Cloudant, Born from Big Science, Looks to Build Big Database Business

7/23/12Follow @gthuang

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Y Combinator. Last November, it brought in Derek Schoettle, formerly an executive at Boston-area data analytics firm Vertica Systems (now part of HP), as CEO.

Database companies, by their nature, are pretty technical beasts. Without going into mind-numbing detail, what Cloudant does is provide a data management network for developers of Web and mobile software. Cloudant’s product is based on an open-source project called Apache CouchDB, and it’s “built specifically for the distributed nature of the cloud,” says Hoffman. That means it has to be fast, reliable, and able to scale up from handling data from one server to hundreds of servers. To that end, Cloudant runs a network of sites from the U.S. to Europe to Asia. “We shrink-wrap a data layer around the globe and you tap into it,” he says.

Cloudant competes with Amazon’s DynamoDB product (part of Amazon Web Services), as well as any number of smaller companies offering scalable, cloud-based database services. But the startup is really part of a larger movement of companies looking to disrupt entrenched database giants like Oracle and Microsoft. Another way to slice it: what Akamai did for Web pages and static content, Cloudant wants to do for “dynamic data,” Hoffman says.

Hoffman wouldn’t divulge any company revenue stats, except to say the past three quarters have been “really exciting,” and that the market has come around to Cloudant’s point of view. He adds that the company has more than 8,000 small to mid-sized customers (who pay $500 or less a month) and about 50 large customers who pay much more than that.

Cloudant seems to have found a niche across developers of Web, mobile, and tablet apps, and across analytics and gaming software from small startups to big enterprises. But the team is wary of being stretched too far, too soon.

“We’re trying not to be all things for all people,” Hoffman says. “We’re very focused on that thin but vital layer that is the data.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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