Data access and performance
Data access and application performance are huge issues in virtualized and cloud-based workloads, and a whole slew of Network World's New IT Companies to Watch are working on these problems. Most of them, for whatever reason, have names starting with the letter "A" (startups often choose either A or Z names to get at the beginning or end of lists such as this one).
AppDynamics makes software that manages the performance of distributed Java and .NET applications, making it easier for IT pros to identify and fix problems in Web apps. The software works both on local applications as well as those running on Amazon EC2 and VMware-based clouds.
AppFirst, meanwhile, makes a SaaS product that provides IT pros with visibility into applications, identifying the server, server processes and activities causing performance problems. AppFirst says its service can analyze the "behavior and performance of applications across the entire application stack, regardless of language, application type or location (cloud, physical or virtual servers)."
Then there is Aryaka. Led by CEO Ajit Gupta, who previously sold Speedera Networks to Akamai, this startup has just launched a cloud-based application acceleration and WAN optimization platform, using TCP optimization, bandwidth scaling techniques, and application proxies to improve app performance and reduce bandwidth needs. Aryaka also boasts "enterprise-grade IPSec security."
Startups such as these could help businesses get over some of the performance problems posed by moving workloads to cloud services.
Cloud computing and virtualization "put a lot of demands on the network," Kerravala says. It takes a long time to move 10GB of data across a WAN link, and there's tremendous potential for startups that speed up that process, he notes.
That's why a company like Translattice, a startup whose technology goes into general availability Nov. 1, has built an appliance that improves access to applications and data for distributed and mobile workers. The appliance is fueled by a distributed relational SQL database that moves data closer to where it is likely to be used. "The Translattice platform is a distributed global application architecture that anticipates workers' application and data needs based on organizational policy and past usage, delivering the information when and where it is needed," the company says, adding that these benefits can be extended "even to small and remote offices."
, another New IT Company to Watch, will offer the Velocity Dedupe Engine, a WAN traffic accelerator that uses de-duplication and other techniques to reduce the network traffic going over WAN links by up 80% or 90%, as well as transport layer optimizations and a prioritization engine to ensure that critical traffic is accelerated. The technology supports 10Gbps connections and could speed up, for example, live migrations of VMs from one data center to another.
Infineta's technology won't be generally available until Q1 2011, but the startup says it's already had talks with a few dozen Fortune 500 companies that are looking for ways to handle rapid growth in WAN traffic across data centers.
No startup is likely to overtake Larry Ellison's high-flying Oracle, but several new companies have innovative approaches to the database market. Akiban, whose AkibanDB product will come out sometime in 2011, has created database virtualization software that improves performance of SQL applications, in an attempt to solve the problems that lead customers to "NoSQL" products. The goal is to preserve investments in SQL-based applications by restructuring the way data is organized and accessed with "predictive caching" and other techniques that relieve bottlenecks caused by random access calls and join operations.
Delphix, whose Delphix Server technology is already shipping, provides database virtualization, storage optimization and management software designed to improve efficiency of storage used by Oracle and other databases. Delphix uses "intelligent block management, intelligent block sizing, compression, de-duplication and database filtering technologies" to reduce storage needs, and reduces time needed for database provisioning and refreshes without disrupting production systems. Delphix itself installs on an x86 server or virtual machine; database servers such as Oracle "simply see Delphix Server as a storage target."
Membase goes a different route than Akiban with a NoSQL database management system that includes and builds upon Memcached, a distributed memory caching system that's widely used by many large Web properties. Membase Server, a commercial distribution of open source software that's already powering the online game "Farmville," is designed to improve scalability and performance of Web apps while reducing the complexity of data management.
Membase officials say Memcached "is a key ingredient in the scale our data architecture behind 18 of the top 20 most heavily trafficked Web sites (including Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia and Craigslist) and tens of thousands of other corporate and consumer web applications." Analyst Curt Monash of Monash Research notes that Membase is targeting a potentially huge market in the hopes that such large Web properties will use its software to improve performance of Memcached.
The Membase open source project began last year as a collaborative effect involving Zynga, the creator of online games such as FarmVille and Mafia Wars.
The next generation of storage
Storage bottlenecks have become a problem in data centers that are heavily virtualized, and customers looking to adopt cloud storage have struggled with performance and security. That's where this next group of startups comes in.
Cirtas, whose Bluejet Cloud Storage Controller is shipping for $70,000 and up, lets enterprises offload less frequently used data to the cloud while keeping high priority data in-house for optimal performance. The 2U appliance caches high priority data locally and stores secondary data in cloud services using WAN optimization technology, letting customers access cloud storage with performance and security in mind. The appliance combines DRAM, solid state drives (SSDs) and 7200RPM hard disk drives for multiple tiers of storage and up to 3.5TB of internal capacity.
"Cirtas claims they basically make the cloud look local to the applications," says analyst Arun Taneja of the Taneja Group. "That's the magic" -- customers get local performance with the price and flexibility of cloud computing.
Gridiron Systems, meanwhile, built a SAN application accelerator designed for large databases, VMware deployments, Oracle and general file acceleration. Gridiron uses MLC (multi-level cell) flash chips to provide "the performance and read/write ability of RAM with the capacity of Flash," speeding up access to application data sets.
Gridiron Systems officials claim to be in stealth mode and won't reveal pricing except to potential customers. However, the company seems to be stealth in name only, as it has been shipping production deployments since June and offers detailed information about its technology on its Web site.
On the virtualization front, the startup Virsto is speeding up access to data for virtualized systems, particularly those relying upon Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor. Virsto's storage virtualization software installs into the hypervisor and manages its interaction with storage, improving the efficiency of data access operations in an attempt to eliminate the I/O bottlenecks caused when virtual servers try to access storage systems.
VMware has done a relatively good job optimizing storage, which is why Virsto is focusing on Hyper-V. "Microsoft needs more help" because its virtualization technology is newer than VMware's, Virsto CEO Mark Davis says.
While VMware is still the king of x86 virtualization, Hyper-V is becoming a viable alternative and its market could expand greatly because of the vast Windows Server install base.
"Flash, and successor solid state technologies, will revolutionize storage and the rest of the hardware stack," Monash predicts.Virident makes a PCIe SSD storage system that delivers low-latency data access for I/O-intensive applications, such as databases. Virident isn't the first startup in this market, as it will have to contend against the likes of Fusion-io, which has Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak as its chief scientist. But Virident is claiming to offer faster performance with at least 200,000 IOPS (input/output operations per second), and disk lifetime of 24 years, assuming 5TB worth of writes per day.
Nimble Storage is also targeting the virtualization and SSD markets with converged iSCSI storage, backup and disaster recovery products that combine fast SSD storage with inexpensive SATA drives to give customers primary and backup storage in one device, while also providing offsite replication. Nimble improves storage efficiency with thin provisioning and other features, and is optimized for VMware virtualization deployments and Microsoft applications such as Exchange, SharePoint, and SQL Server.
Network virtualization and disaster recovery
Earlier in this article we noted that VMware became an IT giant by virtualizing the commodity x86 server. One of our "stealthiest" startups is trying to virtualize the network in much the same way VMware virtualized servers.
Nicira Networks, with financial backing from VMware co-founder Diane Greene and a patent-pending network operating system, aims to treat physical infrastructure as a resource pool of capacity, and create logical representations of that capacity which are decoupled from physical infrastructure. If successful, Nicira believes it can "free data center networks form the tyranny of inflexibility, complexity, vendor stranglehold, and high costs."
Nicira isn't saying yet when its technology will be available. Today's virtualization technology, however, is in wide use and provides new opportunities for data center managers to improve disaster recovery. That's the market addressed by our final two New IT Companies to Watch: ZeRTO and Actifio.
Still in stealth mode, ZeRTO is revealing little more than that it is developing disaster recovery/business continuity software aimed at the needs of virtualized, mission critical applications and cloud deployments. CEO Ziv Kedem previously co-founded Kashya, a company acquired by EMC and turned into EMC's RecoverPoint data protection and remote replication product.
ZeRTO is accepting applicants for a private beta program.
Actifio, meanwhile, is attempting to simplify disaster recovery and data protection with software that combines storage virtualization with several other capabilities. The software "integrates capacity optimization with data de-duplication, compression, encryption and network usage optimization," to automate the copy, store, move and restore operations, while helping IT deliver a service catalog with defined SLAs.
Actifio's Data Management Virtualization technology is available now at prices starting at $100,000.
Actifio -- similarly to startups Nimble Storage and Infineta -- is combining several technologies together in unique ways in what Taneja likes to call the "technology blender."
Blending technologies together to solve multiple problems at once may be a good approach for today's complicated IT world. But it's not the only way to break into the enterprise data center, as these 25 startups are showing.
How many of these startups will turn their technologies into successful business models is an open question. But in most cases these startups are gaining significant funding from venture capitalists, a hint that they might be on the right track.
Although the venture market in 2010 is better than it was in 2009, the funding available to tech newcomers has greatly declined over the past decade, leaving money for only the best new companies.
As Armstrong puts it, "There are a lot of bad ideas getting weeded out."
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Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.
This story, "25 New IT Companies to Watch" was originally published by Network World.