At DEMO Spring 2010, which kicked off on Monday in Palm Springs, six startup companies won the chance to present their big cloud computing ideas. For cloud industry watchers, there was one piece of good news: No one debated the definition of cloud in the presentations.
Still, the debate about whether any old SaaS app is really "cloud" was definitely being waged by the attendees. And the apps that generated the most crowd buzz were what some people might call "hard-core cloud," involving cloud storage and large data-set analysis on the fly.
Here's a look at all six cloud companies, including CIO.com's picks for the most intriguing of the bunch: AirSet, Cloudscale and FathomDB.
Slideshow: 25 Awesome Tech Products at DEMO
Airset is designed to let you set up personal cloud servers for yourself and for the groups in your life, such as coworkers and family. AirSet's service offers individuals or groups a personal cloud computer with 1GB of storage and some pre-loaded third-party apps from the likes of Zoho.
The basic service is free (it's ad-supported). For $2.95 a month, the user can remove ads, add security and increase the storage to 5GB.
With shared computers, you can share contacts, documents, project management lists and the like. With encrypted storage and Web publishing tools, including an HTML editor for one-click Web publishing, AirSet looks to pack a punch. And users can do all of this without a drop of help from IT.
Anyone following cloud computing knows that data analysis on the fly represents a significant opportunity. But so does anyone who has been held back by complicated analysis programs or customized reports that business users are not allowed to construct themselves. Sometimes, you just want to do your own slicing and dicing, and you don't want to wait days for results.
Enter Cloudscale's Cloudcel, which CEO Bill McColl says aims to help you build big data apps in minutes and run them instantly.
The Cloudscale cloud, with secure encryption and running on Amazon's infrastructure, lets users work inside Microsoft Excel, dropping live data into a spreadsheet or pushing data from the spreadsheet to the cloud.
In other words, McColl says, this plug-in changes Excel into cloud-enabled Excel, where you get menu options to build apps for hefty data analysis. This can be as simple as filling in a formula, he says. The Excel tool is out now; later in the year, the company plans to deliver a browser-based interface, Google Docs compatibility and some mobile device interfaces, McColl says.
FathomDB impressed the DEMO crowd with its relational database as a service offering. "Everyone is saying SQL doesn't scale," says Fathom DB CEO Justin Santa Barbara. "With Fathom DB, SQL does scale." He notes that his product, running in the cloud, scales down as well as up, meaning the smallest of companies can start with this service and stick with it as they grow.
Sure, you can buy specialized hardware from Oracle to do the same job, but there's one problem, Santa Barbara says: "Larry's yachts don't come for free." While Oracle leverages specialized hardware, FathomDB uses cheap commodity computers to build its cloud.
A company such as Twitter, he says, could use FathomDB and stop worrying about adding servers to accommodate maximum loads. The Fathom DB service also offers fully automated backups and management tools including a Web-based control panel that shows what's going on inside your server. The company offers its hosted database service via Rackspace and Amazon's cloud infrastructure.
With one of the most unusual product names we've heard in a while, the gwab-o-sphere from Gwabbit aims to provide users an "automatic contact cloud." Or, as the company describes it, "a universal remote control for contact management." (The company's Gwabbit contact capture tools for Outlook and BlackBerry earned DEMO awards in 2009.)
The idea with the new "contact cloud" offering is to enable one user to e-mail his contact information to another person, have the tool automatically import the data into Outlook, and import the same information to services such as LinkedIn and Facebook. While running via the Web, this offering seems positioned to make some people say: "Is it 'cloud' just because it runs online?" Debate amongst yourselves.
MightyMeeting describes itself as a mobile collaboration platform. It lets users access a cloud-based library of rich media presentations from an iPhone, iPad or Android phone. Just as interestingly, it lets users start or join a Web meeting right from the mobile device.
As demonstrated by CEO Dmitri Tcherevik, who did a live presentation on an iPhone using 3G, the presentation slides looked quite good on an iPhone - and even better on an iPad. "With MightyMeeting, you turn it [the iPad] into a powerful business tool," he declared. The idea of doing a presentation or Web meeting from anywhere with your iPhone or iPad certainly will resonate with some users, which makes one wonder: Why didn't Apple develop a similar service itself?
6. Infusionsoft Email Marketing 2.0
Aimed at small businesses,Infusionsoft's on-demand offering helps customers do targeted e-mail marketing. The offering includes a customer database and CRM functionality, e-commerce features and automation. The company demonstrated how the service can also help small businesses create marketing pieces such as e-mails and newsletters. SugarCRM certainly already plays in this space. Like Gwabbit, this service falls under cloud if you define cloud broadly, as anything that's SaaS or on-demand.
Yet as Parallels noted at its recent Summit conference, the ironic part for vendors playing in this market segment is that small business users don't really want to think about cloud very much. They just want to get their work done.
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This story, "Six Cool Cloud Companies at DEMO Spring 2010" was originally published by CIO.