While there are sure to be a lot of new networking and IT companies that emerge in 2012, these nine stood out for their potential to deliver game-changing innovations in a wide array of fields, including cloud computing, enterprise search, and mobile application development. (These are in addition to seven hot cloud companies and seven storage companies to watch that we highlighted last year.)
CloudBees Founded: 2010 CEO: Sacha Labourey, former CTO of JBoss Headquarters: Woburn, Mass. Funding: $14.5 million in two rounds of funding, the most recent in July, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners
IN PICTURES: 2012 tech startups to watch product sampler
CloudBees CEO and founder Sacha Labourey has a dark secret: He used to think cloud computing wasn't all that interesting.
That's because, in addition to being one of the most overused buzzwords in the history of tech, cloud computing used to be consigned to the sphere of hardware. But once he saw that cloud computing could also be applied to middleware, he started to get excited.
"It took me a bit of time to realize what the power of the cloud could be," says Labourey, who used to work as a co-general manager for Red Hat's middleware division. "The hardware layer was a necessary evil, but the real value of the cloud came from what you could get on top and what you could get from next-generation middleware."
And so Labourey, now a full convert to the power of the cloud, founded CloudBees in 2010 to provide a platform as a service for cloud application developers that would cover them for the entire life cycle of their application, from building code to testing code to testing out different user interfaces. Or put another way, CloudBees takes away a lot of the extra work that cloud app developers typically do when designing applications.
"A developer would typically need a bunch of tools, such as servers they'd need to install their code, tools to build the code and to do UI testing to ensure the app will run on PCs, Macs, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome and so forth," says Labourey. "What we offer is a one-stop shop where you can get all those services integrated so you can store your code, test your code and do Web UI testing."
The overall goal of the company, he says, is to reduce friction between app developers and IT departments by giving IT a single platform to test out and maintain apps running on their networks. Basically, Labourey wants applications to be as little of a hassle to IT departments as possible.
"If we could have a big machine that could run all the workloads in the world, we'd be fine with that, but such a machine doesn't exist," he says. "Our job is to make it look like it's run on one big machine even if there isn't one."
GoshidoFounded: 2008 CEO: Tom Brennan, co-founded and served as CFO for early SaaS company OpenAir Headquarters: Boston, and Limerick, Ireland Funding: $650,000 to date from angel investors and Enterprise Ireland
Goshido's team has built what it claims is a unique cloud platform to help enterprise users better organize and deal with the email deluge and spend more time doing actual work. The platform essentially divides messages received into one of two different "concepts": Actions and updates.
For example, let's say you're a tech journalist and you receive an email from your boss assigning you a project to write about hot new startups to watch in 2012. This initial email will be designated an "action" by Goshido, while all follow up emails between you and your editor will be placed into the "updates" folder. So instead of getting all the emails bunched up on the same screen, they are neatly sorted to make it easier to find all the projects you're working on in a timely manner. Users can also prioritize certain actions in their inboxes by assigning them dates for when they're supposed to be completed and then placing them into folders to let you know what actions are due on a given day and which actions are dubbed the most urgent.
Additionally, you can add people you email frequently to a folder where their messages can easily be accessed. This is useful because it means you'll be able to find all of the emails that your editor has sent you on a given day updating you on assignments without wading through the thousands of emails sent from public relations firms pitching you their products.
"Our purpose is to help people cut through the clutter and help teams focus on the things that really matter," explains CEO Tom Brennan. "Right now you're spending too much time dealing with unanswered emails, voice mails and sitting through meeting after meeting that seems like nothing more than an excuse to talk about the next meeting."
The company's service costs $10 per user per month, and Goshido offers consulting, service and support as well. Goshido has also teamed with other software companies, including Jive Software.
InfineticsFounded: 2009 CEO: J. Scott Benson, a serial entrepreneur with 30 years experience running tech companies, including Valent Software Headquarters: Boston Funding: $1 million from seven unnamed investors
Chris Williams knows you'll think he's crazy when he tells you that Infinetics can help your data center reach its theoretical maximum performance. But that's the Infinetics chief strategist's story and he's sticking with it.
"I tell people when I talk to them about Infinetics that they're going to hear outrageous statements that will make them think I'm either insane or a liar," he says. "But the fact is we have a software system that operators can use to make their networks work three to five times better."
Infinetics says that its software has three primary components: "wiring manager, distributed packet forwarding logic, and a central system that manages security and quality of service policies." The wiring manager is the key because it uses Infinetics' patented mathematical formula to construct a physical network that can drastically limit the tradeoffs networks typically make between cost, bandwidth and latency. The result, says Infinetics Chief Marketing Officer Anthony Antonuccio, is a network architecture that performs right up to its physical limitations.
"There's three main variables an IT guy has to deal with: how much throughput you require, what kind of latency are you willing to live with and what cost do you have budgeted," he says. "We provide the best possible scenarios given those three choices that a data center has to make."
The company has spent the last year pitching its software to switch vendors such as Arista Networks, IBM and HP, with the goal of having one of them adopt the software for use in its products. The company provided the prospective partners with testing suites to help them verify Infinetics' admittedly lofty claims for themselves. Antonuccio says that the company will make a strategic announcement "in a short period of time" regarding a partner.
"Our business model is to be an enabler," he says. "Our goal is to be incorporated by a switch vendor."
MobiquityFounded: 2011 CEO: Bill Seibel, a founding partner of Cambridge Technology Partners Headquarters: Wellesley, Mass. Funding: In March 2011 announced $5 million in Series A funding, led by Longworth Venture Partners and Sigma + Partners
15 years ago, your company had to invest a good deal of money designing some fancy new contraption called a "website." But nowadays having a top-notch website isn't enough: You've got to have mobile presence as well.
Mobiquity, founded in April 2011 by consulting and e-business veteran Bill Seibel, helps businesses develop, design and implement mobile strategies that will make them relevant to users who spend less time on personal computers and more time on tablets and smartphones. And that doesn't just mean helping your company develop a smartphone app either, as Seibel says he wants to help companies really make mobile an integral part of how they interact with their customers.
"Any new mobile solution that's going to transform your business process has to include near-field communications, sensors and all these things that didn't exist before," he says. "We're focused on creating an impactful experience, since a majority of apps don't get used two or three days after being downloaded."
Most of Mobquity's revenue comes from designing, building and deploying mobile applications and services for companies, although the company does do some straight-up consulting work as well. Weight Watchers Senior Vice President of Engineering Mike Laginestra says that Mobiquity helped his company design and implement a mobile application that enables clients to keep track of the calories they're consuming and make smarter food choices regardless of where they are. Among other things, the app has a barcode scanner that gives users nutritional information on food they're thinking about buying in the grocery store.
"Our objective for our mobile program is to be ubiquitous for our customers," says Laginestra. "We want to be with them in the kitchen, in the grocery store and in restaurants. ... Mobiquity has helped us a lot with checking out different versions of our apps before they go up on app markets."
Mobiquity lists work it has done for clients running on iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Web platforms.
MoboTapFounded: 2010 CEO: Yongzhi Yang, previously with Microsoft Headquarters: Pasadena, Calif.Funding: $10 million in Series A funding, led by Sequoia Capital, with Matrix Partners participating
Dolphin is making a name for itself as one of the top free browsers that's been designed exclusively for mobile devices. How is Dolphin better than Android's default browser, you ask? Let us count the ways.
First, it comes up with a great way of implementing tabs, which don't even exist within the Android browser. The tabs on Dolphin only appear at the top of the Web page you're looking at, but you can still access them if you've scrolled down the page by hitting the left-hand side "options" button on your Android device. You can also easily view your recent history, bookmarks and quick search on the browser simply by making a left-to-right swipe on the screen. A right-to-left swipe on the device, meanwhile, gives you quick access to assorted browser add-ons.
And this is where Dolphin gets really cool, because the add-ons let you transform your mobile browsing experience into something as in-depth as that provided by Firefox, Chrome or Internet Explorer. Among other things, you can get free add-ons to convert websites to PDF files, to translate whole Web pages, to sync your passwords across all your browsers, to do a quick search on Wikipedia on a given topic, and even to kill all other applications running at a given time to speed up your browsing experience.
Edith Yeung, MoboTap's head of marketing, says that the browser currently has around 10 million users just under two years after its launch in March 2010. But she says the company isn't sitting still (it rolled out iPad support in September 2011) and is constantly looking for ways to expand its user base.
"It's great that we have 10 million installs, but we can't wait until we get 20 million installs and then 30 million," she says.
The Version 7.3 beta of Dolphin rolled out as 2011 was ending.
OpDemandFounded: 2011 CEO: Joshua Schnell, has an economics background and was an associate in the investment banking division at Nomura Securities Headquarters: Boulder, Colo. Funding: $1 million from private investors announced in November 2011
If you're anything like the vast majority of people in the world, you don't want to spend time building up your cloud infrastructure 100% from scratch. That's why OpDemand has designed several different templates to help customers build their own cloud-based services and applications, including infrastructure services, databases, MySQL and Wordpress apps. Gabriel Monroy, OpDemand's co-founder and CTO, says that users should think of OpDemand as a provider that gives them more control over their underlying infrastructure than typical PaaS vendors.
"We're operating under the idea that although people don't want to worry about their underlying infrastructure, they don't want to give up control of it either," explains Monroy, who has a background in cloud consulting. "Lack of control is why platform as a service is a nonstarter for most companies."
OpDemand's Command & Control (C2) service initially is available only for users willing to run their software on Amazon Web Services.
Nithin Meppurathu, the founder of PromoteMyBook.com, recently used OpDemand to build his company a PHP LAMP stack in short order.
"I have better things to do with my time that learn the nuances of cloud-specific administration," he says. "Yet, I am not comfortable using PaaS because I want to control my relationship with Amazon and have the freedom to work with raw infrastructure when necessary."
OpDemand is currently in public beta, and available for free. It is slated for release in the first quarter.
TypesafeFounded: 2011 CEO: Donald Fischer, a principal at Greylock Partners and a former Red Hat VP Headquarters: Menlo Park, Calif.Funding: $3 million in Series A funding from Greylock Partners
Let's say you've built a mobile application that's taken off like gangbusters and is being downloaded and used by thousands of new users each day. Your app's success has caught you by surprise and you quickly find that its performance isn't keeping up as more and more people use it. What can you do to fix it?
Typesafe CEO Donald Fischer thinks he has the answer, since his company's primary mission is to help developers create applications that can effectively scale in a world where machines now have multicore processors and where applications now have to run on thousands of computers and on public clouds. The Typesafe software stack uses the open-source Scala programming language at its core while using the Akka platform for its middleware framework that serves "a similar role to traditional Java middleware."
As for Scala, Fischer notes that Twitter has been one of the programming language's biggest success stories in terms of giving it the ability to scale. Twitter's migration to Scala for its back-end message queue from Ruby has been one of the main reasons that the microblogging site has improved performance under increased traffic.
"The scalability limits of the Ruby language was one of the leading causes of the 'Fail Whale,'" he says. "Since adopting Scala, Twitter has scaled somewhere around 10,000 times."
The other big advantage to using both Scala and Akka, says Fischer, is that his company has been able to launch its stack extremely quickly since it's based on open-source standards. So while other companies might still be fiddling around with their beta versions at this point in their existences, Typesafe has been ready to go from the start.
"We've had a product available from day one because a lot of the technology already existed," he says.
VirtualWorksFounded: 2009 CEO: Edward Iacobucchi, co-founder of Citrix Systems Headquarters: Boca Raton, Fla. Funding: $8.5 million in Series A funding led by New World Angels
VirtualWorks CEO Edward Iacobucchi never intended to get into the field of enterprise search. It was just something that happened to him by accident.
"I had just finished shutting down a previous company that I was associated with and I was asked to take a look at an enterprise search company," he explains. "As I looked more into the market itself, it dawned on me ... that the problem for enterprises isn't with searching, but with, how do we manage all the type of content that sits in an enterprise? It became obvious to me that everybody has data sprawl issues but they can't really address them with standard enterprise search."
Iacobucchi, who co-founded Citrix Systems in 1989, decided that his enterprise search company needed to make an acquisition in order to meet his goals of dealing with data sprawl. To that end he bought up Norwegian company InfoFinder, which he said had already built the core framework for what was to become VirtualWorks' Virtual Index Architecture (VIA).
VIA creates a Universal Index for companies to find data across multiple platforms without building a large-scale and disruptive data warehouse. Instead, the company says that VIA "leaves content where it naturally lies, working across all apps and platforms." The system is based on distributed architecture and is optimized for virtual environments and is designed to integrate cloud-based applications.
Iacobucchi says that the company is planning to make VIA available to the general public sometime in the first quarter. When it's eventually released, he hopes it will take away a lot of headaches for workers across locations.
"Today we have Lotus Notes, Symantec Enterprise Vault, MS SharePoint, MS Exchange and more than 300 different file types," he says. "From a search standpoint we're proposing an application that would let you aggregate all data sources."
XamarinFounded: 2011 CEO: Nat Friedman, who co-founded Ximian, a maker of Linux/Unix desktop apps, with Xamarin CTO Miguel de Icaza Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass. Funding: Entirely self-funded thus far
One of the biggest pains for mobile application developers is ensuring their programs work across the latest versions of iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
Xamarin CEO Nat Friedman wants to remove this particular headache for developers by giving them the tools they need to share their code across all three platforms. Xamarin's development kit, known as MonoTouch on iOS and just Mono on Android, lets users write applications in C# language using the .Net Framework. It also provides access to thousands of native iOS and Android APIs and support for rich integrated development environments (IDE).
The key to Xamarin's cross-platform capabilities is its use of Mono, open-source software that was designed ten years ago to run Microsoft .Net applications across multiple platforms. Xamarin strongly benefits from having longtime Mono project director Miguel de Icaza as its CTO. De Icaza, who co-founded the GNOME project in 1997 and has been writing open-source software since 1992, has overseen the Mono project since its inception in 2001 when he was working at Ximian. De Icaza later launched Mono's desktop, server, and mobile offerings while at Novell.
Xamarin's development kit is available on the Android Market and the Apple App Store and costs $400 for the Professional edition, $1,000 for the Enterprise edition and $2,500 for the Enterprise Priority edition. The company has yet to release a development kit for Windows Mobile application stores. So far the kit has been used to develop several high-profile mobile apps and games, including Chillingo's Zombie Party for iPad, Tibco's Spotfire and Rumination Software's CRUX Crosswords. Friedman says his goal for the company in 2012 is to build its community to more than 250,000 developers. He says that upward of 450 different users download Xamarin's product on a given day.
"We have a lot of customers who have found us and said that instead of having four separate code bases, I can now save myself hours of engineering," says Friedman. "We want to build the most powerful and simple platform for mobile developers. It's going to be a mobile world and all software will have a mobile interface."
Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.
Read more about collaboration in Network World's Collaboration section.