Alex Polvi is interviewed by theCUBE at the Nutanix .NEXT Conference 2015.
Friends since freshman year, Alex Polvi and Brandon Philips credit their experiences at Oregon State University with the trajectory of their careers. Most recently, they co-founded CoreOS, a company that brings Google-like server infrastructure to other companies.
The path that led to their partnership began ten years ago — the two sat next to each other in every computer science class for four years, were housemates, started a club together, and worked together. Both got their start in open source development and infrastructure at Oregon State’s Open Source Lab (OSL). In fact, Polvi was the first student system administrator and Philips was the first student developer.
Although both are native Oregonians, their backgrounds are different: Polvi grew up in the small town of Amity and is the 11th in his family to go to Oregon State; Philips grew up in the Portland metro area and was the first of his family to attend a four-year college. But they were similarly focused on computer science, and came to Oregon State for the quality of the program.
“I was afforded a lot of opportunities at Oregon State,” said Philips, chief technology officer at CoreOS.
The hands-on experiences and connections in open source that Polvi and Philips developed at Oregon State set them up for a good start on their careers. In addition to working at the OSL, the two worked together to restart the Linux User Group, a student organization dedicated to promoting and teaching open source development.
“That taught us how to organize people and generate a marketing buzz. It was another strong experience that was helpful for us in building our own business,” Philips said.
After graduation they each went off in different directions, perfecting specializations that would later be complimentary for starting a business together. Polvi continued in system administration as a project manager for Mozilla. Then, he started his own company, Cloudkick, which he sold to Rackspace just six years after he graduated. He stayed with Rackspace as the general manager for the San Francisco Bay Area site and recruited Philips to join him there.
Philips had been working as a kernel developer for SuSE/Novell on their Linux operating system that runs many of the world’s largest supercomputers. He made the move to Rackspace in the San Francisco Bay Area (a hub for technology start-ups) with the goal in mind of eventually starting a company.
The idea for CoreOS stemmed from problems the two had observed in operating systems for managing large distributed systems. “There were layers and layers of management software, and how it’s put together made it difficult to manage that complexity over time,” Philips said.
Their products are aimed at businesses that need to operate server software for customers. “Today, nearly every large company is being forced to become a software company, as all facets of commerce moves to web and mobile,” Philips said.
CoreOS has created a buzz in the tech world for being a leader in software containers, a tool that makes it easier for companies to deliver applications to customers. “Our big idea was to build an operating system that is fundamentally different and designed around security,” said Polvi, CEO of CoreOS.
The company’s first product was CoreOS Linux, an operating system released two years ago. Since then they have released software for managing CoreOS as well as stand-alone software. “I hope we can grow our company into one of the world’s seminal technology companies,” Polvi said.
While building their company, they have remained connected to Oregon State. Among their 50 employees are Michael Marineau, a friend from college who became their first engineer; and Chance Zibolski, a 2015 Oregon State graduate who was a member of the senior design team that CoreOS mentored last year.
“What keeps me excited is pursuing a goal of creating a business, doing it with people that I enjoy working with, and building products that customers love,” Philips said.