We talked to Igor Seletskiy of KernelCare about Linux kernels and COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Igor Seletskiy: I am in California’s Bay Area, and lockdown is still in effect for the most part. The kids cannot wait for in-person school to be open, and everyone wants to go somewhere. On the other hand, everyone is healthy, and that is the most important thing.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded KernelCare.
Igor Seletskiy: I have been interested in programming since I was a teen. So, my college education is in computer science, and it coincided with the birth of the Web and .com boom, etc. I started my first company in 1997, creating a hosting control panel and site builder for the Web hosting market. I sold the company in 2005 and worked for the buyer for the next 4 years. At some point, I realized I want to start my own company again. That is how CloudLinux was born. I knew I wanted to do something related to Linux and the server market — and I saw potential in making a custom-tailored OS to solve some of the issues that hosts were having.
How does KernelCare innovate?
Igor Seletskiy: We have some of the brightest people in the industry. We let them be creative and make their own decisions. Our process involves carefully listening to customers and working hard to identify the pain points that they experience. We share that information with the team — and then let the magic happen.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping?
Igor Seletskiy: We have been lucky to be fully remote for the past six years. Due to that, we didn’t have to alter our processes or change the way we work and collaborate. Of course, there are other issues. People couldn’t take a vacation for some time (there was nowhere to go), and now that schools are remote, having kids at home creates a certain level of chaos. Yet, as a company, we are very flexible, and that helps.
On the other end, all our products are targeted to running servers better and providing better up-time. That has become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen our business grow even faster than we projected. This is especially true in regards to KernelCare, and our Linux kernel lives patching solution. It had been in very high demand since the pandemic started.
Did you have to make difficult choices? What are the lessons have you learned?
Igor Seletskiy: We all have to make difficult choices. Luckily, we didn’t have to cut the workforce due to COVID-19, as many other companies did. Yet, at the onset of COVID-19, we decided to freeze hiring and reduce our marketing expenses related to experiments we are running. We reversed that decision a few months in, as we saw no negative impact on the business. What we did learn from that freeze is that we can do more with less. On the other hand, we also learned that those few months of hiring freeze affected our ability to introduce features six months later. So, now we are in the accelerated mode of hiring.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and KernelCare in the future?
Igor Seletskiy: I tend to ask myself what if, and I try to be prepared. I also like asking myself, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” This approach typically helps me realize that things are not as bad as they look. I also tend to over-communicate and share information openly within the company. I think it helps the company to adjust faster for the new reality as it changes. Yet, it also has a negative side effect of people stressing out about what might happen. I haven’t found that right balance just yet.
Overall, I realize that we cannot predict the future nor protect ourselves against future changes. The only thing we can do is to be agile and change quickly as the situation changes. And to do that, we need the best people. We need to provide them with all the information that they need, and then make sure that they can make their own decisions.
Who are your competitors, and how do you plan to stay in the game?
Igor Seletskiy: We compete with quite a few companies in the enterprise Linux kernel live patching space. Oracle Ksplice, RedHat, and Ubuntu Livepatch services would be the main competitors that we see. So far, we have been able to outcompete them by providing a better live patching service. Our competitors have a limit on the kind of vulnerabilities that they can patch. We don’t. We are also supporting more distributions and offer the experience of being easier to use.
We continue to innovate, recently adding the ability to livepatch shared libraries like Glibc, OpenSSL, etc. That is something no competitor cannot do yet. It’s quite important, as it leaves software vulnerable until it is restarted. Most sysadmins don’t know which software to restart when Glibc is updated, so they end up leaving their systems exposed.
Your final thoughts?
Igor Seletskiy: The coronavirus has shifted the timeline towards digital and remote by at least five years. As strong proponents of remote work, we are happy to see many companies joining the remote ranks. That drive for remote work creates a strong demand for tools to keep infrastructure uptime high.
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