Former Avanade Chief Takes the Helm at Cloud-Services Startup Opscode

Opscode, a young Seattle company that sells cloud-computing management services, has added some executive firepower to help manage its growth—co-founder Jesse Robbins is handing over chief executive duties to Mitch Hill, founding CEO of tech-services company Avanade.

Robbins, an veteran, is staying on board as chief community officer to guide work on Chef, Opscode’s open-source IT management software. And no, Robbins says, this isn’t one of those entrepreneur nightmares where the investors and board members jam a new executive down the founders’ throats.

“I’m sleeping better at night, to be honest,” Robbins says. “It’s been pretty awesome.”

Opscode makes it easier for companies to add cloud computing power by automating a lot of related tasks. Say your company wants to add more computing power—with big vendors like Amazon Web Services and Rackspace, that’s pretty easy. But someone still has to make sure all of those fancy new servers work with your existing computer systems. In the past, that could have meant a lot of tedious coding.

Service providers like Opscode speed up the process by giving IT pros a standard way of plugging cloud computing power into their systems. They’re not the only ones in the field, but Opscode bases its offerings around the customizable, open-source Chef software that it developed.

How does that make money? Opscode sells a hosted service based around the Chef software. It’s also introduced “Private Chef,” which targets companies that need to make sure their information stays on a private network. The hunger for more of those premium services, just a few months after they were introduced, is what drove the Opscode team to look for a more seasoned IT executive.

When the Hosted Chef service became available, Robbins says, Opscode figured their medium and large business customers would buy a certain amount of service, and add slowly after the initial spike. Instead, he says, it “spread almost instantly in those companies,” leaving the small startup sprinting to keep up.

“If I could set my wayback machine to a year ago, we would have staffed up faster to meet that enterprise demand so we could deal with those customers,” Robbins says.

Enter Hill, who has seen this story play out before. “I’ve been working in IT for over 30 years,” he says. “We go through these cycles where we scale up and we scale out, and every time we scale out, we create a huge management problem.”

The match was initially sparked by Bill Bryant of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a member of the startup’s board. Hill took some time off after stepping down from Avanade in 2008, and started exploring a new career advising startups in the region during 2009 and 2010. That’s how he got … Next Page »

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