Start-ups offer cloud-based data management tools

Newbies challenge the established players at conference

Two start-ups launching at the recent DEMO Spring 2010 conference in Silcon Valley are offering cloud-based alternatives to traditional database management systems, saying today's databases are too expensive and too difficult for business users to understand.

FathomDB and Cloudscale made their six-minute pitches during the afternoon cloud computing session at DEMO last week, taking two different approaches to a similar problem. Cloudscale is trying to give non-technical business users the ability to build "big data" applications right from Microsoft Excel, while FathomDB is offering a relational database service that runs on the web.

"Today is the age of big data," said CloudScale CEO and founder Bill McColl. "Data is growing exponentially everywhere. … Excel is the world's nubmer one tool for processing and analysing data, with hundreds of millions of users. But for big data, Excel is nowhere near enough."

Cloudcel, the service offered by Cloudscale, will let users create applications that processes billions of rows of data, "something that would normally take days to compute, and you get the results back in minutes," McColl said.

Cloudscale does not call its Excel-based service a database management system. Instead, it says Cloudcel is "the next major step" after SQL databases and parallel processing tools such as MapReduce and Hadoop.

FathomDB, on the other hand, is a database-as-a-service offering that runs on the Rackspace and Amazon EC2 cloud computing platforms. Prices range from roughly two cents an hour to $3 an hour for MySQL database instances.

FathomDB founder and CEO Justin Santa Barbara said he wants to solve the problem that "SQL doesn't scale", without charging Oracle-like prices. The advantages FathomDB claims include managed backup and monitoring tools, performance tracking, and use of standard database (MySQL) so users don't have to learn a whole new system.

"The world is moving to cloud and we've built a database for the cloud age," Santa Barbara said.

FathomDB will be competing against Amazon, which has its own SimpleDB database service.

After the DEMO presentations, a panel of venture capitalists expressed optimism about FathomDB and Cloudscale, but said there will be challenges in building a successful business.

Peter Fenton, a general partner at Benchmark Capital, said there's debate about whether cloud computing is disruptive enough to revamp today's relational database model. He noted that companies such as Oracle are formidable competitors on the marketing and sales fronts.

"Relational was successful for reasons that have as much to do with sales and marketing and distribution as they do with technology," he said.

Mike Maples of Maples Investments said Cloudscale probably won't be adopted by as many users as PowerBuilder, but nonetheless he thinks the company is onto something.

"I'm intrigued by this whole big data theme," Maples said. "I have this hunch that there is something really big in big data."

Both Cloudscale and FathomDB are looking to expand. Cloudscale is launching now with an Excel interface, and later this year will launch a version with a browser-based interface, McColl said. The company is also planning to utilise Google Docs and mobile devices.

FathomDB, meanwhile, is looking for investment dollars and new talent.

"If you're a talented engineer, join FathomDB to work on the problems that everyone thought were impossible," Santa Barbara said.

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Tags cloud computingmanagementdemo 2010fathomdbcloudscale

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