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4/16/2009
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The InformationWeek Startup 50: Business Technology Companies To Watch

They compete across a range of technologies, but the biggest concentration falls in virtualization, the cloud, and SaaS.

Putting The Squeeze On Data Early In The Process

Ocarina Networks
Murli Thirumale, CEO
Goutham Rao, CTO
Customers: Kodak Gallery, Cornell University
Big idea: Shrinking files on primary storage
Ocarina Networks has built a shrink ray for storage.

The company's algorithms can reduce the size of files written to disk enough to save 50% to 75% of the space on primary storage systems--the most expensive, high-quality disk that IT departments buy. As information volumes explode, companies stand to save a lot if they're able to buy less storage.

The startup applies compression and deduplication techniques to a variety of file types, including Microsoft Office, PDFs, and photos and videos. Deduplication is common for archives and backups of data that rarely change, but Ocarina is one of only a few vendors using it for primary and nearline storage, where files are accessed often.

Ocarina requires two products--its Optimizer appliance and its Reader software--be used in tandem. The appliance runs the compression and deduplication algorithms. When a file is written to storage, Optimizer pulls the file off disk, compresses it, and rewrites the compressed version to the storage system. Administrators can set policies on when to shrink files (say, if not accessed for 24 hours) and how aggressively (for example, dedupe only or dedupe plus light compression).

The appliance is deployed out of band in order to avoid slowing down the primary storage system. However, because the appliance doesn't shrink files in real time, IT teams must ensure that they have sufficient storage capacity to meet current demand. Ocarina says a pair of Optimizer 2400s can compress around 5 TB a day.

The Reader, which can be deployed as software or as an appliance, intercepts requests for a file that have been compressed by the Optimizer and reconstitutes the file before delivering it. That reconstitution will slow down user access to files, depending on how much the file has been compressed.

Ocarina targets major corporations and Web 2.0 companies that deal with scads of user-generated content. Photo-sharing site Kodak Gallery is a customer. One potential market: life sciences, particularly genomics, where gene-sequencing produces reams of data. Companies can buy Ocarina products directly, or integrated on storage hardware from BlueArc, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, and Isilon.

Ocarina charges $50,000 per Optimizer, plus Reader licensing fees. Its system won't show returns until a company has had time to recoup storage capacity. That depends on how aggressively storage administrators shrink files and end-user tolerance for slowdowns.

-- Andrew Conry Murray


A Smarter Suggestion Box

Spigit
Paul Pluschkell, CEO Padmanabh Dabke, CTO Customers: Southwest Airlines, IBM Big idea: A digital suggestion box--with analytics
Paul Pluschkell, CEO, Spigit
Rewards needed, Pluschkell says
Since its founding three years ago, Spigit has racked up an impressive customer list, including IBM, Southwest Airlines, and Sun Microsystems. What's its big idea? Just that--big ideas.

Spigit's Web software helps companies solicit ideas from employees and customers. But it's more than an online suggestion box, marrying social networking and analytics to give good ideas a better chance at rising to the top of the pile.

The company's offerings include InnovationSpigit, for employees, and IdeaSpigit, which lets customers pitch ideas. Both have capabilities for blogs, wikis, forums, and idea generation, and let users rank and evaluate what others post. Built-in analytics software tracks the frequency of posts and feedback generated to build a reputation on each contributor, so companies can identify the best content and leading idea generators.

Companies also can set up prediction markets using PredictionSpigit, which gives people "shares" they can buy or sell in an attempt to anticipate business outcomes.

Good results aren't a sure thing, warns CEO Paul Pluschkell. Companies must seed the way with incentives. "People need some motivation, such as funding for a project or attention from executives," he says.

And in companies with entrenched hierarchies, middle managers probably won't be thrilled about a system in which employees could subvert their roles as information gatekeepers.

-- Andrew Conry Murray

InformationWeek Startup 50  
Introduction  |  Paglo  |  Altor Networks  |  Nirvanix  |  Ocarina Networks  |  Spigit
>> View the Startup 50 list <<

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