10 open source companies to watch

Products range from databases to data integration

With the Open Source Conference (OSCon) and IDG's LinuxWorld show in the rearview mirror of 2008, it is clear that open source is no longer just a trendy conversation.

What has happened is a clear evolution of a community that has grown up and produced intelligent, cutting-edge technologies with an eye on making computing faster, smarter and cheaper for corporate users. Companies like Openmoko are challenging the mobile device market with its notion that users should control what applications are installed. Others like XAware and SnapLogic are opening up data integration possibilities, and still more are tangling with virtualization, databases, and trading systems. Along with a company accurately called Untangle, the companies' point is to make computing less complex.

The decision is no longer a question of open source, but about what product is best at solving computing problems regardless of how it was built.

Here is a look at 10 companies to watch.

Company name: Kickfire

Founded: June 2006

Location: California, US

What does the company offer? Analytics appliance based on MySQL featuring the industry's first SQL chip.

Why is it worth watching? Kickfire combines software and hardware to create fast database query performance using the MySQL database. Also provides data warehousing and reporting features lacking in MySQL. The SQL chip moves query processing to a single powerful chip.

How did the company get its start? The company's founders saw current instruction-centric von Neumann architecture as inefficient for processing large data volumes so they sought to minimize the operation set and maximize the data throughput. A key was having an open architecture available via MySQL.

How did the company get its name? A combination of "kickstart" and "fire" was used to convey a new approach in the database market.

CEO and background: Raj Cherabuddi, CEO/president/co-founder. He also was the founding CEO of Sanera Systems, which eventually was bought by McData. He also served as lead architect for Sun's UltraSPARC IIIi processor.

Funding: Series A funding of US$10.75 million and Series B at US$20 million backed by Accel Partners, Greylock Partners, The Mayfield Fund and Pinnacle Ventures.

Who's using the product? Kickfire is in beta with interest coming from marketing, telecommunications and software service providers, network management, retail, media and government organizations.

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Company name: Marketcetera

Founded: April 2006. The 1.0 product will launch by the end of 2008

Location: San Francisco and New York

What does the company offer? The company has developed the financial industry's first open source platform for automated trading systems.

Why is it worth watching? Marketcetera gives trading companies an open platform that translates into more flexibility and control, and faster deployments which can result in considerable cost benefits.

How did the company get its start? Founders Graham Miller and Toli Kuznets worked for years as software developers and executives in hedge funds and found themselves repeatedly implementing the same trading systems. They tapped the rise in algorithmic trading and the acceptance of open source in the financial services industry to create a platform and offer services.

How did the company get its name? The company thought "Market" + etcetera" was a clever wordplay.

CEO and background: Graham Miller has more than 10 years of experience in the finance and software industries. He recently was director of electronic trading strategies for a New York-based hedge fund and worked for Jane Street Capital, which included overseeing the development of several high-throughput black box trading systems. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science from Stanford University, with a concentration in artificial intelligence.

Funding: Led by Shasta Ventures, the company received US$4 million in January 2008.

Who's using the product? Hedge funds and investment banks of all sizes.

Company name: Vyatta

Founded: 2005

Location: California

What does the company offer? The first commercially supported open source router/firewall/VPN solution, which appeared in 2006.

Why is it worth watching? The company is combining x86-based processors and multicore technologies with open source code and communities. Vyatta's routing and security appliances scale from branch-office to service-provider installations.

How did the company get its start? Vyatta was founded by Allen Leinwand, venture partner at Panorama Capital and an early Cisco employee, who took his cue from an open source router project out of the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley.

How did the company get its name? The word "vyatta" is ancient Sanskrit and means open.

CEO and background: Before joining Vyatta, Kelly Herrell was the senior vice president of strategic operations at MontaVista Software. Previously, he was vice president of marketing for Cobalt Networks, a provider of open source-based server appliances for Web hosting. He also worked at CacheFlow, Oracle, NCR, Teradata and AT&T. He has a bachelor's degree in marketing from Washington State University, and an MBA from Cornell University.

Funding: Vyatta completed Series B funding in April 2007, to bring its total venture capital funding to US$18.5 million. Investors include Panorama Capital, Comcast Interactive Capital, ComVentures and ArrowPath Venture Partners.

Who's using the product? Vyatta's Community Edition software has been downloaded more than 200,000 times by organizations in aerospace and defense, education, financial services, government, and technology. Corporate customers include enterprise, service provider and governments.

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Company name: Sonatype

Founded: 2007

Location: California

What does the company offer? Software, support and services centered on making it easier to use Maven, a software tool for Java project management and build automation.

Why is it worth watching? Sonatype wants to give Java developers an environment that rivals Microsoft's Visual Studio and .Net. Maven has been downloaded more than two million times, and Sonatype adds to the mix its Nexus repository manager and m2eclipse plug-in, which ties it to the Eclipse IDE.

How did the company get its start? Sonatype saw a gap and filled it after recognizing Maven's widespread adoption highlighted the need for stout development infrastructure tools along with Maven support and services.

How did the company get its name? Sonatype takes its name from the Hindi word "sona," which means gold, and the Latin word "type," which means model.

CEO and background: Jason van Zyl is also founder and CTO. He has more than 10 years' experience in open source and proprietary enterprise software development. He is the founder of the Apache Maven project. Prior to Sonatype, he founded Periapt, which provides software infrastructure development services to Fortune 500 companies. He has also worked as a technology architect at Compusens. He helped found Codehaus, an incubation facility for open source community projects.

Funding: Privately funded.

Who's using the product? Sonatype's tools and services have been downloaded more than two million times by a wide range of companies and organizations that include many members of the Fortune 2000.

Company name: Untangle

Founded: 2007

Location: California

What does the company offer? It offers a commercial-grade open source gateway to small businesses for blocking spam, spyware, viruses, adware and unwanted content on the network.

Why is it worth watching? The company is aiming at being a leading IT supplier for small and midsized businesses, and is developing other open source IT tools to go along with its network security wares.

How did the company get its start? Dirk Morris and John Irwin spent three years writing code to drastically reduce the cost of proprietary software and the complexity of open source deployments. The pair used dozens of open source technologies and has open sourced 95 percent of the code they created.

How did the company get its name? Company founders say the Untangle name reflects their mission to eliminate IT complexity for small businesses.

CEO and background: Bob Walters used to land F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft on aircraft carriers before selling Teros, an application security start-up, to Citrix Systems. He has held executive and/or general management positions with Securant, Linuxcare, Informix Software and Red Brick Systems. He is a graduate of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis and was a Guggenheim Fellow at Princeton University.

Funding: Two rounds totaling US$18.5 million with CMEA Ventures and Rustic Canyon Partners.

Who's using the product? Customer list of 5,000 includes Genesis Physicians Group, Bishop Kelley High School, Franklin Academy, University of Georgia and Maine State Employees Association-SEIU Local 1989.

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Company name: Qumranet

Founded: 2005

Location: California

What does the company offer? Its product – Solid ICE – provides a hosted desktop virtualization environment that runs in the corporate data center.

Why is it worth watching? The company is tapping Linux kernel virtualization technology called KVM to provide IT with centralized desktop and image management, high availability and provisioning for any desktop operating system. It also provides the connection protocol and management system.

How did the company get its start? Qumranet wrote KVM and open sourced the code taking advantage of processor advancements from Intel and AMD, and improvements in Linux scheduling and memory management.

How did the company get its name? Named after the Qumran caves in Israel, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found.

CEO and background: Benny Schnaider has been in senior management, engineering and strategic consulting roles at many companies, including Cisco, Amdahl/Fujitsu, Hitachi, IDT, Sun and 3Com. Schnaider has a master's degree in engineering management from Santa Clara University, and a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering from the Technion (Israel Institute of technology).

Funding: Sequoia Capital and Norwest Venture Partners.

Who's using the product? Commercial Aircraft Division of Israel Aerospace Industries and several Global 2000 companies, which the company does not make public.

Company name: XAware

Founded: XAware's open source project was launched in November 2007.

Location: Colorado

What does the company offer? XAware offers open source data integration software for creating and managing composite data services.

Why is the company worth watching? Data integration is a must have in today's distributed networks, and XAware is throwing out the old proprietary software model it had in favor of an open platform based on the same technology with years of development and testing behind it.

How did the company get its start? Kirstan Vandersluis, who helped develop and patent XAware's product suite, co-developed an XML-based data services application and began full-time work on the product in March 2000.

How did the company get its name? XAware's name is a recognition of XML, the markup language that makes it possible to read, write and transfer data between different sources.

CEO and background: Tim Harvey. Previously, Harvey was senior vice president of sales and marketing at S1. He also was president and COO of SynQuest. Harvey, a budding triathlete, graduated from the University of Florida with a business administration bachelor's degree in finance and served four years as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

Funding: XAware has secured three rounds of funding totaling US$26.4 million. The most recent (US$7.4 million) was led by vSpring Capital. Other venture capital firms include GMT Capital, Sequel Ventures, ITU Ventures and BMJP LLC.

Who's using the product: Customers include AXA, ING, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Genworth, Synovus, Northrop Gruman and Hire a Hero.

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Company name: SnapLogic

Founded: 2006

Location: California

What does the company offer? SnapLogic offers an open source data integration framework for integrating data on both sides of the enterprise firewall. Recent additions include links to and SugarCRM.

Why is it worth watching? The company lets users integrate software-as-a-service data with data behind the firewall on the back of reusable "snap-together" components and a browser-based design tool to create those integrations.

How did the company get its start? Gaurav Dhillon, the founder and former CEO of Informatica, and Mike Pittaro, Informatica's director of customer services, recognized the need for software for many large corporate integration tasks.

How did the company get its name? SnapLogic is evocative of the browser-based, drag-and-drop interface of SnapLogic Designer, the graphical tool used to create data integration pipelines using the SnapLogic framework.

CEO and background: Before taking over SnapLogic, Chris Marino was an investor and advisor to several start-ups, as well as the founder and CEO of server load-balancing vendor Resonate.

Funding: US$2.5 million Series A round of venture capital from Dhillon Capital.

Who's using the product? The company has publicly announced one customer, KQED Public Broadcasting.

Company name: Acquia

Founded: December 2007

Location: Massachusetts, US

What does the company offer? Provides support and services for open source social publishing system Drupal. Acquia also has its own distribution of Drupal code-named Carbon and a set of network services code-named Spokes.

Why is it worth watching? This is the first commercial distribution of Drupal, which has racked up two million downloads and is quickly becoming a popular content management system in the open source community and beyond.

How did the company get its start? Acquia co-founder Dries Buytaert created Drupal in 2001 as a student bulletin board application at the University of Antwerp. Buytaert and Jay Batson saw a growing interest among user organizations for support.

How did the company get its name? The company says the Web is all about the process of discovery. During World War II, the US military utilized Navajo Code Talkers for secure communications. According to the code talker’s dictionary the word for locate is "a-kwe-eh," translated literally to "spot." Our translation "Acquia," fits nicely with the water metaphor in the Drupalsphere.

CEO and background: Batson is Acquia's CEO and co-founder along with Buytaert who serves as CTO. Acquia is the second technology company Batson has co-founded, and is his second commercial open source effort (the previous having been Pingtel, which was acquired by Bluesocket in 2007).

Funding: Investors include North Bridge Venture Partners, Sigma Partners and O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures.

Who's using the product? Acquia's product line is currently in beta and will be generally available in the fall 2008. More than 250,000 Web sites are running on Drupal software, including Warner Brothers Records, Sony MyPlay, Popular Science, The Onion and Amnesty International

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Company name: Openmoko

Founded: March 2006

Location: Taipei, Taiwan

What does the company offer? Recently released its Neo FreeRunner, a free and open source mobile platform that enables development of customized mobile devices and applications. It's a computer in the form of a phone.

Why is it worth watching? When Openmoko says open they mean it, even encouraging users to crack the case and have a go at the hardware. Freerunner can be a phone, but users can craft it into any sort of handheld device by developing their own applications or loading ones built by the Openmoko community. Openmoko has published the software, industrial design and most recently published the schematics for its Openmoko Neo 1973 and Neo FreeRunner phones.

How did the company get its start? It all started when Openmoko software engineer and electronics enthusiast, Sean Moss-Pultz, said "I can never upgrade or customize my phone. If I want new features or software, I have to buy a new phone every few months!" Inspiration followed and Moss-Pultz set out to free the mobile phone.

How did the company get its name? Open means developers and consumers have the freedom to contribute value to the platform however they like. Moko is abbreviated for Mobile Kommunikations, with the "K" dedicated to the hacker community who helped create software that powers the Openmoko platform.

CEO and background: Sean Moss-Plutz was raised in San Diego, before joining First International Computer to head up special projects. His fluency in Chinese and understanding of the mobile market led him into the CEO role at OpenMoko.

Funding: Openmoko is wholly owned by First International Computer.

Who's using the product? Corporate customers are all under nondisclosure agreements, but the product currently sells to developers.