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VMblog Expert Interview: Ulf Adams Discusses EngFlow, Bazel, and What's Next


EngFlow is a SaaS company that is redefining how companies build software and ship well-tested products.  To find out more about the company, the problems that they solve, and where they are headed in 2023, VMblog spoke with Ulf Adams, the company's Co-Founder & CTO.

VMblog: Before we dive in deeper, congratulations on your recent funding announcement. By way of introduction, can you let our readers know what EngFlow does?

Ulf Adams:  Thank you! Helen and I have created EngFlow to fundamentally improve how software engineers work. We have built SaaS services that speed up builds and tests for Bazel, Chromium, and AOSP, and are actively expanding beyond that. For example, we have shown build time improvements ~8x for Chromium builds. This is a game changer for engineering productivity, and our services have been adopted by startups as well as Fortune 500 companies.

VMblog: Can you talk a bit more about Bazel? What is it and why is it beneficial?

Adams:  I worked on the Bazel team starting back in 2009, through March 2015 when Google open sourced it, and up to early 2021. There are many reasons why I think Bazel is great: 1) It's designed to be fast and scalable - it can handle Google's ludicrously large codebase while also performing sub-second incremental builds. 2) It supports many, many different languages - C/C++, C#, Android, Java, Docker, Erlang, Go, Groovy, Latex, PHP, Python - you name it, it's got it - and, of course, it can build all of these in a single invocation. 3) It's highly extensible to even more languages. 4) It supports standardized APIs to integrate with other developer tools and services. 5) It supports running compilers and tests remotely, which isolates them from each other and guarantees hermeticity and reproducibility in a way that few other build tools do.

VMblog: OK - let's switch gears and talk about EngFlow a bit. What problem does it solve?

Adams:  You've heard this before: Every company is a software company. Over the past few years, a lot of companies have grown their software source code to the point where they are struggling with the size. Builds taking hours, tests taking hours, maybe switching to nightly builds - this hurts developer productivity and, ultimately, company velocity. EngFlow can help break this vicious cycle by making builds fast again, and potentially even save money in the process.

VMblog: Why use EngFlow rather than just the community version of Bazel?

Adams:  It's a case of "better together". We don't replace Bazel; instead, our users use Bazel with some configuration to enable integration with our SaaS service, which magically makes it go faster. More than that, we also provide an easy-to-use view of the build which gives developers direct access to all the build results as well as providing them with automated feedback on possible build improvements based on the team's extensive Bazel experience - courtesy of our open source Bazel profile analyzer. Beyond Bazel, we also support Chromium and the AOSP.

VMblog: On the heels of re:Invent, a useful post was recently published on AWS' blog about building fast, reliable, and cost-efficient builds/tests at scale with EngFlow Remote Execution on AWS. What will AWS customers take away from this post?

Adams:  We have worked closely with AWS as well as some of our customers over the past few months to really get the most value out of AWS's services in ways that are difficult or impossible for traditional build systems to match. I'm particularly proud of our work to leverage the cheaper preemptible instances without negatively impacting build performance or reliability. We can really give software developers superpowers - 1,000 machines or more at their fingertips - without breaking the bank.

Of course, we work with GCP and other clouds, too.

VMblog: What's next for EngFlow? What can we expect to see in 2023?

Adams:  While we are constantly improving performance while reducing cloud infrastructure costs, I am particularly excited about upcoming support for geographically distributed clusters so that developers in - say - New York and San Francisco have equally good user experiences. On the Bazel side, expect to see more significant code contributions from us this year. We are also organizing regular community days for Bazel and Chromium developers (coming up: Bazel Community Day at Wix and Goma Meetup at Island). We're also excited for the annual BazelCon conference (originally co-created by EngFlow co-founder Helen Althshuler) which brings Bazel users and contributors together. It's a great place to meet with engineers in the Bazel ecosystem, learn about their challenges, share our expertise and collaborate on open source projects.


Published Wednesday, February 08, 2023 11:00 AM by David Marshall
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