section.io, the next-gen content delivery platform we’ve written about several times here on Bizety, has just completed an impressive Series A funding round of $5.5 million. The company launched its product three years ago when it moved HQ from Sydney, Australia to Boulder, Colorado – in co-founder and CEO, Stewart McGrath’s words, “in search of talent, capital and a larger market for our vision”.
From its start, section.io has been ahead of the curve in focusing on DevOps principles and offering a modular set of content delivery solutions allowing web engineers the flexibility to pick the stack that works for their web applications. Legacy CDNs are increasingly suffering from their rigid approach to stack selection that limits developers’ options; unsurprisingly, developer-focused companies like section.io have been making up for that slack. The transparency and control that section.io can offer developers has led to its growing popularity in engineering and developer circles. Its customers include a wide array of e-commerce companies based worldwide, in addition to large media companies like Universal Music Group, along with companies in a range of other sectors, including Thrifty Car Rental and Adore Beauty.
The recent funding round was led by Foundry Group, a Boulder-based VC firm focused on making early-stage tech investments. When we talked to Stewart about how that relationship was built, he mentioned Foundry Group partner Ryan McIntyre and his immediate understanding of what section.io was doing and where they’re headed next. In announcing the investment on its site, Foundry Group wrote, “Section.io fits into our Glue and Protocol themes as their PaaS connects compute infrastructure from multiple service providers for improved HTTP traffic delivery from a true federation of compute providers”. They added, “Stewart and Daniel recognized CDNs were not able to adapt to quickly enough to keep pace with modern software development practices”.
Next to join was Next Frontier Capital (NFC), a Montana-based VC tech-focused fund. Steve Souders, previously Google’s Head Performance Engineer, as well as Chief of Performance at Yahoo! and Fastly’s Chief Performance Officer, assisted NFC in performing their technical due diligence on section.io. In commenting on the company’s work and his enthusiasm for it, Souders said, “section.io has created a platform which from the ground up is truly a step change to existing Content Delivery solutions. Their container based approach means section.io has developed a solution which is incredibly flexible and lets their customers pick the stack that works best for them. The modern developer focus with git backed workflows, real-time diagnostics and API first mentality is a very strong platform core and is ideal for modern web engineering teams following DevOps principles.”
section.io currently has a compact team of nine – “eight engineers and me”, as Stewart puts it. The technical focus of the company has been instrumental to its growth and success to date. While the Series A funding will allow them to grow further and they will be adding more sales and marketing energy to the mix, the focus will continue to be on bringing in new engineers who can both code, ship and run software, thus helping build out the capability set of the platform; yet who equally feel at home working with customers during the sales and implementation process. In Stewart’s words, “we want engineers to talk to the customers instead of putting a sales person in between them – since we want to help our customers to fully understand our products and help use them to their full capacity”.
Features offered on the platform include flexible deployment options, security modules, edge compute and web performance and acceleration tools. section.io supports public cloud environments or on-premises; and has a license model in which customers can deploy a private CDN network using the section.io technology stack. Their deep diagnostics and RUM tools allow their customers to see what’s going on in real-time.
In terms of its security stack, the company has concentrated on partnering with ahead-of-the-curve vendors rather than building up its own options. This allows customers to pick and choose the most appropriate vendors for the different security components they require, from bot mitigation to WAFs to DDoS mitigation. section.io’s modular platform offers both a rules-based firewall via open-source WAF ModSecurity and the latest in AI-driven WAFs from Threat X and Signal Sciences. In order to deploy them, customers only need change a single line of code in their section.io console. The team at section.io is keeping watch for the next innovative WAF, whether that be a blockchain-driven solution or something entirely different.
Web performance and application delivery tools on the platform include the offering of flexible load balancing to guarantee high availability and fast performance during peak times. Open-source Varnish Cache is offered, enabling developers to build their own rules for how they want load balancing to behave in their unique application. Testing in a development environment is available as are log management, metrics and monitoring tools, allowing developers to integrate their customized load balancing solution into their development workflow.
In terms of edge compute, Stewart had some interesting observations to offer about next steps for the area and how section.io fit into the mix. “None of the existing providers have contemplated how to bring edge compute effectively into the development environment”, Stewart said. “As a development engineer, I want to see if it is working on my local infrastructure before deploying to production. Until you can bring that into the development process, it’ll be unlikely that edge applications will truly take off”.
section.io is already allowing its users to execute edge compute as the platform’s modular nature allows developers to drop in any compute environment – from Nginx to Varnish; indeed many of its current features are already a form of edge compute, such as the ability to execute VCL in a Varnish Cache server or the ability to execute LUA on an Nginx Proxy. Furthermore, because of its developer-centric focus, section.io is empowering developers and engineers to run edge compute moving forwards. The instant global deployment environment that section.io offers allows developers to clone and run an exact binary copy of the edge point of presence in their development environment in the same way that they do in their app stack. Websites can therefore instantly propagate configuration changes across a worldwide network of caching servers, and engineering teams can see what is happening in real-time.
To conclude our conversation, we asked Stewart to define the top three trends currently disrupting the CDN ecosystem. Here are his thoughts in response:
1. The next steps in application edge computing and the ability to move stateful data into the application edge will be a fascinating development to watch.
2. The general trend towards DevOps principles from organizations has become overwhelming in recent times. Three to four years ago, we at section.io knew DevOps was the right way to build, run, manage and ship software. This approach wasn’t quite as prevalent back then and the older CDNs were holding onto legacy thinking around production only networks. However, the adoption of DevOps in the mid tier bracket is now spreading up into top tier and down into smaller enterprises. One of the reasons that Fastly has done so well in the market is because they are more aligned to DevOps workflows than any other CDN. We’ve taken that a whole step further at section.io.
3. The buying cycles for these kinds of services have changed in recent years. The heroes of the story are now the engineers who are running the websites; they and their IT departments are increasingly being given the opportunity to select what tech is being used on an ongoing basis. This transition makes sense because the engineers are the ones who know how to best run, manage, manipulate and enjoy the software they’re using. These buying styles will likely continue to be driven from the bottom up – i.e. from the engineers rather than top down – from the CEOs and CTOs, as in the past.
On our side, we look forward to seeing where section.io goes next.