It's a rough economy for established vendors and start-ups alike, but the IT industry has plenty of interesting newcomers. These 10 companies to watch are tackling pressing problems related to virtualization, the cloud, smartphones, network management, security and power and cooling.
Virtualization is sure to be one of the most closely watched information technologies in 2010, as enterprises look to adopt the technology effectively and securely. A company to watch called HyTrust is focusing on the security portion with an appliance that takes the control mechanisms of the physical world and applies them to virtual infrastructure.
[See related slideshow, Product Roundup: 10 Start-ups to Watch]
Virtualization is becoming ever more popular, but with success comes a form of unwanted attention -- from hackers eager to exploit the vulnerabilities of hypervisors, says Forrester analyst James Staten. Hypervisors have not yet become a central point of attack but Staten expects them to become a big target in the next year.
"As we've seen with other technologies, when they get to the point where they're almost ubiquitous in the market is when hackers go after them," Staten says.
HyTrust founders believed that security was not getting the proper attention in virtualized data centers and built an appliance that provides a centralized point of control "for virtual infrastructure access, policy management, security configuration, and compliance," the company says. Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf says many VMware customers are struggling with authentication in ESX, but HyTrust solves that problem with more granular auditing and security controls at the hypervisor layer.
HyTrust won "Best of Show," the top award at VMworld this year, with judges deciding the HyTrust Appliance offers "the greatest potential to secure virtual environments by providing a single point of access control" and frees admins to set policies once that won't be overridden by other tools."
Beyond server virtualization, many enterprises are thinking about virtualizing their desktop infrastructure. A start-up called Wanova is hoping to catch on in this space with "Distributed Desktop Virtualization (DDV)" software, which provides centralized management by storing a primary copy of an operating system image in the data center, while storing a cached copy on endpoints to boost performance and provide offline desktop use. The focus is on enterprises with many mobile and remote users.
Wolf believes Wanova "combines the best of a lot of worlds" in desktop virtualization - specifically the benefits of centralized management, including the ability to quickly provision new desktops, with an offline VDI experience delivered transparently to end users. Wanova also requires fewer upfront hardware investments than many virtual desktop products, and allows up to 1,000 end points to be managed from a single 1U server.
"I could see another major player in the desktop virtualization looking to [acquire] Wanova," Wolf says. "I would put VMware, Quest Software, and possibly Microsoft in that group."
In addition to virtualization, cloud computing will be a major focus for both IT vendors and customers in the year ahead. The market is plagued by hype, but there are also numerous vendors trying to bring real-world benefits of cloud technology to the enterprise.
One such player is Zetta, which has built a cloud storage service backed by a file system with snapshots, replication and other enterprise-class features. Zetta will have to compete against established players, most notably Amazon's Simple Storage Service. But Zetta has experience on its side, with CEO Jeff Treuhaft, who was one of Netscape's first employees; and vice president of engineering Lou Montulli, who invented Web cookies and was also an early Netscape employee.
Cloud storage can help enterprises grapple with ever-expanding data volumes, but many companies are concerned about the safety of trusting their information to a third party. To help ease those concerns, Zetta has built a system that encrypts data at rest, and can withstand multiple hardware and network failures without losing data.
Another company looking to increase adoption of cloud services is CloudSwitch, which promises to move existing applications from internal data centers to public cloud platforms, without the bother of re-creating the application or changing management tools.