Q&A with Ben Schaechter
Co-founder, Vantage - an alternative AWS console with a focus on cost transparency.
What is Vantage and why did you build it?
Vantage is an alternative to the AWS console with a focus on cost transparency and an improved experience for developers.
My background is in public cloud infrastructure, having worked at both DigitalOcean and AWS. From my time at these companies I saw that DigitalOcean has a great developer experience compared to AWS’s rougher experience, but great underlying services.
The original rationale for Vantage was, what if we took the developer experience of DigitalOcean and applied it to the larger public cloud infrastructure providers? However, as we received feedback from customers, we’ve placed more focus on cost transparency.
How are you approaching the challenge of cost transparency?
We’ve been fortunate that we started by focusing on the console first. We did a lot of upfront work to integrate every single AWS service. This included pricing APIs, building out our own syncing and pricing engine that takes into consideration run rates at a point in time as well as historical accrued costs. It is a substantial problem and one that we continue to work on. Luckily, the work we put into the syncing engine during the first six months of the company has paid off, so applying pricing to that has actually been the easier part.
What do you think about competing with AWS’s tools?
I don’t see us as a competitor, we’re extremely complimentary. Vantage is a great companion app to anyone who has a certain threshold of complexity with their infrastructure, resources and costs. If we did think about it in that regard, we would probably lose because, from a feature parity perspective, it’s nearly impossible to compete with the thousands of engineers they have.
We’ve really looked at how we can refine our value proposition and use cases to provide what our customers are asking us for. Our focus is to make pricing simple and manageable for customers on top of these public cloud infrastructure providers not how we can provide a competing feature set to them.
It takes a really long time to learn how AWS APIs work, and considerable time to even work with the primitives. Alternatively, you can come and use Vantage and we’ll do everything out of the box. The chances are we can do it a lot faster and better because we’re doing it on behalf of thousands of customers out there.
What is your philosophy around good UX?
I don’t know that we’ve necessarily had a hard and fast philosophy. There’s a limit to how much front-end resource AWS can invest in any one service, as a result they have a different console experience for every single service. On Vantage you have one consistent experience. We offer uniformity across all resource types and all services. A customer doesn’t need to learn hundreds of different consoles. They can come into Vantage and know where to look for the attributes, relationships and pricing data.
The big challenge we’ve solved is distilling down the price of resources into a simple rate. For anyone who’s worked with AWS, they will understand the complexity of this. Even just getting a price for how much an S3 bucket costs is extremely complex. We’ve put a lot of work into making it possible to dive into the pricing for a specific attribute, or look at a higher level and see what you’re paying for on a per resource basis.
What does a “day in the life” look like?
My days are split across a few different things. The majority of my time is spent on engineering work such as feature development, bug fixing and so on. I also spend time with customers to understand their use cases, as well as talking with prospective customers to find out what they’re looking to accomplish. Lastly, I find time to focus on our marketing strategy. I would say the bulk of my time these days is on engineering, but as we hire more people I’ll shift to focus more and more on other things.
What does the team look like?
There’s three of us at the moment. Myself, my technical co-founder and a designer.
How did you first get into software development?
When I was around 7 years old, my older brother was writing some code in QBasic. I thought it was magical, so I started writing little QBasic scripts to make games for myself. It evolved from there. I’ve always been naturally interested in computers, so throughout high school I taught myself how to code. I was fortunate enough to get a number of internships where I could learn. I had a software internship in high school at Lockheed Martin and then worked at a few startups throughout college. Those taught me everything I know programming wise.
At Lockheed I was using either Java or C. In high school I also took computer programming classes that were Java. I don’t know if you would consider this a programming language, but I also did a bunch of work in MATLAB at Lockheed. The internships throughout college were all Ruby and that’s what I primarily program in these days. I learned Ruby from a guy named Chris Eppstein, a very prominent open-source person who created a Compass, which was a CSS authoring framework.
What’s your stack at Vantage?
We’re primarily a Ruby shop. It’s a Ruby + Rails + PostgreSQL as the database, then we’re using the Stimulus JS framework on the front-end.
We are looking to hire strong Ruby developers who have some experience with infrastructure at the moment, so if there’s any readers that are interested in our work, then they should get in touch.
What is the most interesting challenge you’ve faced working on Vantage?
Before Vantage began, we built this piece of technology that we call the syncing engine. It’s a core part of Vantage. Essentially when someone begins using Vantage it’s hard to know what resources they have in their AWS accounts, what the state of those resources are, and how they change. You can imagine infrastructure changing all the time: resources scale up, scale down, and change in size. There’s different demands that may impact them. We built the syncing engine to scale well when interacting with customer’s AWS resources and ensure everything stays up to date.
Describe your computer hardware setup
I’ve got a 27" iMac as my main development machine. I have the new M1 MacBook that’s primarily my travel machine, although I’m not doing a lot of that these days.
Unfortunately, the M1 chip has not been great for development. There’s a number of things that are just not supported, like Docker, which is an issue. I have faith that the community will add support to these things going forward.
Describe your computer software setup
OS: macOS Big Sur.
IDE: Sublime Text 3.
Describe your desk setup
My desk and swivel chair are both from Amazon. I’ve got a fairly basic set-up. The one unique part about it is my apartment is actually slightly crooked, and I had to wait for a hot weather day for the walls to open up for it to fit perfectly. This desk will never move from where it’s currently at unless it’s demolished! This is the desk I will always have. I can’t move it even if I want to.
Daytime or nighttime? Nighttime.
Tea or coffee? Coffee.
Silence or music? Music. Typically really bad pop or EDM.
What non-tech activities do you like to do?
As I live in New York City, I love just walking around Manhattan and spending time around the city discovering new bars and restaurants. I live very close to the Hudson River and I walk up and down the river all the time. Outside of exploring New York and spending time with my girlfriend, I’m into Peloton. I’m normally a big biker, but in Manhattan it’s not as easy to go on long bike rides compared to when I lived in California.
Find out more
Vantage is an alternative AWS console with a focus on cost transparency. It was featured as an “Interesting Tool” in the Console newsletter on 14 Jan 2021. This interview was conducted on 12 Mar 2021.
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