product that does another thing, and you can use them together.”

Originally, the team said, “I think there are actually four problems that we need to solve to run cloud infrastructure so let’s try and solve all four of them.” And one’s around infrastructure provisioning.” Well, that became [our product] Terraform, one’s around the identity based security of things in the cloud – “Can this thing talk to this thing? I don’t know what its identity [is].”

That’s the core paradigm of security in the cloud; it’s identity-based and that is [our product] Vault.

Then the question becomes, “How do I network it all together? This thing wants to talk to this thing. Is it allowed to?”

Well, Vault tells me that, but the actual connection of it is what Console does. So it’s a modern take on networking. And then the fourth problem to solve is, “How do I then run compute jobs across that distributed fleet?

So those four problems – – basically infrastructure, security, networking, and then the run time are the four problems that have to get solved in cloud. And so ergo the Hashi stack was born. So these were actually independent products that were created but you generally use them together.

So today we see companies that run a 20,000 server estate. They run these products to underpin them all and it basically acts as one throbbing, humming, distributed compute fabric with nomad scheduling jobs across the top. So, it’s pretty complex distributed system stuff, but it decomposes into four core products that underpin it.

Yeah. Those four core things – identity, security, networking, infrastructure – you and I have riffed on, and have been the core paradigm from the first mainframe to the mini computer, to the PC, to the cloud that you always need compute. You always need networking, you always need identity, you always need infrastructure. And what happens is, every time it’s with this platform shift, these elements get rehydrated into different technologies.

But to your point, I think the genius of HashiCorp was, one, you identify these are the, call it atomic elements or the stem cells of the cloud that can either work independently, and some of your customers do, but also work together as a stack because the evolution to this cloud comes at different paces, different rates for different customers. And so your ability to have customers either start with Vault or start with Console or start with Terraform and then evolve over time, embracing all four parts is super interesting. I think that’s one of the things you guys got right that we didn’t get right at Cloud Foundry for example.

Exactly. I think all platform tech, again in hindsight, gets adopted the same way. It’s about balancing insertion point versus big picture vision.

So what I just described, imagine, and this is literally what we see in our customers. If you’re playing a game or if you’re sending a message to your friend, or if you’re streaming a processing payment, it is going through our stuff. And what it’s doing is a basically federated fleet of thousands of servers that that customer’s running, and they put this stuff on top and it’s basically having a single computer look like across 1,000 different machines and then finding that open slots to drop in things where there’s processing space in a secure way and network, et cetera.

So that’s what it looks like at scale. That’s pretty sophisticated stuff but that’s not where most people start. It’s too big of a vision for them to get there to have 20,000 servers wired together like this.

So you have to determine an insertion point, which is why this Unix philosophy worked really, really well. How about you just start with the infrastructure provisioning problem. Let’s just start with that one. And I can walk you over the course of years into that broader picture vision once you’re ready for it. It’s just too big of a vision to sell it because it’s such a different paradigm. Cloud Foundry conversely says, “Here’s your black box?” And people go, “Well, that’s an awfully big black box. What’s it doing?” And you go, “Don’t worry about it. It just works.” I said, “What happens when it doesn’t?” And so there’s just a lot of reluctance and it’s very hard to get a bottoms up adoption motion when I’m just telling you one big thing. Now people want to be able to adopt the elements and walk their way to it.


Jerry Chen

Jerry searches for ambitious founders who are redefining enterprise software.

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