InfoWorld's top 10 tech startups for 2008

Innovative technologies and new spins for existing technologies characterize this year's hot tech newbies

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Forward spin: How scalable is the technology? After all, very few of us can afford a $100,000 display. Han says we can expect to see smaller versions of his touch walls sold as monitors in the not-too-distant future. Theoretically, the technology could scale down to the size of a handheld, but in addition to the obvious problems of engineering, there is also the problem of input, Han says. Large screens allow for broader motions with each tap; the touch of a palm, for example, can convey much more information then the tip of a finger.

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Hot tech startup: Ribbit

Founded: 2006

A multiprotocol, Class 5, soft telephony switch with a development environment for business app integration.

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Tech breakthrough:

Business problem addressed: Integrating voice and data into business workflow

What the technology does: Ribbit's founders like to call their two-year-old startup "Silicon Valley's first phone company." But that label hardly tells the story. Ribbit is a software platform that lets developers create voice and telephony applications in a familiar Web application development environment. Once built, those applications can be linked to other Web apps, including SaaS-based CRM from Salesforce.com and other companies.

"Our premise is that cheap dial tone such as VoIP has a place, but it doesn't solve the business needs of companies to put voice-based data into the workflow," says co-founder and CEO Ted Griggs. A Salesforce.com developer, for example, used Ribbit's API to build a mashup that converts voice messages to text and then drops the data into Salesforce CRM. Users can also call into the application remotely to add information or view data. An application engine running on top of Ribbit's core APIs provides tools to enable features such as single sign-on, billing, or ordering.

How the technology works: Underlying the development environment is a soft telephony switch that allows calls to be initiated and answered on multiple devices -- including landlines, mobile phones, VOIP, or a Flash widget on a user's desktop -- and run across standard communication protocols such as SIP, Skype, Google's XMPP, and the Salesforce Connector. Ribbit's APIs are open; the switch was tested and certified by Lucent.

The Ribbit API currently delivers more than 40 methods for connecting to the Ribbit service. Developers can use scripts prepared by the company that allow quick development of functions including making calls, receiving calls, listening to, reading, recording, and sending voice messages.

Forward spin: Expect to see Ribbit go beyond sales force automation; integration with vertical applications in finance, real estate, medical, and others is on the way. The company claims that more than 4,000 developers have downloaded the APIs. It will make money through revenue-sharing deals with developers who create viable commercial applications.

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Hot tech startup: StackSafe

Founded: 2005 (as Revive Systems)

The first virtualized staging and testing solution that allows meaningful testing of infrastructure changes in a safe environment.

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Tech breakthrough:

Business problem addressed: Helping determine how changes to infrastructure software affect production.

What the technology does: It tests changes to infrastructure and operations such as patching, infrastructure software upgrades, and changes to settings -- but not applications. In effect, it is a virtual sandbox.

How the technology works: StackSafe imports x86-production systems into virtual partitions by performing a full-disk copy during a planned downtime period. It uses the Xen hypervisor to create the virtual partition. Physical and virtual systems are imported and test scenarios composed of open source and proprietary offerings are run. The scenarios test readiness, connectivity, configuration security, and performance. StakeSafe Test Center includes predefined tests and templates. "Test and reporting scenarios, as well as the focus on [infrastructure and operations] groups, are the main differentiators between StackSafe and virtual lab management solutions," says Gartner analyst Donna Scott.

Forward spin: StackSafe recently added support for Windows Server 2003 environments; at launch only Linux was supported. More environments will be added in the future, says the company.

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Hot tech startup: Vertica

Founded: 2005

Vertica combines a column-oriented data structure with a shared-nothing architecture plus aggressive compression to speed queries.

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Tech breakthrough:

Business problem addressed: Pulling analytic information out of large databases takes too long.

What the technology does: Vertica's database is structured for analytics and data warehousing in environments with large amounts of non-transactional data. It generally runs with, not instead of, major OLTP databases such as Oracle. Queries run many times faster than in a traditional database.

How the technology works: Traditional databases organize information by row. Vertica organizes data into columns. Organization by column means that when a query needs to access just a few columns of a particular table, only those columns need to be read from disk. By contrast, in a traditional row-oriented database, all values in a table are typically read from disk, which wastes I/O bandwidth, says founder and CTO Michael Stonebraker, the main architect of Postgres and other database innovations. Because Vertica and, say, Oracle structure data differently, a company that oriented its data in a row-oriented database must first use an ETL (extraction, transformation and loading) application to match its data to the Vertica schema. After the old data is copied to Vertica, subsequent changes to the original database are trickled to the Vertica database.

Forward spin: Vertica has just launched a cloud-based offering of its database. Customers can now access, create, and run a Vertica database through Amazon’s EC2 computation service. Data may be stored in Amazon’s S3 storage cloud.

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Hot tech startup: V-Kernel

Founded: 2007

Algorithms that analyze data collected on virtual machines and predict future problems based on performance trends.

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Tech breakthrough:

Business problem addressed: Managing and balancing virtual servers and billing users appropriately for consumption of specific resources.

What the technology does: V-Kernel offers a suite of Java- and AJAX-based appliances to manage virtual servers in EMC VMware ESX environments. Virtual machines, by definition, share hardware resources such as CPU, memory, storage, and network controllers. Resources have to be allocated and often billed. V-Kernel's software produces a chargeback report that measures the amount of hardware resources consumed by each virtual machine and allocates those costs to users based on cost metrics chosen by administrators. V-Kernel's Capacity Bottleneck Analyzer predicts shortages of resources on hosts, resource pools, and clusters, and it produces maps showing where virtual machines can be safely added to physical servers.

How the technology works: V-Kernel integrates with VMware's Virtual Center, pulling data on virtual machines from it, and updating itself as changes are made. (If necessary, the data can be pulled directly from the virtual machine, though that process is more difficult.) It can group services to resources by using VM IDs, and it uses an algorithm to proportionally allocate resources when multiple applications or services share multiple machines. As historical data accumulates, V-Kernel's algorithms spot and monitor performance and usage trends, and produce reports. Reports can be extended with custom fields.

Forward spin: V-Kernel currently supports only VMware, but other hypervisors, including those from Microsoft and Citrix, will be supported in the future. V-Kernel plans to release five to 10 new virtual appliances this year.

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Hot tech startup: Xangati

Founded: 2005

Rapid problem identification technology gathers information on all IP end points and applications by tapping into flow information from Cisco's NetFlow, or similar protocols, to create behavioral profiles.

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Tech breakthrough:

Business problem addressed: Reducing the amount of time for IT support to diagnose network problems.

Typical network management packages offer a bottom-up view, from the network to the user. Xangati has turned that paradigm on its head, offering a top-down view, from the user to the network. That's significant because a slowdown affecting only one or a few users often goes unnoticed by IT, which is instead getting a broad view of network performance. Xangati can be used alongside Hewlett-Packard's OpenView or IBM's Tivoli to provide a more granular view in a dashboard. (Click here or on the Xangati logo to view the video of Xangati technology.)

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What the technology does:

How the technology works: Effectively, Xangati is an appliance with its own IP address. Rather than gather network information through probes or software agents, Xangati taps into data produced by routers and switches using the Netflow (or similar) protocol. The appliance discovers all IP end points and applications running on them and profiles the end point, including desktops, servers, storage devices, and networked handhelds such as the BlackBerry. The information is put into a database, which then creates a profile of baseline performance over time. Xangati compares the baseline to real-time performance and notifies administrators of problems. The software creates fixed identities, including dynamic ones, for clients.

Forward spin: "Emerging technologies, such as VoIP and video in various forms, are creating new challenges for network management," says Xangati CEO Alan Robin. His company is working to add problems related to those new technologies to its diagnostic arsenal.

[ Read about all the InfoWorld 2008 hot tech startups. ]

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