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24 June, 2021 - 22:37 By Tony Quested

Kao Data Centre tenant lights fuse to new technology

Tucked away in a corner of Harlow’s bleeding edge Kao Data campus, you’ll find Civo which – despite only launching in May – is already set to become one of the UK’s primary Kubernetes providers aimed at startups and small to mid-size technology companies.

Civo is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur and web hosting guru, Mark Boost. You may recall the popular web hosting website, Low Cost Names (lcn.com) which Mark founded in 2000 primarily to help startups with gaining a presence – and which, over the next 20 years, became the fifth largest web hosting company in the UK, managing around 400,000 domain names. 

Mark – who sold lcn.com two years ago to focus on building Civo – says: “Lcn.com was fairly basic hosting for small businesses and domain names. We grew organically and, as we didn’t have huge funding, we couldn’t go out and invest vast sums in R & D. 

“But we did a really great job and, at the time, the customer service was the best in the industry. However, there was nothing really innovative about the business; it wasn’t particularly cutting edge, and we were always more of a follower than a leader.

“However, with Civo I really wanted to be an innovator, which is why we started building our service around Kubernetes – because it’s cutting edge and the future of hosting.

“We were three years in development and two years in beta with 4000 users from over 120 countries round the globe testing our platform and giving us feedback before we went to market.” 

Considered by many to be the future of modern-day computing, Kubernetes was originally created by Google before it was donated to the not-for-profit organisation, Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) – which serves as a vendor-neutral home for many of the fastest growing open source projects. 

Standardised across all hosting platforms and service providers so that businesses can move seamlessly between them, Kubernetes works by running clusters for built-in resilience. Within a cluster, there can be any number of nodes all running different jobs and applications. Should one node fail, there is always another available to take over the workload, enabling the cluster to ‘self-heal’.

Says Mark: “Kubernetes makes software development easier, better and faster, enabling enhanced developer productivity and ultimately helping companies grow faster – which is why it’s becoming the standard for developers and data scientists moving forward.

“The orchestration software means that, if anything fails, it can auto-heal itself. And, baked into that, it can scale very easily – which is why it is considered by many to be the future. 

“It offers the same way of working no matter which cloud provider you choose, the same sort of abstraction layer sitting on top of all the clever technology.”

According to IT Industry Data insights firm, 451 Research, Kubernetes is indeed being hailed as the ‘next big thing in computing’ for technology companies, with 76 per cent of enterprises worldwide expected to standardise on Kubernetes by 2022. 

And Gartner, the world’s leading research and advisory company, agrees – predicting that more than 75 per cent of global organisations will be running containerised applications in production by 2022; with Kubernetes the de facto standard for running containerised, cloud-native applications at scale.

Hosted in the UK by Kao Data, Civo has a second data centre in the US and is about to launch their third and fourth in Asia and mainland Europe imminently. 

With speed, agility and cost just some of the competitive advantages Civo can boast against the mighty hyperscalers of Amazon, Google and Microsoft, it’s hardly surprising that so many organisations and businesses are starting to sit up and take note.

Mark explains: “It can take between 5 and 10 minutes to launch a Kubernetes cluster in Google or Amazon. Civo, on the other hand, can spin up a cluster for a client in 90 seconds – and, when you are dealing with developers, that’s a huge difference. 

“People who live in cloud world want things very quickly – but often they don’t want to be paying for things all the time. Developers sometimes want to turn everything off at night when it’s not being used but they don’t want to be waiting 10 - 15 minutes to spin it all back up again in the morning. It’s this speed and agility that we really focus on at Civo and we have a huge competitive advantage on the hyperscale providers as a result.”

Another advantage that Civo has over the hyperscalers is cost. Anyone who has ever used the big hyperscale providers knows that they are notorious for add-ons, such as extra data transfer charges or access charges, which can send your bill sky-high.

Mark says: “We are 100 per cent predictable: You know what you’re going to pay upfront. You know what’s included. We even have quota limits in place to protect clients so they can’t spin up loads of capacity by mistake. 
“If they want to use more capacity, they have to request it first. So, for smaller companies that don’t want any surprise bills, not only are we quicker to use, we’re also significantly cheaper too.”

And with Kubernetes tailor-made for AI/machine learning, Civo is focused on developing their service offerings further.

Mark says: “As part of our platform, we currently have a proof of concept where we are testing out a Graphic Processing Unit (GPU)/ machine learning service for companies to consume on a cloud basis rather than having to buy all the hardware and expensive GPUs themselves.

“We are partnering with a prominent Cambridge startup to help us develop the service because we want to shape it around the customers who are actually going to be using it. 

“We are very good at building technology but, as we’re not the end user for machine learning, partnering with a leading Cambridge company will help us perfect our offering. 

“It’s very exciting to be building this capability out, and to be able to offer an ecosystem within Kao Data that provides GPUs, access and capabilities to all these exciting startups and bioscience communities. It’s this machine learning service that really sets Civo apart, and it fits perfectly into our Kubernetes ecosystem. There’s so much software being developed that can seamlessly run on Kubernetes.”

Civo has been liaising with technology giant, NVIDIA – and its platform will be built on NVIDIA’s A100 GPUS, considered one of the best, if not the best, in the industry. 

Mark says: “What’s interesting is that NVIDIA has built its new ecosystem around Kubernetes – and all the software it produces to help people with their models for machine learning is all built on templates that work on Kubernetes. 

“So, with Civo being a Kubernetes host, we can tap into that NVIDIA ecosystem and it’s a one-click install - which means we can get new businesses up and running very quickly and they have access to all this excellent software.”

For Mark, ensuring that Civo is an ethical company is also important. He says: “We have built a whole community ecosystem around our product with its own slack channel where clients can discuss with other users and make suggestions about features they want us to develop and build in.

“But more than that, I want to use Civo to be that good corporate citizen so that we can grow ethically and together as a team. I’ve given shares to all of our founding staff, who have helped us get to the launch point, bridged the disparity between executive level pay and everyone else and, as CEO, made a commitment to staff never to draw a salary from this business. 

“There is a whole separate way we go about our business, even down to our investments. We used the Government’s EIS scheme to approach private investors (not VC) and get them a tax-efficient investment. 

“We have a very clear vision that we want to stick to – and so were very particular about what investment we took in that regard. It’s all about being true to our vision, our ethics and our values.”

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