June 12, 2015

Startup Offers Fully Supported Linux Laptops for Lease

joey amanchukwuOpen source has come a long way since the term was first coined back in 1998. Today there are companies like Red Hat that rake in billions of dollars in annual revenues from pure open source products. Every technology giant, including Google, Amazon, and Facebook, runs on top of Linux and open source technologies.

We are now noticing something even more incredible; Open Source and Linux are no longer a niche. Two proprietary tech titans, Apple and Microsoft, have started showing their admiration for Linux and open source. After the public display of love for Linux by Microsoft, we witnessed Apple's embrace of and open source at WWDC 2015. It’s a good omen.

Open source is transforming business all around; creating new models for entrepreneurs. One such company is Transforia, a Silicon Valley startup that's offering fully-supported Linux laptops as part of an IT subscription service to corporate clients. In this detailed interview, CEO and co-founder, and former Red Hat employee, Joey Amanchukwu explains their business model, why they use Linux, and who their early customers are.

Linux.com: Can you tell us more about yourself and your involvement with Linux and open source?

Joey Amanchukwu: I’ve been a big fan of Linux and FOSS since I was a junior in college. The computer resources offered to students at my school were extremely unreliable so I spent that summer working as a dishwasher to buy one to use at home. It was one of those huge Gateway towers and I was so excited when it showed up at my door. When I powered it on the first time, I noticed it didn’t have the familiar software I was used to running so I headed over to the local CompUSA and was in sticker shock when I saw that I had to spend another $300 in Microsoft and Adobe software. One of the sales reps pointed me to SUSE Linux and said “give it try” -- that's where my love for Linux started.

Fast forward five years, I'm at Red Hat evangelizing the benefits of using Linux and open source software selling subscriptions to high tech companies on the west coast. I had a chance to witness the emergence of Web 2.0 hands-on as many of these companies were deploying the LAMP stack and usually started with Red Hat. Good times for sure.It was there at Red Hat where I learned the open source way and how communities join forces to build things.

Linux.com: What does Transforia do?

I founded the company along with Garrett Honeycutt (www.learnpuppet.com) our CTO last year. We’re located in the heart of Silicon Valley at the TechLab Innovation Center in Santa Clara. Transforia offers a secure, easy-to-manage and low-cost way to issue laptops to employees without having to buy proprietary software or manage complex IT infrastructure. It’s quite simple, choose a cloud storage solution (today we have support for Dropbox, ownCloud and Drive), place an order with us, and we’ll ship your laptops ready to connect to the cloud with zero IT set-up required.  Login into our online management portal, assign the laptops to employees and that’s it. We handle everything else for the customer from updates, desktop support, security and encryption of your data. Its an all-inclusive IT-as-a-Service subscription for the enterprise.

Linux.com: You are offering an interesting service, how did you get that idea?

Garrett our CTO and co-founder, first introduced me to systems automation and configuration management back in 2007 while he was at Speakeasy which was acquired by Best Buy. I was his Red Hat sales rep and we hit it off almost immediately. But the idea of embedding a managed Linux OS into an IP connected device came from my experience at Red Hat selling technology solutions to some of the most innovative companies in the world.

Linux.com: What problem did you see in the market which inspired you to come up with this idea?

It was at Dell that I realized many business applications were moving to the webbrowser but too many companies were locked into the traditional IT model. It's a model of expensive hardware capital expenditures, buying Microsoft Windows (then Office, management software, security software, encryption software, auditing software, compliance software, provisioning software, there's this entire stack of proprietary software required -- mind you this software is all free in the Linux and FOSS world). Then the labor costs of laptop/desktop inventory management, hardware repairs, IT support personnel and the hidden costs of lost end user productivity during upgrades, outages and security breaches. And now in 2015 cyber warfare has the entire world living in fear that our critical infrastructure is at risk of some malicious attack. When I learned that the Microsoft ecosystem commanded 90 percent of the desktop market share in the enterprise, I felt we had the vision to go and do something about it standing on the shoulders of giants in the tech industry. It’s quite ambitious but I like our chances.

Linux.com: I have seen BYODs but your model is interesting and different, so where and what kind of demand is there for your service? Can you also give us some examples of clientele or use cases; what kind of sectors or companies are you catering to?

In the education sector we’re having discussions to help educators find ways to bridge the technical gaps here in the US. Collectively, we’ve extracted so much cost out of technology in education that young people are too caught up in content consumption rather than using their creative abilities to write code and create content.

As for use cases, companies with temporary staff or contract employees are testing our services as their on-boarding costs are typically higher than others. We’re seeing interest especially in the semiconductor space where intellectual property is the lifeline and competitive advantage of the business. Data security and encryption needs are routinely discussed with many of our early adopters. We’re virtually sector agnostic as our technology solves problems that are attributed to any company supporting the traditional IT model.

Linux.com: What are the USPs of your model over BYOD or traditional models where companies buy their own hardware and software?

First is security. Using our service reduces security risks by limiting exposure to malware and viruses typically found in Microsoft Windows and proprietary software.

Second, with cloud adoption now scaling at massive rates, our service makes the transition much easier for companies evaluating services like Office 365, Google Apps, Workday, Salesforce.com, Oracle’s and SAP’s SaaS offerings and more…

Third, cloud storage technologies are being commoditized and many businesses are taking advantage of this but some are troubled with storing their data on servers they don’t own. Our model is uniquely flexible giving customers the choice of using public or private cloud storage technologies without the complexities. We require cloud storage to use our service making a user's laptop easy to restore, should the device fail. There's virtually zero downtime.

Fourth, we make it easy to adopt Linux and open source software on the desktop without the traditional barriers to entry that has made it difficult for businesses to adopt it in the past. There’s a full suite of business applications available that are equivalent to the proprietary software offerings.  And they’re virtually all FREE to use, copy, modify and redistribute. It's the beauty of open source.

Finally, our service is fully managed and automated. We do all the heavy lifting for our customers so that they can spend time focusing on engineering that makes them more competitive. Luckily our CTO has a unique skill set in automation so the majority of the labor tasks are now handled with intelligent software management tools that we use to keep this operational for our customers. It's amazing to see how some of this stuff works on the backend.

Linux.com: How cost effective is it?

In our research supporting an unmanaged laptop tends to cost a company $4,500 - $6,000 per machine, per year. Gartner has been doing research on this topic for the last decade and their research puts these costs around $7,000 per year if you factor in lost productivity, lost revenues and end user downtime.

We’re priced at $129 per/month (or about $1,500 per year) for a three-year subscription and that includes, the hardware, next-day replacement hardware when things fail, security, encryption, OS management, IT automation and support -- most of the IT needs outside of buying your SaaS applications or storing your data in a public or private cloud are all included.

Linux.com:  Who are your target customers? Since you offer Linux laptops how do customers respond to that? Don’t they ask for Windows/Mac machines? How do you address such queries?

We are targeting companies that embrace the cloud especially those that are using Office 365 or Google Apps. Customers understand our value proposition but some are concerned about employee adoption of a Linux OS. We help them understand that it’s more about the high availability of business applications rather than the aesthetics of the operating system. Red Hat's GNOME desktop Linux has a simplistic look and UI that makes it easy for even the novice users to familiarize themselves with our laptops. Linux on the desktop has come a long way, that's for sure. As for Macusers, we’re not competing to switch those users away from that. Microsoft Windows has 90 percent desktop market share so there are plenty of customers out there that we can talk to that would love to hear from us.

Linux.com: Do you need to educate users about Linux and services they can access via your laptops?

Most understand cloud services at the web browser although some are not completely sold that cloud-based applications are secure. There’s definitely some education needed here for sure. Luckily its just one click to access a Google Chrome or Firefox web-browser so there's immediate familiarity there.

Linux.com: Why did you choose Linux? What value do you see for your company and your customers by offering Linux?

Linux is widely used in the majority of the world’s most critical infrastructure, especially in the military and banking andfinance sectors. Ninety-eight percent of the world’s supercomputers run Linux and open source software so the value and performance is irrefutable. So our thinking was centered around bringing the same functionality, serviceability, affordability, reliability, security, agility and flexibility to businesses across the globe so that they, too, can benefit from Linux without the traditional barriers to entry. Luckily innovation in the cloud helps us see this reality come true.

Linux.com: Why did you choose Red Hat Linux for these devices?

We’ve debated this considerably amongst our team, but in short we needed the support of Red Hat, and given their presence in 100 percent of the Fortune 500, it was an obvious first choice for us. I believe in giving our customers choice so stay tuned for more on this topic coming soon…

Linux.com: How do you offer software support for your customers?

We leverage the Red Hat support model and manage a consistent configuration with extensive hardware testing before we certify a device.For software that ships with the laptop we guarantee it to work, although there are small bugs here and there that the community is doing a great job to address.

Linux.com: How does the whole thing work?

We acquire hardware from manufacturers like Dell for example, remove Microsoft Windows, and then embed Red Hat Linux, and our management tools. From there we lease the laptop, software, security, management and support as a monthly subscription with annual payments. It’s like buying a smartphone, logging into it and all that you need is there with more specific apps available on demand via the web browser.

Customers simply choose a cloud storage solution first. We require this for our service to work and it protects the customer from data loss and rapidly gets users productive when things fail.

Next we’re partnered with several Value Added Resellers (VARs) to help deliver the service to the end customer. Their job is to be the first line of support for any hardware needs as well as getting the laptops to the customers. There are other services the VAR can sell along with ours so its a good partnership for us to work together and address the needs of our customers.

Once the laptops are delivered the org admin assigns the laptops to their end users using a unique identifier. From there the user receives a welcome notification with login instructions and the laptops are ready to use at that point.

Linux.com: What's your long term vision for the company?

Today we're focused exclusively on laptops but we do have plans to introduce a desktop offering.  Think about the attention around the idea of the Internet of Things (IoT); there's a ton of innovation happening here and it plays right into what we're building. Our technology has the ability to manage any IP connected device with an embedded Linux OS: cars, trucks, aviation technology, mobile phones, tablets, consumer appliances, robotics, military technology, smart devices, you name it, can all be "Powered by Transforia". The possibilities for us are endless.

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