Obsidian Systems is celebrating 25 years in the making. We are proud of how far we come. Our beginnings have defined who we are, what we do and how we do it. Open Source is our proud heritage and its principles will continue to fuel our drive to innovate.
This is a brief overview of the first few years in Obsidian’s history.
Obsidian was conceived when a group of postgraduate RAU engineering students started playing around with Linux and were introduced to the open source world. It was known as Linux because nobody had heard that little recording of Linus where he says it should be pronounced as “Linnux”.
This was 1994, in the infancy of the internet. Internet connections were limited to universities, huge companies and a few government institutions. Modems made funny noises and downloading those study and work-related images took hours.
Soon this group of students became the go-to people to assist with implementing and maintaining Linux servers used by academics in their research and work. Downloading the operating system and saving it on a dozen stiffy drives took days.
Everything was strictly command line and packaging of updates and patches was a long way off, yet the technology was becoming more crucial by the day. What started as a favour turned into a business model: There is money to be made from free software.
Next step: Register a business, mainly so the growing customer base could be invoiced. The chosen by consensus company name was some acronym of the founders’ names and Nols de Wet was chosen to register the company and make things official After queuing at the registrar’s office with the required paperwork it turned out none of the suggested names were usable, or they were too close to existing business names. As with all waiting areas, there were some arbitrary magazines stacked on a table. Urgently trying come up with a name before losing his spot at the counter, a name popped up from a geology and mining magazine: Obsidian. Sounded cool. So it happened: 1995, Obsidian Systems Pty Ltd.
Within 2 years, Obsidian had outgrown desks in student accommodation, open tables in university offices, parents garages and spare bedrooms. As the founders finished their studies some moved on to “real jobs”, Obsidian rented a small office space in a building in a business park, which became a meeting place for the early adopters of open source and there was a constant stream of new talent and building excitement around the technology.
Soon the new office in Boskruin became too small, so Obsidian took over the whole floor. Then the whole building. Archway became our first investment partner and business became more serious. Later nights required stronger coffee.
Our customers ranged from schools with IT centres looking for mail solutions and firewalls, departments and individual academics at universities, to the first businesses to take a chance on open source commercially, like Nandos. Obsidian sold hardware, distributed CD’s using postal services, with downloaded versions of Linux, we offered support, training, custom development and consulting. We started an ISP, hosted servers. Obsidian was open for business and experimentation.
In 1999 Obsidian partnered with Red Hat, specifically around their first commercial product: Certified training. As Linux and Open Source became a serious contender in the IT market, Obsidian started dealing with larger corporates, as partners and as customers. in 2001 we simply ran out of parking at the original office park and we moved to an adjacent office building on the corner of Bosbok and Kelly road. We carried most of the furniture to the new offices. Here we had a server room. We had multiple bathrooms and office plants. We had a lapa, where we had loud Friday afternoon company meetings and we had to replace some sliding doors.
Moving into the new millennium, we were working with HP on a huge international project to create a multiple Linux workstation platform working off a single PC. Our employee number climbed higher and higher and without anyone noticing and we were on a path to learn some hard business truths in the not too distant future.
In the meantime, business kept growing and Obsidian was successfully catching all the big waves in technology and open source.
In 2003 Obsidian took the prime spot at that year’s Linux Conf at the Sandton Convention Centre. Ubuntu was the latest Linux distribution on the block and Mark Shuttleworth was hanging out at our stand. Our business model became the foundation of new start-ups and big spenders like the financial sector were becoming more accepting of open source and Linux. We were growing bigger, but we still had to grow up.
Are we adulting? Sure but we haven’t stopped with our childlike wonder and curiosity of new technology.
by Wilhelm Strydom