15 cloud companies to watch

AbiquoHeadquarters: Redwood City, Calif.What it offers: Abiquo Enterprise Edition, cloud management softwareHow much it costs: Community Edition: free download. Enterprise Edition: From $211 for 1-49 physical cores to $432 for 1,000 or more cores

Why we're watching the company: Abiquo has tackled two problems plaguing just about any IT organization that operates a virtual infrastructure – how to manage it effectively and how to avoid vendor lock-in. Abiquo combines open source software with cloud expertise and support for multiple hypervisors.

"We built our product around where virtual management is going, which is the cloud. We are hypervisor agnostic and can move virtual machine images between any hypervisor. We provide the management glue," said Abiquo CEO Pete Malcolm in an interview for Network World's "Network/Systems Management Alert" newsletter. 

IT managers can use the software to create virtual data centers through which they can deploy bundled servers, storage and other physical resources, and applications from public or private virtual image libraries. The Abiquo cloud management software separates the task of managing those physical infrastructure pieces from the creation and management of applications. The software, running on a central server, auto-discovers machine resources, manages existing live virtual machines, and can capture and store "stateful" virtual machines, Malcolm described.

The latest version, Abiquo 1.5, adds policy-based workload management, enforceable resource limits and multi-tenancy capabilities that provide delegated provisioning of virtual enterprises.

What this all means for enterprise IT shops is the grand promise of vendor-neutral, interoperable management of virtual resource pools, be those inside the company or out in the cloud.

Who heads the company: CEO Pete Malcolm, a serial entrepreneur brought in last year to help the company expand internationally. Most recently, he had been CTO at Orchestria, which he founded and CA bought in 2009.

How the company got into cloud computing: Founders initially focused on grid computing but interest in cloud technologies led to development of the AbiCloud open source project in early 2008. AbiCloud was formally released in February.

BoomiHeadquarters: Berwyn, Pa.What it offers: Boomi AtomSphere, a cloud integration platform for enterprises, systems integrators and SaaS players.How much it costs: Monthly fees range from $495 for SMBs to $1,995 for complex, enterprise needs

Why we're watching it: SaaS apps are increasingly becoming part of an enterprise's business solutions portfolio, and that gives rise to the thorny issue of integrating the new with the old. A company might, for example, complement a legacy ERP application with an online HR service for acquiring and managing talent. Sharing information between the two could prove highly beneficial – "'but what do you do when you've got the on-premises over here and the cloud over there?'" asks Mike West, a vice president with Saugatuck Technology, a strategic IT advisory firm.

"Integration is probably one of the most significant things companies want to do," West says. "'What are the concerns we hear about cloud solutions, year over year?' They're about integrated processes, data and workflows."

Boomi, West says, has the connectors to make that work. "It offers a powerful set of options for companies that want to manage cloud and on-premises applications or applications in multiple clouds. … It's a complete, trustworthy solution that has high ease of use."

Who heads the company: CEO Bob Moul, who joined the company in late 2005 and shepherded Boomi as it moved from the premises to the cloud. He comes to the company with senior management experience at a variety of consulting and software firms.

How the company got into cloud computing: Boomi began in 2000 as a provider of on-premise application integration technology. As talk of a cloud-computing model gained momentum, it decided to parlay that experience into a position providing integration for SaaS applications – and so in mid-2007 launched its on-demand integration platform.

CloudShareHeadquarters: Menlo Park, Calif.What it offers: An on-demand SaaS collaboration platform for running demonstrations, proofs-of-concept, technical evaluations, and training. CloudShare Pro, for individual users, teams and small- and midsize businesses, enables customers to share simple IT environments comprising multiple virtual machines. CloudShare Enterprise, targeted at large enterprises and value-added resellers, includes advanced user management, channel hierarchy, analytics and collaboration features.How much it costs: All-inclusive pricing is on a per-seat, per-size model.

Why we're watching the company: Having extra IT resources ready for the taking is one of the big promises of the cloud, but making that quick and easy – especially for individuals, workgroups or smaller IT shops – can be problematic.

CloudShare, however, seems to have gotten that down to an art.

"This is a great solution if you need a lower entry point on technical expertise or time," says Steven Peltzman, CIO of New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), referring to CloudShare Pro and its ease of use in setting up and tearing down IT environments for testing or production support. "This is drag and drop and you're off – lots easier to interface and get started with than with bigger, burlier cloud solutions." 

For example, he says, "I could easily whip up a few servers to run a disaster recovery exercise, prove what we need to prove and give the servers back."

Besides the disaster recovery potential, MoMA and other museums could use CloudShare for occasions when they need to share applications.

Who heads the company? Founder Zvi Guterman, formerly CTO of Safend, an endpoint data protection company he co-founded.

How company got into cloud computing: Founders say they launched CloudShare to address the frustration and inefficiencies they encountered in their daily jobs in trying to use IT. The aim was to enable users to spend less time on operational tasks and more on those related to creating business value, they say.

Crosscheck NetworksHeadquarters: Newton, Mass.What it offers: CloudPort, a cloud simulation productHow much it costs: $4,999

Why we're watching the company: Service-oriented architecture (SOA) testing companies have begun rounding out their product lines with tools aimed at giving IT organizations more confidence as they plan for application migrations to the cloud. The product can also ease the infrastructure and cost burdens of building out lab environments.

With CloudPort, developers can profile and measure the impacts of moving to cloud platforms while modeling the risk and cost benefits, the company says. From a central console, the tool provides information about cloud providers such as performance metrics, geographic latency and service initiation times; outages and application error states; and security, capacity and interoperability. Plus, it offers the ability to run what-if modeling scenarios. It leverages cloud instances from Amazon EC2, OpSource Cloud, GoGrid and Rackspace, and says its pay-as-you-go model lets enterprises realize cost savings of up to 60% when compared to reference architectures, while compressing the services life cycle and reducing time-to-market.

Who heads the company: CEO Mamoon Yunus, who founded Forum Systems, where he pioneered Web services security gateways and firewalls.

How the company got into cloud computing: Crosscheck comes from the Web services/SOA testing world. As SOA and virtualization come together in the cloud, adding cloud testing tools to its portfolio was a logical next step.

EgnyteHeadquarters: Mountain View, Calif.What it offers: Egnyte Local Cloud, a hybrid file server service combining local and cloud storageHow much it costs: Pricing ranges from $9.99 to $49.99 monthly, plus an additional $4.99 to $19.99 monthly for optional local cloud storage, depending on number of users, services selected and payment term.

Why we're watching it: Egnyte initially caught our eye back in late 2008 for its cloud-based file storage service offering a new way to store and back up data, as well as share information. Egnyte has since upped the ante with the Local Cloud hybrid option. With this offering, users can tap into hosted files and store data when online and, when not connected to the 'Net, via a local cloud. When Internet connectivity is restored, the Egnyte Local Cloud synchronizes with the Egnyte Cloud File Server for seamless storage.

"What's interesting about Egnyte is that it embodies a lot of the ideals of the entrepreneurs and pundits around cloud – namely, that it should be pay per use, self-service, and simple to use with easy-to-understand payment," says Frank Gillett vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. "These are the attributes that makes it interesting. Egnyte has standardized and streamlined the whole process."

Egnyte should prove particularly appealing to individuals, workgroups or small companies. One such company is The Law Offices of Ronny Buni, a New York firm that uses Egnyte cloud storage to "release the burden of maintaining a large server and adequate tech support," says Ronny Buni, president.

Who heads the company? Co-founder Vineet Jain, who is CEO. Previously, Jain founded and built Valdero, a supply chain software solution provider since acquired by One Network Enterprises.

How the company got into cloud computing: Founders say they came up with the idea for Egntye when considering how to address a problem they faced in their previous work lives – easy but secure access to files from their familiar computing devices.

ElastraHeadquarters: San FranciscoWhat it offers: Elastra Enterprise Cloud Server (ECS), a software platform that automates the allocation and management of application and related resources in private and public cloudsHow much it costs: Metered, pay-per-use pricing; an edition of Elastra's Enterprise Cloud Server is available free to Amazon Web Services (AWS) users.

Why we're watching it: An IT management technology start-up to watch for 2010, holds the promise of making cloud computing easier to use and more accessible overall, but especially to companies with lightly staffed IT organizations that want to support cloud computing initiatives.

Elastra has gained recognition for its ability to simplify the processes of creating, managing and allocating shared resources. In an April 2009 report, Forrester identified Elastra as one of several "cloud-in-a-box" solutions that help enterprises build on existing resources and provide a quick path to an internal cloud. In particular, the report points out Elastra's ability to combine architecture and life-cycle management with cloud automation tools that help with design and deployment, monitoring, consumption-based metering and management of commercial software licenses.

Elastra offers a version of ECS that supports private clouds based on VMware vCenter or Citrix Xen virtualization environments, and has made available packages for supporting applications for use in the Amazon cloud and, in a trial version released in March, VMware vSphere 4.

Who heads the company: CEO Kirill Sheynkman, a longtime entrepreneur who, prior to launching Elastra, founded Standard Technology Group, a relational OLAP engine maker acquired by Informix/IBM.

How the company got into cloud computing: Sheynkman and others founded the company specifically to address an emerging need in the cloud market.

GoodDataHeadquarters: San FranciscoWhat it offers: GoodData On Demand, a cloud-based platform for business intelligence (BI) applicationsHow much it costs: Monthly fees range from $500 per project for a 250MB data warehouse to $2,500 per project for a 20GB data warehouse.

Why we're watching the company: BI is a hot technology – a business imperative for companies that want to be agile and compete effectively. But BI projects can be notoriously tricky to do well and they don't come cheap, either. Upfront licensing, consultative and ongoing costs can be limiting, if not prohibitive factors for many companies.

Enter BI in the cloud. Available on demand, BI as a service can be far less expensive yet much quicker to implement and easier to use than complex, legacy BI applications. BI in the cloud means no software to buy, licenses to maintain or related infrastructure to support.

In GoodData's case, users place their data within a single instance of the company's secure, hosted BI platform. For simple data files of up to 10MB – or 100,000 rows in an Excel file, the company says – users can upload into the cloud using a comma-separated values wizard. Also available are REST-based APIs and pre-built scripts for loading data directly and securely from any location. Users can automate the upload process to ensure currency of the hosted data. Once their data is safely nestled in the cloud, companies then have the ability to build and manage multidimensional data models, analyze data – collaboratively if desired – and share results via user-friendly dashboards.

Who heads the company: CEO Roman Stanek, a longtime tech entrepreneur; prior to launching GoodData, he founded NetBeans and Systinet.

How the company got into cloud computing: Stanek set out with a mission to provide a platform for collaborative analytics.

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