Walking the Startup Pavilion at VMworld

One of the most fun areas of any trade show is the startup pavilion: a place where smaller companies can rent a kiosk to show off their wares. Perhaps VMware (s vmw) was once relegated to this area in its earliest days. I’m not sure if the next VMware is lurking in the pavilion at this show, but there are plenty of interesting startups attacking the hot market segments today. Here are a few I came across:

Software Appliances and Package Management. UShareSoft provides UForge, an “appliance factory” that helps assemble, build, and maintain software appliances. Other companies and products in this arena include rPath and Suse Studio. UShareSoft also offers Open Appliance Studio: software tools that manage and configure multi-node software installations, such as bringing up a set of load balancers, web servers, and database nodes in concert.

Takeaway: The need to track and systematize the creation of functional, contained virtual appliances will continue to grow as we move towards more virtualized compute environments. There will be more logical machines, demand for them on a moments notice, and the need to keep track of what makes up each individual server image. If UShareSoft can deliver the goods, it should fare well.

Wireless Infrastructure. Bluesocket takes a unique approach to enterprise and campus wireless access by separating the control path from the data path. The control functions — such as who’s allowed on the corporate network — are centralized in a virtual machine: its vWLAN product. Access points are then deployed as with other wireless solutions, but the data traffic doesn’t need to pass back through Bluesocket’s virtual machine controller. This control path and data path separation enables more scalability, lower latency, and reduced costs according to Bluesocket.

Takeaway: In a move to the always-connected world, blanketing enterprises and campuses with wireless access is bound to happen. If Bluesocket’s approach can deliver on the promise of simpler, more cost-effective wireless networks, it should be in a strong position for success.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Sychron is yet another entrant into the crowded Virtual Desktop Infrastructure arena. The company claims to stand out on the speed and simplicity of deployment: both the supporting infrastructure for, and the provisioning of, virtual desktops. Sychron can work within a VMware environment, or, for those customers looking to remove expensive storage area network hardware, Sychron can operate as stand-alone VDI solution.

Takeaway: No doubt virtual desktops are a key use case for virtualization outside of servers, and there seems to be no shortage of solutions. Sychron appears to have made progress with customers in education, health care, and government. If it can carry that expertise over to the enterprise, it could have a rosy future.

Energy Management. Viridity offers energy resource management software to help companies see which servers are consuming the most power. The company has a simple agent-less approach that uses existing mechanisms to tap into CPU utilization on individual servers to see which ones are the best candidates for virtualization or retirement. Initial set-up requires some identification of servers with racks, but once in place, the rest is automated with a sleek user interface.

Takeaway: Energy costs continue to be one of the most daunting data center expenses. Bringing data to these decisions can only help. It will be interesting to see if energy monitoring alone can carry Viridity forward or if it will need to expand the product lineup.

Virtual Machine I/O OptimizationPancetera is tackling one of the most pressing issues with virtual machines: the current lack of fine-grained control of network and I/O traffic. With so many virtual machines on a single server, it’s hard to allocate network and storage bandwidth to the instances that need it most. To alleviate the I/O pains in heavy-load use cases like backup, the company provides Pancetera Unite, a software virtual appliance that creates an I/O optimized data path. Pancetera touts that backups complete up to five times faster and moves virtual machines up to 10 times faster when used in conjunction with WAN accelerators.

Takeaway: As companies continue to virtualize servers, data-intensive tasks like backup will drive heavy loads that aren’t necessarily optimized for virtual environments. Pancetera’s approach of focusing on the backup arena is a good place to start to solve a critical area of I/O pain.

There were a few other companies I enjoyed chatting with, including Zeus, which provides software based load balances and traffic managers; Abiquo, which delivers an enterprise cloud management platform that also enables it to move virtual machines across hypervisors; and Quorum Labs, which provides a business continuity appliance for simple and quick deployment.

Let’s hope that we see a few of these companies next year, and that they graduate out of the startup pavilion.

Gary Orenstein is Host of The Cloud Computing Show