Open source companies to watch

Open source software is a given in most enterprise data centers, so it's not surprising to see the ranks of open source companies and projects swell. It's not just Linux anymore - community-developed software is offering alternatives for everything from databases to application servers to network management to disaster preparedness. How do you know which open source approach is right for you? We've pulled out a few start-ups that you might not be familiar with, but we think should be on your radar.

Here are ten open source start-ups to watch (jump into our forum to discuss which companies you're watching):

Company name: Cleversafe

Founded: November 2004

Location: Chicago

What does the company offer? The Linux File System, which lets Linux computers store information on a dispersed storage grid called the Cleversafe Research Storage Grid. The company plans to offer commercial dispersed-data storage services and software.

Why is it worth watching? As companies start taking a closer look at building grids, Cleversafe provides an open source platform to serve as the foundation for commercial dispersedstorage grids that provide secure storage because data components are scrambled and stored in separate locations.

How did the company get its start? The founders were looking for a better way to secure the world's data.

How did the company get its name? A clever approach to secure computing.

CEO and background: Christopher Gladwin, formerly of MusicNow.

Funding: Private, plus angel investors, amount not disclosed.

Who's using the product? There have been nearly 800 downloads of the software from, where the project is hosted, since the grid was announced in April.

Company name: Digium

Founded: 1999

Location: Huntsville, Ala.

What does the company offer? Asterisk, the industry's first open source PBX, and Asterisk Business Edition, a professional grade version of the software.

Why is it worth watching? The open source Asterisk software is making it easier and more cost-effective for companies to launch VoIP projects. "What [Digium] can do for telephony is incredibly powerful and disruptive," says David Skok, a general partner at Matrix Partners.

How did the company get its start? Mark Spencer was 21 when he built a telephone system for his Linux Support Services company, using the Linux operating system. Spencer contributed the code he developed to the open source community, and the project became known as Asterisk.

How did the company get its name? It was just one of the names tossed out by Spencer and a few colleagues.

CEO and background: Spencer was a computer-engineering student at Auburn University when he created Asterisk for Linux Support Services. He shifted his business focus from Linux support to supporting Asterisk.

Funding: $13.8 million from Matrix Partners in August 2006.

Who's using the product? Discovery Research, Sam Houston University.

Company name: Hyperic

Founded: March 2004

Location: San Francisco

What does the company offer? Hyperic HQ, an open source platform for managing heterogeneous IT environments, including operating systems and Web, application, database, middleware, and virtualization technology. The company also provides subscription-based services and support, as well as advanced features.

Why is it worth watching? Application and Web monitoring from big vendors such as CA, IBM and BMC Software can be bulky, complex and difficult to deploy. Hyperic takes a different approach to Web infrastructure management and has created a simpler tool that lets IT managers monitor commercial and open source technologies from a single portal. The company's extensive open source experience - the founders helped develop the Apache Web server - adds to its appeal.

How did the company get its start? Company founders originally developed management technology while at Covalent Technologies, a firm that provides enterprise support for Apache deployments, and decided to spin off from Covalent to create a company focused strictly on the management software.

How did the company get its name? The company's name originally was to have been Hyperica, but one of the founders "mysteriously left out the 'a' in the company incorporation documents and Hyperic was born," says Javier Soltero, Hyperic's CEO. He notes that Hyperic is a derivative of hypericin, the active ingredient in the St. John's Wort herbal antidepressant. Maybe Hyperic will turn out to be the antidepressant for over-taxed systems administrators.

CEO and background: Soltero was chief architect at Covalent Technologies and a senior engineer at Netscape.

Funding: $3.8 million from Accel Partners & Benchmark Capital in May 2006.

Who's using the product? eHarmony, National Semiconductor, Ogilvy & Mather, La Quinta Inn.

Company name: Optaros

Founded: July 2004

Location: Boston, Switzerland

What does the company offer? Consulting and systems integration services focused on open source software.

Why is it worth watching? Optaros can be the guiding hand for enterprises considering using open source software to solve business problems. It helps customers determine where open source makes the most sense and helps put together open source components to create platforms for business.

How did the company get its start? In 2004, company founders recognized that as enterprise users became increasingly comfortable with Linux, open source would move up the stack into software. The company was founded to provide support for midsize and large companies bringing in open source business applications.

How did the company get its name? The name Optaros comes from the Latin optare, "to choose."

CEO and background: Bob Gett, formerly CEO of Internet consulting firm Viant, as well as CIO of Fidelity and Smith Barney.

Funding: $7 million from Charles River Ventures and General Catalyst in 2005.

Who's using the product? The Christian Science Monitor, Movielink, Kaplan Higher Learning.

Company name: Qlusters

Founded: 2001; contributed its management software to the open source community in January of this year.

Location: Palo Alto

What does the company offer? OpenQRM, an open source systems management platform.

Why is it worth watching? The number of open source systems-management vendors is growing, and while openQRM was made open source in January 2006, it has proved its worth in commercial deployments during the last two years. The open source platform benefits enterprise customers by offering plug-ins that let the platform hook into existing systems, whether open source, proprietary or internally developed.

How did the company get its start? Entrepreneur Ofer Shoshan started the company with the idea of creating mainframe-like manageability for commodity hardware.

How did the company get its name? Founders considered it a unique name that would be easily found through search engine queries.

CEO and background: Shoshan has more than 16 years of experience starting and managing high-tech companies and projects in Israel, and most recently was entrepreneur-in-residence at Israel Seed Partners.

Funding: $23 million in two rounds; investors include Benchmark Capital, Charles River Ventures, Duff Ackerman & Goodrich, and Israel Seed Partners.

Who's using the product? Canada's Loblaw food chain and New York City-based Tradeware Global.

Company name: rPath

Founded: April 2005; launched in January 2006

Location: Raleigh, N.C.

What does the company offer? rBuilder, an open source platform that includes a tailored version of Linux to create preconfigured, pretested application appliances that can be downloaded and deployed by enterprise users in minutes.

Why is it worth watching? Server virtualization is paving the way for simpler application deployments, in which an operating system and application can be packaged and deployed in a virtual machine for flexibility. VMware has begun offering preconfigured, prepackaged application appliances, but rPath provides an open source foundation for independent software vendors (ISV) to use in creating these appliances. Enterprise users should be watching and pushing their ISVs to take this approach, because such application appliances mean the end of complex, multi-component application deployments.

How did the company get its start? After leaving Red Hat in 2003, engineer Erik Troan was looking at ways to make open source more consumable and came up with technology to build application appliances.

How did the company get its name? Rpath is technology used in Unix systems to search for shared libraries. "We were thinking we want to let applications find the software components they need to work, which is analogous to how an operating system finds a library that it needs to work," Troan says.

CEO and background: Billy Marshall, formerly Red Hat's vice president of North America sales, with an earlier stint at IBM Global Services.

Funding: $6.4 million in January from North Bridge Venture Partners and General Catalyst.

Who's using the product? Department of Energy, Digium, Ingres.

Company name: Sahana

Founded: January 2005

Location: A community-driven project hosted on and sponsored by the Lanka Software Foundation, a Sri Lanka-based nonprofit committed to promoting open source software development.

What does the company offer? A secure Web portal that includes applications used to coordinate and collaborate during relief efforts following disasters.

Why is it worth watching? The Sahana Project illustrates the humanitarian benefit of open source; it can be useful to large organizations dealing with the aftermath of disasters.

How did the company get its start? The project was launched following the Asian tsunami to create a flexible, customizable framework of pluggable applications free from the licensing worries of commercial software.

How did the company get its name? Sahana means "relief" in the Sri Lankan native tongue.

Who's using the product? Used by the government in Sri Lanka during the Asian tsunami and the government in Pakistan during the 2005 earthquake. Sarvodaya, a charity organization in Sri Lanka, is predeploying Sahana to manage its disaster response.

Company name: WSO2

Founded: August 2005

Location: Boston, London, Sri Lanka

What does the company offer? Tungsten, an Apache-based open source application server built from the ground up to handle Web services. The company is planning to roll out a line of Web-services-focused, Apache-based middleware, with its Titanium Enterprise Service Bus due for release soon.

Why is it worth watching? Most existing middleware was designed to handle transaction-heavy, Java-based applications, so Web-services capabilities had to be layered on top. WSO2 is building its middleware specifically for Web services and using an open source model to encourage community involvement in its development.

How did the company get its start? Former IBM and CA executives decided the current approach to handling Web services - putting a layer in front of a Java-based platform to perform Web services - was not the best approach. The company was launched to create middleware that puts Web services first.

How did the company get its name? The idea behind the company was to reinvigorate, or oxygenate, Web services, thus WSO2 stands for Web services and oxygen.

CEO and background: Sanjiva Weerawarana, formerly at IBM Research, where he co-authored several Web-services specifications and became the driving force behind IBM's Web-services strategy.

Funding: $4 million from Intel Capital.

Who's using the product? Undisclosed; targeting financial services.

Company name: Zenoss

Founded: August 2005

Location: Annapolis, Md.

What does the company offer? Open source network and systems-monitoring software.

Why is it worth watching? Zenoss provides a management package that lets users manage and monitor everything from network devices to servers to applications to environmental conditions. The free software should be of interest to midsize companies, which haven't had access to this functionality in the past because of cost issues.

How did the company get its start? Erik Dahl, who spent 15 years in IT management at firms such as application service provider Usinternetworking, began working on management software in 2002 after years of frustration working with the big enterprise suites from companies such as BMC, CA, HP and IBM.

How did the company get its name? Zen plus OSS [open source software]. "We are bringing the Zen of open source to IT management," says Bill Karpovich, co-founder and CEO.

CEO and background: Bill Karpovich, who previously held executive positions at companies such as Usinternetworking and Digex, as well as time with Accenture, where he focused on technical architecture of next generation information systems.

Funding: $4.8 million in August in A Round led by Boulder Ventures and Intersouth Partners, previous funding by private investors and the state of Maryland.

Who's using the product? Commercial clients include Mercy Hospital of Baltimore and CableVision of New York.

Company name: Zmanda

Founded: September 2005

Location: Sunnyvale, Calif.

What does the company offer? A commercial version of the open source AMANDA (Advanced Maryland Automatic Network Disk Archiver) backup utility software, as well as services and support for the software.

Why is it worth watching? By basing its products on open source software, Zmanda can offer a cost-effective data protection alternative to costly proprietary offerings from companies such as EMC.

How did the company get its start? Founders saw the benefits of open source and the success of the AMANDA project that had launched in 1992 and wanted to provide enterprise-class services around it.

How did the company get its name? A play on AMANDA - providing storage backup and recovery from A to Z.

CEO and background: Chander Kant, who previously founded and ran LinuxCertified and was an executive at Veritas and SGI.

Funding: $5 million from Blue Run Ventures and Canaan Partners

Who's using the product? Cycorp, Berkeley Design Automation

Senior Editor Deni Connor contributed to this story.

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