Startup Q&A - GitStorage Shields and Centralizes Private Source Code
No one likes losing anything.
Ask anyone working in tech would have a heart attack if lines of source code or a certain set of files (or both) all of a sudden turn up missing. Having some kind of centralized location to store these would be excellent, but for small startups who are unable to afford to store things in a centralized (sometimes expensive) location, it can be an issue.
GitStorage created a device to store private source code initially for personal use. But, the company found that this is a product many small-to-medium sized tech companies would like to have on hand.
We spoke with GitStorage Founder Christian Stredicke and had a chance to learn how the hardware was developed and who will be the ones using it. During our conversation, Stredicke also went into detail on what git repositories are and what kind of coding experience the team has.
CB: I’m a big fan of the phrase “origin story.” What are the origins of GitStorage?
CS: Working with code for many years, we were always wondering if someone would peek at what we are doing. We finally had some time to work on a “pet project” and decided to work on the topic of storing our code in a secure location. It turned out that this problem was harder than initially thought, at least when done well. So we figured we cannot be the only team having that problem and decided to make this a product. We had some background making plastic and hardware already, so we wanted to make a hardware appliance that is very simple to install.
CB: What is the ultimate goal of GitStorage?
CS: We just want to make it a lot easier to run git repositories on a server in a safe and easy way. We don’t see this as a revolution like AI or self-driving cars, but something that will help make our world a little bit less vulnerable to leaking intellectual property out. If you want to hear a visionary statement, we believe that programming is similar to teams that work together to develop intellectual property, like architects or designers of 3D objects. The ability to merge changes works well in git when it comes to line-oriented files like program source code, but maybe git can extend that also to other files types, which would open the product up to a much wider audience. There are many professions that need to work in teams and keep their files private.
CB: Explain what your company does. If it’s a particular software/platform/service/etc. how does it work? Any use case that stands out to you?
CS: We have created a device that can store a company’s private source code on their premises. It locks the device and encrypts the data if it gets unplugged. It also encrypts the data when sending a backup to the cloud (Dropbox). An easy to use web interface allows users to perform common git commands without the need of a git client. Use cases would be any company with software developers and precious intellectual property. Programmers and web designers obviously fall under this category, but also industrial and mechanical engineers, and architects can benefit from git revision control and having everything secure on premises.
CB: How long was the development on the GitStorage device itself? What kind of hardware was used to develop it?
CS: The history actually goes back for a long time. Over the years we have developed our own implementation of the TLS protocol for our VoIP products, and other code like the embedded web server. We have also played with Express but found it still difficult to get this running 24/7 with a good performance in an appliance. We have played with Duktape for some time now and were considering to use it on other projects as well but finally decided to put this all together in the gitstorage product. It is a beauty! Underneath we are using a mini Session Border Controller that we have developed for the SIP world. We thought it does not hurt to use this here. Of course, we think this is the best code ever written, but the main point is that this is different from other mainstream libraries. This makes us a lot less vulnerable to zero-day exploits, simply because we are not such a huge target and our code is not so well known.
As for the hardware, it is all about Raspberry Pi these days. But we did not use the mainstream Pi because we needed an RJ45 Ethernet port for a product like this, so we went with an Orange Pi version. It is important to choose standard hardware manufactured by experienced electronics manufactures. Hardware produced in large volumes is a lot more reliable than small volume devices.
CB: Who are some of the users of GitStorage?
CS: Individuals or teams of software developers, programmers, web designers, engineers, architects.
It is mostly about developing code. Of course, working in teams makes the most sense, but also people working alone can benefit from using gitstorage. I don’t think large companies would go for it; they can afford to have in-house specialists taking care of this topic. But smaller companies don’t have the skills or time to set up a git server properly. For them, it makes sense to just buy a device that is ready to go.
Obviously, software developers that work on closed source code are the main targets, but also web developers should benefit a lot from the device. You can keep some several hundred websites in the device, which is a great way to store a lot of customer projects. If you store pure code, it is shocking how little space you need. The main project that we were working on for more than ten years was just 64MB on the drive; that's just a couple of photos you take with your camera.
Here in Boston, there are a lot of research companies that work with DNA. So we looked up formats that can store DNA in a digital form, and to my surprise, there are actually a lot of formats. Maybe it makes sense to use git for that as well. Researchers are smart people, and maybe they are able to use git from the command line to store their research data, and then they would be a good fit for our device as well. That might also apply to other people like architects or mechanical engineers. At this point, we are open and will see what the market feedback will be. But we expect that in the short term it will be mostly programmers and web designers where git is already mainstream.
CB: How big is the team? Looking to hire any particular position in the upcoming months? Is everyone on the team experienced Linux developers?
CS: We are just a small team after all... GitStorage was our pet project! Good people are rare and always welcome. We have lots of experience with Linux, even wrote our own little Linux drivers in the old snom days. But when it comes to the front end we at times are struggling to keep up with the latest frameworks. That might be an area where a new team member may take us to the next level. Working to see a product from the very beginning to market entry and if we are lucky, to some commercial success is something that is hard to get in large companies.
CB: Has your company participated in any trade shows/meetup events in the Boston area? What about events outside of Boston?
CS: We've either participated or are going to participate in the following events:
a. DeveloperWeek SF Bay Area, Oakland CA - Feb 6-7, 2018
b. Boston New Technology Startup Showcase, South Boston - March 7, 2018
c. DroidCon Boston - March 26-27, 2018
CB: Is the company bootstrapped or seeking investments?
CS: We’re currently bootstrapped. We were in a lucky situation that we could use code from our VoIP history which saved us a lot of time. And we are lucky to have enough cash to finance projects like this without help from outside. This is a tremendous advantage compared to startups that depend on the next financing round that can easily put a company out of business or frustrate the founding team. And from the previous company, we still have good relationships with a Taiwanese hardware manufacturer who gave us a helping hand getting the hardware parts done in a professional way. I think we have a good setup that we can keep going for a long time.
CB: I’m always interested in how a startup came up with its name. How did GitStorage get its name?
CS: Well it is in a lot of available domain names. Having the name “git” in the name helps explain to people what the product is good for. We tried a few combinations, the domain gitstorage.com was available so we went for it. All that we have to do now is to explain that this is an appliance and get in front of the right audience.