NEA’s Sonsini: Cloud infrastructure still king for VC cash

Peter Sonsini

Apple’s (s aapl) iCloud has brought consumer-focused cloud computing into the limelight recently, and the trend probably represents a golden opportunity for startups looking to raise venture capital. However, the brunt of investment won’t necessarily go toward companies trying to compete with Apple or launch their own consumer clouds.

According to New Enterprise Associates partner Peter Sonsini, the key to getting VC investment in cloud computing is still selling the infrastructure tools that underlie popular cloud platforms.

During an interview earlier this week, Sonsini told me that although consumer cloud services are hot, much of the investment money still comes from the enterprise software and hardware upon which those clouds are built. Whether it’s Apple, Dropbox or anyone else targeting consumers with new cloud services, the one commonality across the board is that they’ll need to buy some cutting-edge IT products. Not that this should be surprising coming from Sonsini, who was part of VMware’s (s vmw) early executive team and whose investment portfolio reads like a who’s who of the cloud.

As senior director of strategic alliances during VMware’s formative years, he learned early on how important virtualization would come to be. When he got into the VC game, one of his first investments was open-source virtualization startup XenSource (which Citrix bought and which still provides the moniker for Citrix’s (s ctxs) virtualization lineup). Among his current companies are PaaS pioneer Engine Yard, private-cloud vendor Eucalyptus Systems, .NET-cloud enabler Apprenda and Hadoop Distributed File System alternative MapR. On Wednesday, virtual-machine-storage specialist Tintri announced that NEA co-led an $18 million Series C round. It’s one of Sonsini’s deals.

I asked Sonsini his feelings on Eucalyptus, which has garnered a lot of criticism (fairly or unfairly) since OpenStack burst onto the scene and stole Eucalyptus’s open-source cloud thunder. He noted that NEA invested in Eucalyptus pre-OpenStack, but that he thinks a strategy adjustment can right the company’s ship to the degree it’s even off-course. These things always come along, he added, and you just have to deal with them. Regardless, NEA is still “very bullish” on private clouds, Sonsini said, calling them a “top five” initiative for most of the CIO types he speaks with.

Apprenda also sells private-cloud software, although it’s targeted toward creating Software-as-a-Service platforms for .NET applications.

Other than cloud and general enterprise infrastructure, Sonsini said other areas of interest for him are big data (hence MapR) and the consumerization of IT.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user stevendamron.