NorthScale, a Memcached-focused Startup, Launches

NorthScale, a Mountain View, Calif-based startup co-founded by leaders of memcached open source projects, launched today after spending a year hiding in the shadows. The company, which has raised $5 million in venture funding from Accel Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners, is part of a growing number of startups hoping to cash in on the data deluge facing everyone from small-time publishers to web giants.
nortscale1.gif According to IDC, in 2012, “the amount of digital information produced in the year should equal nearly 2,500 exabytes (equivalent to 2,500 billion gigabytes), or 5 times that produced in 2008” driven primarily by the Internet.
Today’s web is a lot different from the web of 10 years ago. More users, more connections and more time spent online are some of the hallmarks of today’s popular web-based services such as Digg, Facebook, Twitter and Zynga. As a result, these services generate mountains of data. The more information there is, the harder it becomes to make sense of it. And the problem is only exacerbated by the use of relational databases, generally viewed by many as yesterday’s technology.
Relational databases came to market in an era when the data was more structured. Today, the web applications are much more dynamic. The ever-falling prices computing hardware prices have made it easy to throw more hardware at the problems, but even those solutions can go so far, unless married to a new class of software. As Stacey outlined earlier this week, Internet companies have started looking at different technologies such as Cassandra and CouchDB to get a better grip on their data. One such technology is called memcached.
Memcached is used by thousands of web sites, including Wikipedia, Twitter and Flickr. It is a “high-performance, distributed memory object caching system and it is a way to speed up dynamics web applications by alleviating the database load.” NorthScale is based on that technology, explained James Phillips, NorthScale co-Founder and chief strategy officer in a conversation. NorthScale is launching with two products — NorthScale Memcached Server and the Membase Server. The company has snagged Farmville maker Zynga as a paying customer. NHN, a South Korean portal, is also a customer of various different NorthScale products. From the company’s press release:

NorthScale Memcached Server is an enhanced distribution of memcached, created and supported by the leading contributors to the memcached open source project. A distributed, in-memory caching technology, memcached is used alongside relational database technology – caching frequently used data, thereby reducing the number of database queries an application must perform. By augmenting versus replacing relational database technology, memcached is easy to adopt and offers immediate cost, performance and scalability benefits.
NorthScale Membase Server is a high-performance, distributed key-value database…While memcached reduces the number of reads an application must do from the database, data is still ultimately stored in the relational database. Using NorthScale Membase Server an organization can identify and gradually “drain” data from a relational system to Membase, enjoying the simple, fast and infinite properties of memcached across both reads and writes, while slashing data management costs.

What NorthScale is doing is offering companies a smooth transition away from their installed relational databases to Membase, NorthScale’s own data store and perhaps its core IP. There is no doubt that NorthScale is coming to the market at the right time. There is a lot of interest in data stores and alternative technologies such as Cassandra and Memcached. These technologies are viewed as the wave of the future. It also helps that the company has most of the major memcached open source experts on its rooster. The problem for NorthScale is that it’s in a fiercely contested marketplace. Just off the top of my head, I can come up with two immediate rivals, Gear6 and Schooner. With deep roots in the open source world the bigger challenge for the company will be convincing people to pay for its products.
That said, it’s still great to see new companies try and tackle what is the most pressing problem facing the tech world: too much data.