Ignition Partners Talk Cloud Computing and Virtualization—A Crucial Part of the VC Firm’s Strategy

9/23/09Follow @gthuang

Now that the media craze around cloud computing seems to have died down just a bit, I thought it would be a good time to take a considered look at what one of the Northwest’s most prominent venture capital firms is working on in this space, which is having increasing influence in every area of software and information technology (IT).

Over the past couple of months, I’ve had a chance to talk with a number of VCs at Bellevue, WA-based Ignition Partners, and they’ve shared a great deal of knowledge and insight into how they think about cloud computing and virtualization. What follows is not a comprehensive look at the firm’s strategy, but rather a few thematic highlights that struck me as important to those interested in cloud-based technologies and business models. To an outside observer at least, what Ignition does in this area will go a long way towards determining its long-term success—and to some extent, it already has.

First, a couple of definitions. Cloud computing, as most see it, is about using remote servers run by vendors like Amazon or Google to store and process data over the Internet, instead of buying and maintaining your own local machines. In fact, Amazon’s chief technology officer, Werner Vogels, has a more industry-focused definition, one that Ignition Partners agrees with: cloud computing is “IT as a service,” delivered in a scalable way to multiple customers via the Web.

Virtualization is a related but different animal; it can be thought of as enabling cloud computing, among other things. Ignition defines virtualization as separating software from hardware—and applications from operating systems—so it lets you run multiple operating systems on a single server, for example, or multiple applications on your desktop, all with minimal setup and security hassles. Big companies like Microsoft, VMware, IBM, and Citrix compete heavily in this space.

But back to Ignition. The firm was founded in early 2000 by ex-Microsoft and McCaw Cellular executives, and now has more than $2 billion under management. It invests in both early-stage and growth-stage companies in the U.S. and China, focusing on consumer tech, communications and wireless, and business software and infrastructure. Ignition has received its fair share of criticism in the press, stemming from incidents like the closure of Sotto Wireless earlier this year, and last fall’s accounting scandal at Entellium—both companies it backed.

Yet Ignition is strong enough in cloud computing and virtualization that, given how central these issues have become to most aspects of IT, it seems like a key differentiator for the company. Especially at a time when most if not all venture firms are going back to basics and thinking about where their most valuable expertise lies. Indeed, Ignition’s biggest win to date was in virtualization: XenSource’s $500 million … Next Page »

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. Follow @gthuang

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