The Boston Tech Year in Review: Endeca, RSA, and More

A lot has happened in the technology world in the past year. So let’s take a minute to reflect on the defining moments of 2011 and where we stand now, as a local tech community with increasingly global impact.

This is by no means comprehensive, or even a summary of the most important stories of the year. It’s just a select few of the biggest highlights and lowlights, organized in spaghetti western fashion (cliché alert).

The Good: Oracle Buys Endeca

Some might argue this wasn’t necessarily “good” for the local tech scene, but Oracle’s $1B+ purchase of Cambridge, MA-based Endeca, the enterprise search and business intelligence firm, was one of the biggest deals of the year, and was kept under wraps pretty well. It will be interesting to watch whether Endeca’s technology and talent give Oracle a leg up in its competition with IBM, SAP, Microsoft, and Google. Endeca, which started in 1999, stands as a testament to the notion that billion-dollar tech companies can be built—and are being built—in Massachusetts. (See Acme Packet, Progress Software, Wayfair, and others on their way.)

Honorable mention: Carbonite, TripAdvisor, and Zipcar each went public with successful IPOs in 2011. That’s three more publicly traded tech companies in Boston that seem to be thriving in a tough market. Who will join them in 2012?

The Bad: RSA Gets Hacked

No one would argue this isn’t bad—and not just for local companies. In March, RSA Security reported a data breach involving its authentication products, which are widely used by big companies and government agencies. The Bedford, MA-based division of data storage giant EMC said it had suffered the sort of attack—an “advanced persistent threat”—usually associated with cyber espionage by nation-states. We’ll be watching this security sector closely, as a number of big Boston-area financing deals (Rapid7, Cyber-Ark) and acquisitions (NitroSecurity by Intel’s McAfee, Q1 Labs by IBM) have happened in the past few months.

(Dis)honorable mention: Boston-born BuyWithMe, a local deals startup, was acquired by New York-based Gilt Groupe in what looked like a fire sale, after laying off most of its staff. BuyWithMe started in 2009, raised more than $20 million in venture financing, and acquired six other deals companies last year before apparently running out of money. There has been a lot of grousing and hearsay surrounding the fate of BuyWithMe, but this was a once-promising startup that hit the wall, so some constructive lessons should be pulled out of its story.

The Ugly: Skyhook’s and Vlingo’s Court Battles

The litigation between Boston startups Skyhook Wireless and Vlingo and tech giants Google and Nuance (respectively) put a damper on mobile software innovation for a whole year. Skyhook has been battling Google over alleged patent infringement and the search giant’s business practices, while still maneuvering to get Skyhook’s location-finding software on Android devices. Meanwhile, Vlingo effectively settled its years of bloodletting court cases with Nuance by agreeing to be acquired by the speech technology firm. [Disclosure: My brother-in-law is the co-founder and chief technology officer of Vlingo.]

In an industry where everyone is suing everyone else (see this info-graphic), none of this is surprising. But that doesn’t make it right.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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