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10 cloud startups to watch in 2012

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Updated: The past few years have been nothing if not a boon for entrepreneurs looking to cash in on venture capitalists’ lust for all things cloud.  All the activity has been great, and we’ve seen some exciting new companies emerge and prosper — companies such as Heroku, RightScale and New Relic — but it also means there’s precious little room on the playing field for newcomers. Startups that want to get noticed, get funded, and ultimately have a winning exit must either find their own unique niche or stake out ground on a different field altogether.

Here are 10 cloud computing startups that launched in 2011 and that have a chance to make it big in 2012.

1. AppFog 

AppFog is one of a handful of Platform-as-a-Service startups to launch in 2011, but AppFog is unique because it leverages the open-source Cloud Foundry code as its core. The switch to a Cloud Foundry (s vmw) foundation over the summer resulted in a name change from PHP Fog, as the company was immediately able to support numerous new programming languages. Going forward, AppFog can ride Cloud Foundry’s development wave, while focusing its own efforts on building the best user experience.

2. Bromium

Little is known about Bromium other than that is plans to use virtualization technology as a tool for securing the myriad endpoints (e.g., desktops, mobile phones and tablets) that connect to enterprise networks. While securing cloud servers, as other startups such as CloudPassage attempt to do, is important, the advent of consumerization means endpoints need security. Among Bromium’s founders is Simon Crosby, who co-founded XenSource and served as virtualization CTO at Citrix Systems (s ctxs).

3. Cloudability

Cloudability provides a simple service with a lot of value: it monitors customers’ spending on cloud computing resources. It might uncover something as commonplace as cloud-server sprawl because so many employees are spinning up instances, or it might find something nefarious such as hackers using a company’s instances serve boatloads of network traffic. As use of cloud services proliferates, companies will need an easy tool to help them keep track of what they’re spending and where.

4. CloudSigma 

The Infrastructure-as-a-Service space is a tough racket to enter because it means competing with the likes of Amazon Web Services (s amzn) and Rackspace (s rax), but CloudSigma has a plan. The company is all about giving customers high performance and lots of control. CloudSigma sits in the impressive SuperNAP data center and offers 10 GbE interconnects as well as solid-state drives, and developers can buy and manage resources with the granular control normally found in co-location.

5. Kaggle
Kaggle, a crowdsourcing platform for solving big data challenges, is about the hottest thing going in big data right now. The idea behind the service is simple: although not everyone has data scientists in-house, there are plenty of them floating around the world perfectly happy to put their skills to work on a problem for cash prizes and a little bit of credit. It takes a lot of computing power to host hundreds of teams on any given competition, as well as the data sets, which is why Kaggle utilizes Amazon Web Services the cloud. It used to use AWS, but has since switched to Microsoft (s msft) Windows Azure.
6. Nebula 

Nebula isn’t the only company pushing a commercial version of the open-source OpenStack cloud computing software — it isn’t even the only one founded by a former NASA employee — but it does have a unique approach and an impeccable pedigree. Nebula ties OpenStack to an optimized hardware platform designed to make building public clouds a plug-and-play experience. Among its founders are former NASA CTO Chris Kemp, and investors include Andy Bechtolsheim, David Cheriton and Ram Shriram.

7. Parse

Parse is trying to become a PaaS specialist for mobile apps, a laudable ambition given how many people now rely on their mobile devices just about everything. It will be difficult to distinguish itself from competitors such as Stackmob, as well as from web-app PaaS offerings such as Heroku and AppFog, but Parse seems to have the right ideas in mind. It has a backend focused on the needs of mobile apps, and a frontend designed for mobile developers that might not have extensive programming chops.

8. ScaleXtreme

What ScaleXtreme lacks in sexiness it makes up for in functionality. Everyone needs server-management software, but not everyone needs the big, expensive software offered from traditional software vendors, or even wants to manage software at all. ScaleXtreme gives users a cloud-based service to manage both physical and cloud-based servers, and, it says, has also garnered a lot of interest from cloud providers thinking it might be a good value-added service to their users who want more control.

9. SolidFire

SolidFire wants nothing less than to revolutionize cloud computing by making it palatable to large enterprises wanting to run mission-critical applications. The company targets cloud providers with SSD-based storage systems that make it possible to store virtual machine images in the cloud and still deliver high performance. Cloud providers utilizing SolidFire gear could find themselves hosting far more relational databases and other applications that presently remain in house.

10. Zillabyte

Zillabyte, still operating in private beta mode, wants to provide users with both data sets and the algorithms needed to process them. Data sets aren’t uncommon on the web, but they usually don’t come with algorithms and a processing backend. The service will initially focus on web data and text-based algorithms, but there’s plenty of room for growth into new types of data and algorithms as the service matures. Zillabyte was co-founded by two former Google software engineers and a former Intel engineer.

Image courtesy of Flickr user JamesWoolley5.

50 Responses to “10 cloud startups to watch in 2012”

  1. Is it me, or are you missing every third word in this piece? I guess your editor is on Holidays. Anyway here’s a $10 bet, 1 out of your 10 will be viable in 2013. Any takers? Bonus round- pick the 1 that will still be there.

  2. Ron Kleinman

    The following sentence made me stop reading the article.

    “Little is known about Bromium other than that is plans to use virtualization technology as a tool for securing the myriad endpoints (e.g., desktops, mobile phones and tablets) that connect to enterprise networks.”

    If all you know about the company is a general idea of what area they will be focusing on (and even press releases are more detailed than that), how can you possibly put them on the top 10 of companies to watch in 2012??

    Makes me question the research done on the other 9 listed companies …

  3. Mark McAndrew

    World’s cheapest, greenest cloud computing platform (10x cheaper than even Amazon EC2), now taking customers:

    Should be the first exascale machine within 12-18 months, too. (Yes, I work there.)

  4. Emrah Zarifoglu, PhD

    The list is looking good. But if you are talking about cloud brokerage, Gravitant ( should definitely be a part of the list. Gravitant is recognized as a cloud broker company by Gartner. As a side note, I work as an Operations Research Scientist of Advanced Analytics at Gravitant.

  5. Derrick Harris

    Thanks for all the suggestions. It’s hard to choose just 10 considering how many cloud-based startups I come across in a year. These stood out to me, but there certainly are plenty of other great companies out there.

    • Derrick Harris

      DotCloud did win the Launchpad, beating out PHP Fog (now AppFog), in fact. It’s still a fine PaaS option, but I thought AppFog’s Cloud-Foundry-based approach was worth highlighting. This isn’t a Top 10 list, just 10 companies that stood out to me for doing unique things, so it doesn’t necessarily mean one is better than the other.

  6. Metaconomy

    Metaconomy takes identity and access data from on-premise deployments and converts it to security intelligence for business managers to reduce risk and strengthen compliance. Look out for SCIM support in 2012.
    Disclaimer: I am the CEO.

  7. Neil Mansilla

    Mashery ( – world’s leading API management solution provider. SaaS multi-tenant cloud-based API mgt solution, serving companies like: Klout, Best Buy, USA TODAY, NY Times, Associated Press, Rdio, Edmunds, D&B, Hoovers, and 100+ other companies around the world.

  8. Great list. Would consider adding to the list also – even though it may not be 100% cloud but more of a hybrid….converting standard software applications to web based versions.

  9. Esteban Soto

    Let’s make sure the record and facts are straight here. Pitson’s founder (Josh McKenty) was not a NASA employee, he was a contractor to Anso Labs, itself a contractor engineering team to Chris Kemp (NASA’s former CTO). McKenty was dismissed by NASA. Piston’s messaging – and even this article – depicts a misleading pedigree of the team and of the founder.