12 hot cloud companies worth watching

While big-name players such as Amazon, Google, IBM, Verizon and VMware sit atop the burgeoning cloud computing market, an entire ecosystem of early stage startups are looking to stake their claim, too.

And why not? As Ignition Partners' Frank Artale sees it, enterprises are on the precipice of the next major shift in computing and venture capital firms are "very aggressive" in looking for companies that can help customers ease their transition to the cloud.

"Initially this move will create more complexity," he says. "Companies that can enable the use of cloud, virtual networking and storage will gets lots of attention."

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Our list of a dozen such cloud computing upstarts, hailing from locations as far apart as Silicon Valley and Israel, includes those leveraging mobile devices for worker productivity, integrating software-defined networking and provisioning and monitoring cloud-based services. These companies -- many of which have been able to get up and running by taking advantage of cloud services themselves -- have attracted some $161 million in funding (one snared a $60 million round by itself) and are hungry for more as they look to grow their businesses.

CloudOn

Focus: Optimization of Microsoft Office apps for mobile devices

Founded: 2009 Location: Palo Alto, Calif., with offices in Herzliya, Israel

Management: Former Cisco employees Milind Gadekar (CloudOn CEO) and Meir Morgenstern (CloudOn VP of engineering/operations)

Funding: $26 million from Foundation Capital, Embarcadero Ventures, Rembrandt Venture Partners and Translink Capital

Product availability: Free download available on Apple, Android platforms now

Why it's worth watching: Ask Milind Gadekar, and he'll tell you that the workforce of the future will rely even more heavily on mobile devices. But for many workers, the most popular applications they use at their jobs are not optimized to work on mobile devices. That's where CloudOn comes in.

The folks at CloudOn are aiming to make that mobile workforce more productive with their free app that's in public beta. The company specializes in optimizing Microsoft Office for use on phones and tablets across a range of mobile operating systems, including iOS and Android, all using a cloud-based service.

Cisco purchased Gadekar's first startup, named P-Cube, which focused on network optimization for service providers, for $200 million in 2004. After heading up product marketing for the firm, Gadekar left the company three years ago to explore mobile optimization opportunities. That's when he founded CloudOn with Meir Morgenstern, who led the technical side of P-Cube and now serves as VP of engineering for CloudOn. Within a year of founding CloudOn, Gadekar says the best thing that could have happened to the company did: Apple released its first iPad.

With the release of the tablet, employees started bringing their iPads to work, looking to get access to email and their applications. "This was the exact problem we were trying to solve," Gadekar says. In January 2011, CloudOn launched a free version of its app, available in the Apple App Store. Within 12 hours it was the No. 1 app in the entire app marketplace, not just in the productivity category where the company placed it. "Since then, it's been a complete whirlwind," Gadekar says. CloudOn has launched in 80 countries and in 70 of those it became the top downloaded app within 24 hours of launch. The app is now available on Android devices and in just over seven months it's been downloaded 1.8 million times. "People are clearly looking for ways to be more productive, to enhance their mobile experience and to have a way to be mobile-centric," Gadekar says.

CloudOn powers its application using proprietary software developed for optimizing Microsoft Office for use on a gesture-controlled mobile device. On the back end, it leverages file sharing services DropBox, Google Drive and Box, while hosting the software as a service (SaaS)-based application in the Amazon Web Services cloud. The success has fueled the company's further development. Having raised $26 million through two rounds of funding, the company is aiming to start monetizing the product early next year.

DeepField

Focus: Cloud and network mapping and performance benchmarking

Founded: 2011

Location: Ann Arbor, Mich.

Management: CEO Craig Labovitz, previously chief scientist/chief architect at Arbor Networks

Funding: $1.5 million in seed funding from DFJ Mercury and RPM VenturesProduct availability: Public beta

Why it's worth watching: Just how well do you know your cloud?

Do you know all of the service providers in the supply chain that make up your cloud service? If you're a service provider, do you know exactly what's going on in your network? DeepField claims it has the answers.

Founded in the fall of 2011 by network security experts who specialized in DDoS protections, DeepField gives customers a deep analysis of what the company calls the cloud genome. It's the exact makeup of a cloud infrastructure and the various vendors and users on the network.

DeepField installs virtual machines on the network to conduct a range of analytical functions. "This allows anyone with a large network or compute infrastructure to get a clear handle on exactly what's happening in their network," says DeepField Chief Data Scientist Naim Falandino. DeepField officials are releasing scant details of how the system works because of a patent pending on the back-end technology, but Falandino says it has the ability to conduct real-time monitoring and mapping.

The company's product is currently in public beta, but DeepField is ramping up for its general availability this fall.

As Network World's Carolyn Duffy Marsan explained in a recent profile, mapping a cloud's architecture can help network operators better understand their cloud services, more easily launch new services and improve system performance.

DeepField engineers have already used their data to yield some interesting findings. In April, for example, co-founder Craig Labovitz described how he used DeepField technology to monitor weeks of network data from several million Internet end users to find that nearly one-third of all Internet traffic is somehow connected to Amazon Web Services infrastructure.

Domo

Focus: Business intelligence software

Founded: 2011

Location: American Fork, Utah

Management: Founder/CEO Josh James, who also started the Omniture Web analytics service

Funding: $63 million, including from Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff

Product availability: Not saying yet

Fun fact: Changed name to from Corda to Domo, meaning "thank you" in Japanese, to thank customers for using the service

Why we're watching: You'd think Josh James would have been thrilled to sell Omniture to Adobe in 2009 for $1.8 billion, but he had frustrations: He says it wasn't easy to get access to all the reports he needed as CEO. HR reports were in one area and file system, financial and operational reports in another.

Now James is back on the startup scene with cloud-based business intelligence software vendor Domo looking to solve that problem.

"We're focused on helping business executives get the information they want, when they want it, how they want it," says Julie Kehoe, vice president of communications. The company remains fairly hush-hush about its technology as it continues to operate in stealth mode, but Kehoe says Domo can handle anything from sales to HR and online/offline marketing information from across an enterprise and beyond. "When we talk to customers right now, they talk about all the promises of analytics tools, but the No. 1 pain point is having all their information in one place," she says. Domo is designed to work on top of and alongside existing reporting applications, including Salesforce.com's CRM tool.

James got the company started last year by purchasing Corda, another analytics firm, and changing the name to Domo. No word yet on when the product will be released, but industry watchers expect it to be next year.

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