12 cloud computing companies to watch

As venture capital market returns to healthy levels, investors flock to cloud startups

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Management: dotCloud was founded in 2010 by Solomon Hykes as a Platform-as-a-Service company. In March, 2013, Solomon and other members of the dotCloud team released Docker.io, an open source engine to deploy any application and its dependencies as a lightweight container that runs virtually anywhere. In early 2013, the company rebranded to Docker and Ben Golub – former CEO of Gluster and Plaxo -- was brought on board as CEO. 

Founded: 2010

Based: San Francisco

Funding: $26M, Greylock Partners, Insight Venture Partners, Benchmark, Trinity Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Y Combinator, and SV Angel.

Fun Fact: Docker’s headquarters is jungle-themed.

Before the advent of shipping containers, long-haul commerce used to be a lot more difficult. Boxes and cargo were all different shapes and sizes, which made moving them difficult. But Malcom McLean revolutionized global trade in the 1950s by standardizing modern metal shipping containers, making them easier for cranes to grab and for resting on any ship, train or truck. Pretty much anything can be packed inside a container, it doesn’t really matter what it is. So long as it fits, it will get to its final destination.

Computing has its own version of shipping containers dubbed Linux Containers that can be packed with pretty much any application. These compute containers can run on a variety of platforms, too, including public clouds, virtualized private clouds and non-virtualized bare metal servers.

Docker is the company that is aiming to commercialize the open source Docker project, which is designed to make creating, assembling and managing such compute containers easier. Though founded in 2010, the company has really hit its stride in the past year. It changed its name from dotcloud to Docker last year, brought on a new executive team, signed partnerships with Red Hat and OpenStack, and in January the company raised $26 million in venture funding, led by VC firm Greylock Partners.

“It’s OS-level virtualization,” says Jason Hoffman, the former CEO/CTO of Joyent, and now an executive at Ericsson. “If you don’t need operating system heterogeneity, OS level virtualization makes a lot of sense.” He estimates that containers could allow four times as many instances on the OS by virtualizing the OS level instead of the hardware level with a traditional hypervisor.

Docker backers say containers can have a distinct advantage over virtual machines. Containers run above the operating system, so unlike a VM they don’t carry the extra baggage of needing to run an OS in the container. That frees up space to store more applications.

That could also be seen as its downfall, too, though. Without the ability to control the OS, all applications in the container must be running on the same OS. That may not be a problem for an all-Windows or all-Linux shop, but how many of them are there these days?

Nevertheless, if containers get big, Docker could be one of the companies driving that change.

Elasticbox

Company: ElasticBox

Focus: Management software that allows apps to be portable and run regardless of whether their underlying infrastructure is one of many public or private clouds.

Management: CEO and co-founder Ravi Srivatsav has held senior engineering and product management positions at IBM and Microsoft, where he most recently worked in cloud computing. Other executives include co-founder and CTO Alberto Arias Maestro, the former chief architect of DynamicOps, which was bought by VMware and now serves as the basis of the company’s multi-cloud provisioning tool. Timothy Stephan, VP of Product, was formerly head of product at mobile device management company MobileIron.

Founded: 2011

Based: Mountain View

Funding: $3.4M

Investors: Sierra Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital, Nexus Venture Partners, AngelPad, Raymond Tonsing

Fun Facts: Co -founders Srivatsav and Maestro each had twins within two months of each other, and all four of their kids are younger than 3 years old. The company also has an active Facebook page, where it posts photos such as of team members with a life-size cardboard cutout of David Hasselhoff.

Contrary to what some may believe, the cloud is not just about managing infrastructure – it’s about delivering services. That’s the fundamental belief of ElasticBox. “Too many people are doing application management by doing infrastructure management,” explains CEO Srivatsav. ElasticBox takes a different approach that allows organizations to manage their applications, regardless of the infrastructure underneath.

ElasticBox uses Boxes, which analyze an environment and capture all of the relevant data about the architecture. It collects all the scripts needed for installing the application, and analyzes all of the relationships with other services that exist, such as which databases and operating systems are used. It captures all that information in its “Box,” which can then run on a variety of different infrastructures. “It’s like putting lego pieces together,” Srivatsav explains.

This approach eliminates the need for operations professionals to spend hours taking the time to fine-tune infrastructure to ensure it’s just right. Instead, with the ElasticBox approach, the same application can run on a variety of underlying infrastructures when it’s in the Box. Boxes aren’t just Linux containers though: they’re more advanced than that because they analyze the makeup of the application and replicate that on other infrastructures. By doing so, customers’ automation tools like Puppet and Chef still work on the application.

Analysts seem to like it: “ElasticBox seems to be scratching the right customer itch by allowing large Web 2.0 and enterprise clients to create standardized, automated, repeatable application-deployment plans,” writes 451 Research Group’s Jay Lyman in a recent report on the company. “(ElasticBox) may also be well positioned to serve as a neutral cloud broker of sorts by supporting application-deployment automation along with other technologies and in a variety of environments, from traditional datacenters to public and private clouds.”

ElasticBox founders say the platform is ideal for development and test environments where an application can be developed in the public cloud, then brought back in-house for production, or the other way around. It allows applications to be portable across different cloud providers too. ElasticBox now supports Windows Azure, Amazon Web Services, HP and Rackspace, along with VMware vSphere and OpenStack-powered private clouds.

Jelastic

Company: Jelastic

Focus: Jelastic is hoping to pioneer the idea of a Platform as an Infrastructure. Jelastic is a cloud platform that runs on bare metal or virtualized servers to create a cloud that intelligently monitors and provisions the infrastructure based on the needs of applications running on it.

Management: Co-founders are CTO Ruslan Synytsky and CFO Alexey Skutin. Synytsky formerly led engineering and software architecture teams at iQueLab, SolovatSoft and Datamesh. Jelastic brought on CEO John Derrick, who has extensive experience in advising and growing startups.

Founded: 2011

Based: San Mateo

Funding: $2.5M

Investors: Maxfield Capital, Runa Capital, Almaz Capital

Fun Fact: Co-founder Synytsky is a former engineer and programmer for the National Space Agency of Ukraine.

There’s a trend going on in the cloud world that some believe represents a convergence of two major cloud deployment models: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). (Read more: Is the PaaS market as we know it dying?) PaaS is all about cloud-based application development, so the idea is that IaaS and SaaS vendors are making it easier to develop applications for their own environments by partnering with PaaS companies.

Jelastic is a company that embodies that same notion of a converged cloud system, but it wants to cut out the middle man. Instead of an IaaS or SaaS vendor partnering to enable a PaaS, Jelastic has PaaS features built right into its offering. Company officials describe it as “platform as an infrastructure.”

Some may think that’s just a clever way to get two buzzwords into a single tagline, but the folks at Jelastic say that combining infrastructure management with application management provides end users many advantages compared to using these services separately.

Jelastic sells a software package that can be plugged into an existing environment, on top of bare metal or virtualized hardware, to create a cloud. Unlike an IaaS though, Jelastic monitors and analyzes the applications that are placed in this environment. So, the infrastructure can intelligently scale up or down based on the application’s needs. That is the fundamental advantage of the platform. “It’s virtualization for an entire cluster,” says CEO Derrick. The software handles code management for the cluster, it provisions the resources that application needs. “It’s an IaaS that is guided by the behaviors of the applications,” he explains.

In a recent report about Jelastic, research firm IDC said the company is “well positioned for the future within the PaaS-IaaS continuum.” Jelastic started off selling to service providers, but is now looking to expand into the enterprise market. “Addressing the largest segment — the (enterprise application) code-driven segment — of the PaaS market and the largest segment of the code-driven opportunity (Java apps), Jelastic is also offering a relatively smooth path to migrating Java and PHP apps to the cloud.”

Koality

Company: Koality

Focus: Speeding up code testing, via the cloud.

Management: Co-founders Jonathan Chu (CEO), Jordan Potter (COO) and Brian Bland (CTO) all worked at software analytics firm Palantir Technologies.

Founded: 2012

Based: San Francisco

Funding: $1.8M

Investors: FF angel investor, Webb Investment Network, Felicis Venture, Index Ventures

Fun Facts: The name Koality plays off the idea of code “quality.” The logo is of a Koala bear hugging a repository.

Developers spend a lot of time building code, which for many businesses turns into the lifeblood of their operations. An inevitable part of coding is testing it to make sure it actually works, and on big projects, testing can take a long time. And if the tests don’t catch bugs, then it can significantly slow down the development process. That’s the problem that Koality is aiming to solve, and it’s using the power of an elastically scalable cloud infrastructure to do it.

“The goal is to change the development process to make it much more streamlined,” says CEO Jonathan Chu. “We’re taking testing cycles and compressing them.”

In a basic sense, Koality takes code that developers have created and runs lots of tests on it across many virtual machines in the cloud all at once. This gets a lot of testing done in a very small amount of time. The company’s core commercial platform uses parallelization, offering an alternative to open source tools that run tests individually one after another.

The other important part of Koality is a proxy system, which checks each test in search of errors and bugs, alerting the developers of any code that has problems with it.

Koality software sits behind a company’s firewall and uses a virtual private cloud (VPC) in Amazon Web Services for the compute capacity to run the tests. So all of the testing and coding are done in secure environments.

ncrypted cloud

Company: nCrypted Cloud

Focus: Encrypt files stored in consumer cloud services like Box, DropBox and Google Drive

Management: Founder and CEO Nick Stamos served as CTO of Phase Forward, a health care IT company that was bought by Oracle after he left. He also founded security company Verdasys and served as its president until 2011. Co-Founder and CTO Igor Odnovorov also worked at Phase Forward and Verdasys.

Founded: July 2012

Based: Boston

Funding: $3M in angel funding

Investors: Former Cisco, Microsoft executives

In 2012, Nick Stamos was doing consulting work after spending eight years growing Verdasys, a company he started to provide data loss prevention and encryption services to enterprises. One day he got a call from a friend associated with Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign who dropped this bombshell: Romney’s DropBox account had been hacked and there was concern that accounts of campaign allies might be vulnerable. Stamos, a security industry veteran, was asked if he had any bright ideas. He wasn’t satisfied with anything on the market, so started building nCrypted Cloud, which became a company.

The platform encrypts files stored in popular cloud storage services like DropBox, and soon Google Drive, Box and Microsoft Sky Drive, and provides IT department centralized visibility into what employees are storing in those clouds. The company initially focused on providing a freemium-based service to consumers, but Stamos said within months of starting up nCrypted colleges and universities began calling to see if they could roll out the tool across their campuses for employees. So, nCrypted began serving the education and health care sectors, and now is being piloted at more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies.

The company is still in the early stages –it has received less than $3 million in angel funding from former Cisco and Microsoft executives – and will likely be seeking additional venture funding to scale itself.

nCrypted uses a technique that puts files across cloud storage platforms in a .zip container, which is then encrypted. The system then creates a unique authentication trigger for each user that automatically authorizes them through native apps supported by nCrypted. For the end user, there are no extra passwords to remember or separate platforms to log into. Users simply see a new icon in the shape of a lock to know that their content has been secured by nCrypted.

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