Netflix helped change the game for microservices when it developed and the outsourced a tool called Conductor, initially built to handle its own extensive, multi-channel on-demand video traffic (and correspondingly complex codebase) globally, and later adopted by companies like Tesla, American Express, GitHub, Deutsche Telekom, VMware and some 150 other large organizations and others to manage their own services. Now the team behind creating Conductor are launching Orkes, a cloud-hosted version of the tool based on Conductor; and along with this, they’re announcing $9.3 million in funding to fuel the mission, as well as to support the continued growth of the open source Conductor community.
Battery Ventures and Vertex Ventures are co-leading the funding, with angel investors in the round including Mahendra Ramsinghani and Gokul Rajaram and unnamed executives from different tech companies, including Amazon and Facebook.
Orkes (pronounced “or-kes”, a shorted form of “orchestration”) was co-founded by CEO Jeu George, co-CTOs Viren Baraiya and Boney Sekh, and CPO Dilip Lukose. The first three worked together to build Conductor at Netflix, but then went their separate ways: George worked as a senior engineer at Uber; Baraiya led engineering for Firebase at Google; and Sekh headed up the payments for Robinhood. In 2021, the three reunited and were joined by Lukose (an alum of Microsoft Azure, where he’d worked with George), to start Orkes.
The reason for returning to Conductor and building a set of tools to sit on top of it was down to what George said were very clear market signals.
“We built Conductor as a general purpose engine and we could see many companies starting to use it. The space is now at an inflection point and organizations are moving to a microservices architecture,” George said in an interview. “But the wider idea now is to help operationalize that, and help with the management of the scale on top of this.” Since organizations often work in hybrid cloud environments, and across multiple coding languages, the idea with Orkes is to provide a set of tools to help manage that “out of the box,” he added.
Indeed, a discussion on the pros and cons of Conductor on Hacker News, before Orkes came into being, highlighted some of the difficulties in implementing it in some environments, also pointing to the opportunity to fix that.
“When companies build microservices, they build them in their languages of choice, and typically might use multiple languages,” George said, typically with at least three languages in use, but sometimes more. “What is unique about Conductor and Orkes is that it’s fully language agnostic.”
The closed alpha, which has focused on cloud services, has been seeing positive responses, so the investment now will be used to continue building out Orkes’ engineering and go-to-market teams.
The rise of Orkes underscores a very common route these days for open source tools. Developers and engineers put a substantial amount of effort into building groundbreaking tools either inside existing organizations or as projects to solve very direct needs based on their own firsthand experiences, and in keeping with the ethos of how developers operate, and to build wider communities to support those tools in the longer term, they make them open source.
Those same developers often eventually return to those to build some of the most obvious and useful customizations to make them easier to use by a wider set of organizations that might not have the resources or people to implement the open source versions in such a user-friendly way. Of course, anyone can come along and create commercialized versions of open source tools (and for very mature tech it does happen that you might have competing commercial products built on top of them) but typically the founders of these startups are often the same people who helped build the open source tools in the first place: they’ve put more time and focus than anyone else and know the tool’s potential and pitfalls better than anyone else.
And investors like to back them for the same reason. (Another recent example following that same theme: Superconductive, from the creators of Great Expectations, recently raised $40 million.)
In the case of Conductor, the open source tool has a ripe body of existing users who are natural customers for Orkes, but the rise of the startup will open the door to a potential new set of users, too, or so the thinking goes.