There has been a surprising surge in storage startups in recent weeks. Here are some of the notables:

1. Starboard Storage Systems

Storage virtualizationis the target for a couple of the startups listed here. With so much server virtualization going on, after all, the storage side has to catch up.

“Virtualization initiatives in the SME market are causing more than 100 percent annual storage growth, which in turn causes a tremendous amount of technical and operational headaches,” said Steve Duplessie, an analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group.

Starboard Storage has been put together by a team of former Compellent, HP, LeftHand Networks, LSI and Sun staffers. The company pushes Application-Crafted Storage and targets SMEs with a product that handles mixed workloads efficiently within a single storage system instead of having to maintain separate DAS, NAS and SAN storage. Starboard has emerged from stealth with more than 30 customers using the Starboard AC72 Storage System to manage more than 750 terabytes of capacity.

“This is a market ripe for a simple, elegant, virtualization-optimized solution,” said Duplessie. “Done right, the Starboard team has a huge opportunity in front of them.”

2. Nutanix

The Nutanix pitch is that it enables organizations to virtualize the data center without requiring a SAN. Yes, the company uses virtualization to eliminate network storage. Nutanix Complete Cluster’s converged compute and storage architecture is a building block for virtualization. It is a hardware and software combo that runs virtual machines and stores the data. Additional blocks can be brought in as storage demands multiply.

3. NexGen Storage

NexGen Storage, is another company with a storage virtualization angle. It offers a shared storage system that provides control over performance and promises the highest virtual machine storage density in the industry. This makes it possible to provision performance-like capacity and maintain those levels with quality of service (QoS).

The company emerged from stealth in November 2011 with general availability of a Fusion-io-powered midrange storage system with the inclusion of QoS. The NexGen n5 Storage System architecture integrates PCIe solid state Fusion-io with patent-pending performance QoS, Dynamic Data Placement and Phased Data Reduction. The company claims 76 times the virtual machine storage density of other solutions and a reduction in storage operating expenses by up to 90 percent for large virtual environments.

4. Panzura

While virtualization is one of the hot areas, cloud is certainly another. Panzurahas opted to apply its talents to cloud storage. It uses military-grade SSL/AES-256-CBC encryption and multi-site replication in a global cloud file system controller that enables real-time file sharing, active file archiving and highly secure data backup in the enterprise.

The company believes today’s globally distributed workforces have combined with the exponential growth in unstructured data to severely challenge traditional storage architectures. Its approach is to harness the cloud along with a file system so that users can view and access any file at any location from anywhere with minimal latency.

5. iWave Software

Similar to Panzura, iWave Software is combining the cloud with storage, although this time it provides automation via iWave Automator. This product suite helps organizations install, configure and automate tasks associated with the provisioning and management of data centers, cloud environments and storage infrastructures.

iWave already has OEM partnerships with a number of software vendors and is branching out to focus on packaged automation to solve specific problems. For example, the company recently introduced Storage Automator, which provides automated services for storage provisioning, reclamation and remediation. Its vendor-agnostic approach includes pre-built workflows for common storage tasks. This eliminates some of the tedium from the life of a storage admin. Storage services, such as provisioning, can be requested via a self-service portal and delivered rapidly.

6. Nexenta Systems

Nexenta states that its business model is slowly doing to NetApp and EMC what Intel and Microsoft did to the server market a decade ago. That’s quite a claim. How does it achieve this? By moving storage from proprietary arrays and other gear onto commoditized servers from the likes of Dell, HP and Rackable Systems. The company said that Nexenta-powered storage products drove approximately $300 million in revenue in 2011. It expects to at least double that figure this year. Partners include Intel, VMware and Arista Networks.

7. WWPass

WWPass isn’t so much storage as it is data security. WWPass chose a Valentine’s Day launch with a different approach to security. Rather than attempting to block problems at the endpoint (device or PC), the company offers a single physical PassKey that lets users access websites, services and data while remaining anonymous to those destinations. For sensitive applications, this is augmented by a password. PassKeys come in USB fobs, cards and smartphone apps. The service also requires applications to authenticate themselves, so parties at both ends can be confident about with whom they are talking.

Instead of encryption, enterprises can take advantage of Personal Secure Storage (PSS), a service that allows them to store and retrieve confidential data via the WWPass infrastructure.

The system works by fragmenting and dispersing data to storage centers around the world. Obviously, this makes it far more difficult to compromise. Even if someone hacks into a WWPass server, he can’t find data that can be associated with any particular person. Stored data can be re-assembled and delivered only through the owner and Service Provider’s PassKeys.

Yet More Storage Hotties

These companies are among the current hotties. But there are plenty of others on the horizon.

“Keep an eye on Clustrix, Panzura, SparkWeave, IceWeb, and FireScope,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst at StorageIO Group. “Don’t worry if you have not heard of the latter three; soon you will be hearing more.”