Business Software

12 hot cloud companies worth watching

ScaleXtreme

Focus: Multi-cloud monitoring and management tools

Founded: 2010

Location: San Mateo, Calif.

Management: Co-founders' former startup sold to BMC for $800 million

Funding: $13.5 million from Accel Partners and Ignition Partners

Availability: Free, generally available SaaS download, some additional analytics features still in private beta

Scale Xtreme
Why we're watching: As cloud computing continues to gain prominence, Nand Mulchandani doesn't believe that enterprises will be keen on putting all their eggs in the basket of one public cloud service provider. They will spread their risk and federate workloads across multiple clouds.

"Customers are building distributed data centers," says Mulchandani, CEO and co-founder of ScaleXtreme. "All of a sudden your servers are no longer in one location, they're potentially in multiple locations, on multiple infrastructures. But they still need to be managed."

ScaleXtreme allows customers to centrally monitor and provision public clouds from a dozen vendors, including Amazon, Azure, Citrix, Dell, Rackspace, VMware and others. Users can see how much CPU, disk storage and various other resources are being used on all of their cloud deployments at once, while monitoring downtime and ensuring security controls are up to date. ScaleXtreme can also be set up to automatically update security patches on virtual machines running on multiple clouds, and it can be configured to back up data or do audit checks of workloads running across public clouds. ScaleXtreme can also be configured to monitor multiple internal, behind-the-firewall data centers or private clouds, all through a single pane of glass.

Company co-founder and CTO Balaji Srinivasa has roots in data center automation, having served as principal product architect for BladeLogic, which was acquired by BMC in 2007 for $800 million. That automation background is seeded deep in ScaleXtreme. The technology works by installing an agent on the public cloud services that connects back to ScaleXtreme's cloud, which does the legwork. The ScaleXtreme system then is able to not only monitor the health of the clouds, but also command them based on the client's needs.

Next up for ScaleXtreme will be going beyond monitoring and provisioning and into predictive analytics. The company recently launched its first tools in that area, which give customers advice on how to provision the exact amount of resources that will be needed based on their history and the experience of other customers.

Social Dynamx

Focus: Social media analytics

Launched: 2011

Location: Austin, Texas

Funding: $2.9 million in angel funding

Availability: Publicly available

Social Dynamx
Why we're watching: Gone are the days of relying solely on 1-800 customer service numbers to air grievances with companies. Twitter, Facebook and other social networks allow customers to complain, and put public pressure on companies to clean up their acts.

All of which has companies scrambling to monitor such social media activity so that they can weed through the fire hose of tweets, posts and messages.

Social Dynamx is trying to address this market with a product delivered as cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) that provides businesses and workers in contact centers with the ability to monitor, analyze and respond to consumer communications. Social Dynamx estimates that 70% of brand tweets go unanswered today, along with a whopping 95% of Facebook posts. "I literally see social media transforming what we know of in the contact center today," says President and COO Jan Ryan.

While there are a variety of other companies that provide social network monitoring, Ryan says Social Dynamx goes the extra mile to provide analytic tools on top of the stream of information it collects. Social Dynamx can be added on to social media monitoring tools, analyze information they collect and prioritize it based on the necessity of a response. "We basically filter out the noise and surface out things that are relevant, placing them in an actionable cue so you know what needs to be prioritized," Ryan says.

The company was founded by a group of enterprise collaboration and business analytics veterans, including Ryan, who was CEO of Sigma Dynamics, which Oracle acquired in 2006. Social Dynamx's CEO Mike Betzer headed up MCI's contact center operations before helping to start Social Dynamx.

The company uses Java-based software that is hosted in the Amazon Web Services cloud to filter and prioritize information it gathers from the social media world. Social Dynamx works with individual customers to customize search terms, and target terms and specific vocabulary related to the company's product names, executives or services. The company even offers integration with customer relationship management (CRM) software to log communications and prioritize interactions with high-profile clients.

Stormpath

Focus: Application user management service

Founded: 2011

Location: San Mateo

Management: Co-founder and CTO Les Hazlewood is chair of Apache Shiro project

Funding: $1.5 million seed funding from NEA, Flybridge, Benchmark Capital and WealthFront

Product availability: Public beta

Stormpath
Why we're watching: Stormpath is trying to make more palatable one of the peskiest parts about building an application: managing user access controls and all of the various accounts, passwords and authentication

Think about it this way: Any application that has more than one user needs a way to manage the different users' passwords, what parts of the application he or she can cannot access, as well as manage password resetting and account verification.

The problem, says co-founder and CEO Alex Salazar, is that "this stuff is hard to get right." Even for experienced developers who know how to build user access controls, it's not trivial to write code providing these features. Plus, Salazar says it's not something that is a distinguishing feature of your application, it's basically just something that applications need. Salazar points to high-profile breaches of companies like LinkedIn, Sony and eHarmony to illustrate how important user access controls can be. "If you get this stuff wrong it can be really bad."

Stormpath was born out of the vision of Salazar, a former IBM senior sales executive, and Les Hazlewood, a former enterprise architect at Bloomberg and Delta Airlines and one of the pioneers of the open source Java security framework Apache Shiro, which is a core piece of the Stormpath code. Salazar compares it to a trendy nightclub where Shiro is the bouncer standing at the door, providing the security framework, while Stormpath would be the guest list, dictating who is let in.

Stormpath is code language and framework agnostic and is priced based on the number of applications it is managing with different tiers of feature sets offered, ranging from a free version to an enterprise-grade fully supported option. Because the service is delivered through a SaaS-based model, Salazar says Stormpath is able to centrally implement the latest security patches and settings throughout the system.

Into next year, Stormpath is hoping to expand its role in the application lifecycle process beyond just developers. Stormpath hopes to extend the service to operations and IT professionals who are looking to set up user access controls within an organization. "Our goal is to help them implement a next generation user management system and help them migrate off LDAP, [Active Directory], custom systems, and home-grown scripts where they want to," he says.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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