By now we're all familiar with the big names in the cloud computing industry, such as Amazon, Rackspace and VMware. But there are also a whole host of cloud start-ups that are coming online to help you manage your cloud services provided by the big players. In this piece we'll profile seven of the best up-and-coming cloud companies that are helping customers do everything from keeping their cloud costs low to implementing their own private clouds to meeting security and regulatory needs.
Focus: NoSQL database management system
Location: Mountain View, California
CEO: Brian Bulkowski
Product availability: Version 2.0, now
Why it's worth watching: Citrusleaf wants you to associate its NoSQL database with both reliability and low latency. And while those two qualities are important for most data centers, they're particularly important for a company such as Citrusleaf that powers real-time bidding applications for the advertising industry.
"What is crucial about the advertising business is that you can't go down, you must have extreme reliability," says Citrusleaf founder and CEO Brian Bulkowski. "For instance, say if we were just down for 10 minutes - that could cost you $20,000. So the fact that we have never had an outage at any customer sites is why people go to Citrusleaf."
The company's latest database product, dubbed Citrusleaf 2.0, launched this past spring and currently has around 10 customers using it. The company says that "the most common deployments" for the database are "terabytes of data, billions of objects, and 200K plus transactions per second per node, with sub-millisecond latency." In other words, Citrusleaf 2.0 moves a lot of data with virtually no latency.
One of the major applications that Citrusleaf 2.0 performs is real-time bidding, a process that the company says "allows advertisers to analyse a site's users individually and to determine in real-time the right ad to serve based on a split second look into that user's buying habits and personal information." So if you're an advertising company that needs to get ads individually placed on sites depending on individuals' tastes and needs, you'll be able to get it up in real-time as the user is loading the page.
The company does this by combining traditional database technologies with a distributed system architecture that contains three key layers: a Client Layer that stores client libraries, a Distribution Layer that Citrusleaf says "is responsible for the cluster communication and cluster management operations," and a Data Storage layer that, unsurprisingly, is responsible for data storage.
"We've built a distributed database where each individual database server works together as part of a distributed system," says Bulkowski, whose company received seed funding in March from Alsop Louie Partners. "That's why this is a cloud-oriented system. If the load is a certain level and you only have four servers they just don't go that fast. That's where distributed technology comes in because you can add servers to handle the load now."
Focus: Cloud usage reporting
Location: Portland, Oregon
CEO: Mat Ellis
Product availability: Currently in beta testing
Why it's worth watching: Let's say you're an online retailer who is buying up a bunch of server space for your website from multiple cloud vendors to prepare for Black Friday. While all that cloud power has kept your site up and running during heavy traffic, you're surprised to find that your expenses came in at the end of the month several times more than you projected. What happened?
According to Cloudability CEO and co-founder Mat Ellis, you've likely become "over-clouded" after you've left a bunch of servers on after you've finished with your project. Cloudability's role, he says, is to help you put a stop to that sort of thing by letting you know when you're overspending on cloud services relative to your needs.
"We have a cloud platform that goes out and gets data from hundreds of providers, everything from Amazon to Salesforce to all the content providers," he says. "We give you insight into what you're spending and we make it easier to pull your expense claims out."
After Cloudability collects data from multiple vendors, it then can send you a daily email report providing all sorts of data on your cloud computing usage. Among other things, the report can tell you the amount you're spending each day and month on cloud services, the vendors you're getting services from, the type of cloud services you're using (e.g., hosting, support, storage, etc.) and how much different departments in your company are spending on cloud services. Ellis says this daily report can serve as a way for companies to check in to see what they're spending on the cloud every day and to get further details on their expenses by logging into Cloudability's cloud data dashboard.
"The cloud is infinitely scalable but your dollars are not," says J.R. Storment, Cloudability's co-founder who is in charge of product and marketing. "Companies can spin up a bunch of servers but they end up leaving them on after their project is done and getting a $100,000 overage for their mistake."
Focus: Cloud performance and business metrics
Location: Waltham, Massachussetts.
CEO: Jaime Ellertson, formerly CEO of Gomez
Product availability: Beta version in mid-September
Why it's worth watching: Cloudfloor wants to help you maximise the efficiency of your cloud services, no matter how you define it.
"The concept of efficiency is different for everyone," explains Imad Mouline, the co-founder and CTO of Cloudfloor, which raised $3.1 million in Series A funding from Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures and Dolphin Equity. "We'll help you analyse tradeoffs between measures such as cost, performance, resiliency and regulatory restrictions for all your applications."
The good news about Cloudfloor, says Mouline, is that its CloudControl offering can provide users with key analytics without deploying any code onto their machines. Rather, users only need to log in to Cloudfloor's portal and check out their metrics. Cloudfloor pulls a lot of its metrics from aggregators such as Google Analytics and Amazon AWS and then organises it to give users their desired metrics for how they want their cloud services to perform.
From there, users can tell Cloudfloor what their goals are and then let the system shape traffic to meet those goals. So for instance, if your top goal is performance and resiliency, you can have CloudFloor assess more bandwidth and resources to a particular area in a region where you expect to get heavy traffic and even help you pool cloud resources from multiple vendors to get the job done. On the other hand, if your first goal is saving money, then you can have CloudFloor shut down any servers in areas that are not hitting certain traffic requirements and are thus unnecessary to maintaining operations. And if your goal is to balance performance and cost, you can shape traffic to send a certain amount of traffic initially through your own private data centre and then send it out to the cloud once it reaches a certain level, thus minimizing both the strain on the data centre and the use of cloud infrastructure.
The bottom line, says Mouline, is that Cloudfloor can both provide you with strong analytics and then let you decide what to do with the new data you have.
"We'll send requests to the appropriate resources, whether it's the fastest, the closest or the cheapest," he says. "Tell us what your goals are and we will control it."
Focus: Cloud cost visibility/optimisation
CEO: Dave Zabrowski, formerly a VP with HP's enterprise computer organization
Location: Roseville, California
Product availability: Now
Why it's worth watching: Cloud Cruiser offers a SaaS product that lets IT departments find the cheapest ways to process high workloads, whether it's through a private cloud, public cloud or multiple public clouds. In other words, the software lets companies "cruise" for different cloud solutions and pick the one that will do the job the cheapest.
"What we do is not only give users transparency, we also give them proactive controls to ensure there are no rogue workloads where all of a sudden you have an application that's running up storage charges," says Cloud Cruiser founder and CEO Dave Zabrowski, whose company raised Series A funding from Wavepoint Ventures in 2010. "With Cloud Cruiser we can give you controls if these workloads go crazy on you."
Users can keep up with their company's cloud usage by logging into Cloud Cruiser's MyCloud dashboard that Zabrowski says can not only show you how many cloud resources you're using but which departments and projects within the company are consuming the most resources at a given time. From there, you can alert departments if their cloud consumption is due to blow a hole in the monthly budget and provide suggestions for how they can lower their cloud consumption. This level of tracking also helps companies properly assess charges to departments that exceed their allotted budget for cloud services in a given month.
Cloud Cruiser can also track which cloud vendors are getting the most use and can let you know when you should shift resources over to a different vendor when you're in danger of incurring overages on one vendor or another.
"Let's say you have two identical workloads that you're processing at Rackspace and Amazon," says Zabrowski. "But then suddenly your workload at Amazon starts to exceed your threshold and you can immediately benchmark how much that would cost to move to Rackspace."
Focus: Cloud consulting services
CEO: Chris Greendale, formerly with Cambridge Technology Partners
Product availability: Now
Why it's worth watching: CloudTP offers a little something for everyone who's thinking of migrating to cloud architecture. The company's services can be divided into three main components: a consulting service that specializes in advising companies in how to transform their application, storage and infrastructure to a public, private or hybrid cloud; a private cloud systems integration group that helps companies define and build architecture to help them migrate to their own private cloud; and finally, providing companies with help implementing their applications over to the cloud.
The application implementation program doesn't just involve help with migrating apps from private data centers to the cloud, although that's obviously a big part of it. CloudTP, which emerged from stealth mode in January with $1 million in seed funding, also helps companies evaluate different cloud vendors and manage energy resources through its Energy Resource Management (ERM) software that determines energy consumption from multiple sources and looks for potential efficiencies.
CloudTP looks at cloud migration as a series of simple steps that every company has to undertake. First, companies need to define their reference architecture they need to migrate and then decide on design parameters. Then they need to analyse their portfolio of applications to identify which ones would be good candidates for cloud migration by testing whether they're compliant with your desired cloud design parameters. And finally, they need to estimate the migration work effort and start moving applications to the cloud.
Jim Lampert, CloudTP's co-founder and vice president in charge of sales and marketing, says that his company's comprehensive approach to helping companies make the move to the cloud and manage cloud services comes from decades that CloudTP CEO Chris Greendale spent doing similar consulting and software implementation work at his previous company, Cambridge Technology Partners.
"Although we're a young company, we've really approached this with a mature approach," he says. "It's in our DNA and in our blood."
Piston Cloud Computing
Focus: Enterprise cloud computing based on OpenStack
CEO: Joshua McKenty, formerly a NASA contractor
Location: San Francisco
Product availability: Not announced
Why it's worth watching: It may seem strange to say that Piston Cloud Computing is worth watching even though it has yet to make any official product announcements. But at the same time, what we do know about Piston is highly intriguing.
In the first place, it was founded by Joshua McKenty, who has spent three years working with NASA and who was the architect of NASA's Nebula Cloud infrastructure. And second, Piston Cloud will base its eventual offerings on OpenStack, the open-source cloud infrastructure platform co-founded by NASA and Rackspace and supported by more than 100 companies including Cisco, Intel, HP and Dell. McKenty says that when Piston's software is eventually released to the world, we can expect it to have much more of an enterprise focus than other companies participating in the OpenStack project.
"OpenStack is the biggest game in town right now with more than 100 participating companies," he says. "And as far as Piston's role in OpenStack, not only are we involved but we're one of the only companies that's focused on enterprise cloud requirements as opposed to the public cloud side of things."
Piston's efforts so far have been greatly rewarded as the company raised $4.5 million in venture funding led by Hummer Winblad and True Ventures earlier this year. So when Piston finally decides to make its goods public, it will have a strong amount of funding backing it up as well as its strong connections to the OpenStack initiative.
McKenty says that his company's product will be of particular interest to big companies in industries such as biotech, insurance, defense and finance that want to have their own private clouds for security and regulatory purposes. McKenty adds that while public clouds may work fine for companies that don't face strict regulatory environments, they won't be optimal for companies that are more constrained in how they store their information.
"The same requirements that drive companies to go to a private cloud are the same ones that have limited the adoption of outsourcing," he explains. "There are real security concerns when it comes to handling off-premises resources and regulatory compliance is a major driver to how any IT system is managed."
Focus: Networking as a service
Location: Silicon Valley
CEO: Chris Marino
Product availability: Now
Why it's worth watching: You've heard of software as a service and infrastructure as a service but likely aren't as familiar with the concept of networking as a service.
Chris Marino, CEO of VCider, is hoping to change that with his company's Distributed Virtual Switch for Cloud Computing that can get cloud infrastructure from different vendors located in multiple regions to behave as though it's a locally controlled LAN.
"Think of it as a VPN that's built between servers that are within the cloud," says Marino.
Users can set up their own inter-cloud networks by logging onto their VCider account and downloading software on to all the cloud nodes they want to include in the network. The VCider system then gives them virtual IP address that can be used to communicate with one another as though they're located on the same LAN instead of on, say, different continents. Marino says that the idea is to take the basic framework of a VPN and scale it so that it can connect cloud servers directly to one another.
"With a VPN you typically have a box on the premises that users connect to through an IPsec tunnel where all users connect to the same box," explains Marino. "That works OK for desktops but when you bring that model to servers it collapses. With our networking-as-a-service system, every node can speak directly with its destination and you can scale more because you don't have a single hub to connect to and you don't have an extra data hop."
VCider so far has raised more than $500,000 and is looking to raise even more money over the next few months to ramp up its capabilities. For now, though, Marino says users can try out the live service that's currently available on the VCider website to take their virtual cloud LANs out for a spin.