The health of the storage sector can be seen in the number of interesting startups that have cropped up. A few years ago, venture capitalists were investing in almost nothing storage related. Times have changed. Here are a few companies to keep an eye on.

1. Cloudera

With cloud computing mania reaching fever pitch, it is understandable that the bulk of storage startups are found in this sector. Under that umbrella, however, they cover a wide range of differing functions.

Cloudera, for example, deals with Apache Hadoop-based software and services as a means of deriving business value from unstructured as well as structured data. The company recently passed the 100-customer milestone. It falls across a wide range of industries including financial service, healthcare, digital media, advertising, networking and telephony enterprises. The company just closed $40 million in Series D funding, and big name users include eBay, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

“Cloudera is the defining company in the Big Data industry and the popularity of Hadoop is increasing every day,” said Frank Artale of Ignition Partners, one of those putting up the new funds.

2. Ctera

When asked to name a startup of note, Mike Karp, an analyst with Ptak-Noel & Associates, put forward Ctera, a venture-backed provider of remotely managed cloud storage services.

“Their real forte lies in providing services to remote sites and branch offices of large organizations,” said Karp. “With the Ctera approach, a small and relatively inexpensive appliance is placed at each remote location, a button is pushed and IT managers back at the corporate data center have a complete view of the data at remote sites, letting them manage it however they wish.”

Customers can send data to public or private clouds. Note, however, that Ctera provides neither; its partners can deliver this service or, optionally, users can use their own providers.

As well as cloud and remote management, the Ctera appliance contains storage, making it a hybrid approach that sends remote data into the cloud for storage while at the same time keeping the most recent data in the appliance to provide the fastest possible recoveries. “Enterprise IT managers are likely to go for this in a big way because it allows them to provide the same level of protection to remote sites as they do to the data they keep the data center,” said Karp.

3. NexGen Storage

The solid state drive (SSD) field is another hot area for storage innovation featuring several interesting startups. NexGen, launched just last month, is venture funded and has a product aimed at managing performance for shared storage systems. Currently, users of shared storage have to fiddle with configurations, implements and performance.

“No vendor provides any tools that allow users to provision performance just like capacity, and there is no functionality built into shared storage systems to help customers maintain performance levels over time,” said John Spiers, NexGen Storage CEO and Founder, NexGen. “NexGen gives IT organizations control over managing and allocating performance.”

The NexGen n5 Storage System leverages PCIe-based solid state, phased data reduction and dynamic data placement. The PCIe bus was designed for low-latency transfers of large amounts of data between CPU and RAM. Founders Spiers and CTO Kelly Long already have a successful track record with storage startups — both founded LeftHand Networks — eventually acquired by HP. And NexGen just partnered with SSD pioneers Fusion-io to integrate the Fusion ioDrive into the NexGen SAN.

4. SolidFire

According to Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO group, there are many SSD-based startups out there that tend to blur together. Another that stands out, to his mind, is SolidFire.

“They have the basics in terms of performance, availability, capacity and efficiency along with energy effectiveness, not to mention the features, functionality and flexibility,” he said. “However they also have the experience of having been in cloud data centers in addition to scale up and scale out solutions. While other vendors are targeting those spaces and learning about the needs, SolidFire can walk the talk moving beyond what others are doing or trying to do.”

5. Pure Storage

Pure Storage launched in August with the Pure Storage FlashArray. This is an all-flash array offering the usual bells and whistles of disk arrays such as high availability, compatibility and scalability, at a lower price than a traditional array. With deduplication built in to reduce the amount of flash required, it is aimed at virtual server, virtual desktop (VDI), database and cloud environments. It has already secured $55 million in funding.

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