Open Source and the Cloud: Interview with Erica Brescia, BitRock’s CEO

Posted by Kerry Godes
Senior Manager, Worldwide Marketing and Operations

The community of several hundred thousand BitNami users enjoys free, ready-to-run environments for their favorite open source web apps, deployed on the desktop, virtual machines, or in the cloud. Open source apps like WordPress and SugarCRM can be up and running in minutes with minimal hassle and cost. The beauty of BitNami is that this process is easy for anyone, not just developers — in fact, business users make up a large portion of its audience.

In January we blogged about how BitRock, the company behind BitNami, is involved with VM Depot, which is a community-driven catalog of open source virtual machine images for Windows Azure. VM Depot includes preconfigured operating systems, applications, and development stacks. Simply find your favorite open source software and deploy it in minutes, or join the community, build a virtual machine image, and share it with others.

We were eager to follow up and share more from BitRock CEO, Erica Brescia. Erica had revealing insights on her company’s cloud offering, how it’s sometimes good to be the only woman at a tech conference, and how she’s still impressed with how Microsoft execs did an Ubuntu demo at the Windows Azure launch event:

Can you give our readers an overview of BitRock and BitNami?

BitRock is the company behind BitNami, which is essentially an app store for server software. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to deploy their favorite server software anywhere. Hundreds of thousands of people visit our site monthly to discover and launch open source apps such as SugarCRM, Liferay, Drupal, WordPress, Redmine and more than 50 others. All of our app packages are provided free of charge and are completely ready to run. In just minutes, people of all technical skill levels can have apps up and running and ready to use – no manual configuration required.

How did you come to work with Microsoft to bring native apps to Windows Azure, and where does VM Depot from MS Open Technologies fit into the picture?

I have known several people working on open source at Microsoft for years, but this project came out of a conversation with two people from the Microsoft Open Technologies group at the Open Source Think Tank last year. With a renewed focus on IaaS [Infrastructure-as-a-Service] and open source, we recognized Windows Azure would become an increasingly important player in the cloud space. The VM Depot was for us the perfect first step to provide our users with a community-based option for deploying our library of apps on the Windows Azure infrastructure.

Exactly how does BitNami help with app deployment on Windows Azure through VM Depot?

As with all BitNami packages, the VMs [virtual machines] that we provide for Windows Azure are fully configured and ready to run. As soon as a user launches it from VM Depot, the app is ready to be used. In other words, we take all of the technical pain out of installing an app, getting its dependencies and hooking everything together so it will work out of the box. What may take hours or even days to do manually is reduced to a few minutes with BitNami apps.

Do you support app deployment once a user has BitNami up and running?

We provide support for the configuration of software in the images, and any issues with the images themselves (although those are very rare.) We do not currently provide application-specific support for the apps themselves, but we work with the software developers and are building a network of consultants to provide those services.

BitNami Stacks are obviously a boon for developers, but what other technical advantages does the work between you and Microsoft offer for different types of users?

BitNami Stacks are great for developers, but a very large portion of our user base are business users. That is the great thing about BitNami – you don’t need to be a developer to deploy our apps. A business user can use a BitNami VM to launch SugarCRM to handle their customer relationship management, Alfresco for content management, or Liferay to build their own portal. We strive to make BitNami apps easy for all types of users to run. We also make sure that we include the best open source business apps in our app library.

Looking forward, how do you see the relationship between BitRock and Microsoft developing?

We plan to continue to expand the available apps for Windows Azure and work together to get the word out about how easy it is to deploy open source – for development or production – on [Windows] Azure. We will also be providing some special stacks specifically built to leverage various [Windows] Azure services. Stay tuned for more on that!

What surprised you the most about working with Microsoft on an open source-related project?

If you had told me a year ago that we would be working with Microsoft to make open source easy to deploy on [Windows] Azure, I would never have believed you. The Microsoft Open Technologies team is incredibly dedicated to making open source as easy to use in [Windows] Azure as Microsoft’s own apps and I have been extremely impressed by that. This is not just talk – Microsoft is really doing it and this has helped them build and strengthen their competitive position in the cloud market. I still can’t believe that I saw Microsoft executives do their main demo with Ubuntu at their [Windows] Azure launch event!

Can you tell us about your experience as a female executive in a (traditionally) male-dominated industry?

While I would love to see more females in technology, I haven’t run into the types of discrimination you sometimes hear about (at least not overtly). I have been the only woman at events too many times to count, but I think that actually can be an advantage – people are interested in hearing about me and my company because I stand out in an all-male crowd. One thing that is a little irritating is how many men ask, “So are you in marketing or PR?” There is certainly nothing wrong with doing either, but I don’t like the fact that men assume that a woman working in technology must be doing one or the other. I do take some pleasure in watching them realize their mistake when I tell them I’m the CEO. Hopefully, they won’t make assumptions the next time they run into a woman at a tech conference!

I am a member of CloudNOW and NCWIT [National Center for Women & Information Technology], two organizations focused on encouraging more women into technical and entrepreneurial roles and supporting the efforts of those who are. We’re so busy at BitRock that I don’t have much time to devote to those efforts at the moment, but I hope to be able to get more involved in the future. I also hope that sharing my story encourages and inspires other women to take the leap into entrepreneurship.

With more high-tech jobs in the US than qualified applicants, what can be done to motivate young people to pursue a career in computer science?

This is something I think about often. It is astounding to me how big the gap is between demand and supply for technical jobs. It is painful to see our country struggling with such high unemployment rates when companies in Silicon Valley are having an incredibly difficult time filling technical roles. Hiring is probably one of the top three problems for most tech companies today. We need to make technology and programming part of the curriculums starting in middle school, if not earlier. Teaching programming as part of the standard K-12 education would make it seem so much more accessible to kids. Programming would no longer be seen as something that just a few “quiet” kids do – it would become the norm.

How did your career start, and how did you ultimately end up at BitRock?

My background is in investment finance and telcos, but I have always had an entrepreneurial drive. I did not have to think twice when joining BitRock. I would be leading and contributing the business DNA to an incredibly strong technical team, in an exciting market, so it made perfect sense – I have not looked back since.

How has your relationship evolved since you first began working with Microsoft?

At the beginning we focused on the technical side of things, helping iron out the kinks that are inevitable in cloud infrastructure at such scale. Since then, we have been working closely with the team at Microsoft to share some of what we have learned about application deployment to help make the service as easy to use as possible for end users.

What is next for BitRock and BitNami?

We have quite a bit planned for this year! Among other things, we will continue to expand the BitNami app library to bring more apps to [Windows] Azure and other platforms. We will also be making it easier for our users to move apps from their desktop to the cloud. Our goal is to be the easiest way for people to deploy server software on any platform – desktop, virtual or cloud.

Erica Brescia incubating baby Jack in the Microsoft booth at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention last summer. She proudly launched her son and several important business partnerships over the past few months. ©Photo by Julian Cash

Comments (1)

  1. Ian says:

    This is exciting. As a business-mostly manager who happens to be in IT, I’m finding more and more uses for products like Binami. And to see a young mother who is also a CEO and an innovator should help me argue the case to my daughters that they can be leaders too.

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