Cloud-Device Startup Nebula Takes Aim at Seattle Engineers

12/13/11Follow @curtwoodward

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previously worked for Microsoft designing search engine servers and infrastructure. Nebula also has gotten some talent from Disney, which has a branch in the area, Kemp says.

Nebula hasn’t disclosed how much money it has raised to make those hires, but its investors are a list of very well-known names: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Highland Capital Partners, along with early Google investors Andy Bechtolsheim, David Cheriton, and Ram Shriram.

As someone who has been an entrepreneur in both the Puget Sound and Silicon Valley, it was interesting (though not surprising) to hear Kemp’s take on the difference between the two regions. He reinforces a theme you hear often: The Silicon Valley investors are far more willing to take risks than in buttoned-down Seattle.

“If my company were in Seattle, I would get on an airplane and I would talk to guys on Sand Hill Road. Because I can tell you, as somebody who’s talked to every VC in Seattle, was funded by one in Seattle, there is an epic difference. You might even invent a different term—you’d call what happens here something else, because it’s a very different creature,” Kemp says.

“Being able to take Silicon Valley’s money and hire engineers from Seattle seems to be a pretty good recipe,” he adds with a laugh.

Nebula’s current test partners include companies in biotech, finance, energy, and media. The company’s sales pitch is based on revealing just how little the components of big data storage and processing actually cost today. “We’re going to provide a new level of transparency and openness on how infrastructure is bought and sold,” Kemp says. “Like, why does a $50 hard disk cost $600 when you buy it on a Dell server?”

“They make all of their money on memory and hard drives, basically,” Carlen says.

The company is betting that this will resonate strongly as businesses produce ever-greater volumes of critical data, which they won’t want to store in someone else’s cloud-computing infrastructure. “Anybody who seriously competes with Amazon cannot seriously be beholden to Amazon, right? That’s just basic business arithmetic,” Kemp says.

At the same time, companies will be shutting down and shedding the kind of ancillary software—accounting, payroll, customer relations—that has long been run on-site, but is now moving to a software-as-a-service model.

Nebula bets that, in that scenario, smart companies will not want to overpay for “needlessly differentiated” proprietary cloud-computing systems that don’t play well with each other. By tying their device to the emerging open-source standard in OpenStack, and allowing it to integrate with several different kinds of commodity hardware, Nebula is aiming to make a device that drives down cost while working very simply—almost like a consumer electronics device.

“We have a whole bunch of our competitors helping people build 1990s cell phones,” Kemp says. “Nebula is building a sexy, beautiful iPhone that’s going to be simple to use, simple to operate, experience-focused. Plug and play—it’s just going to work.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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