Canadian firm offers alternative to Oracle RAC products

A Toronto-based startup is taking aim at a software market it says it is only occupied by Oracle’s Real Application Clusters (RAC) technology.

Alan McMillan, the CEO of Avokia, says he was approached by the company while he

was working with venture capitalist Ventures West. A small group of technologists were developing high availability performance software that McMillan took an interest in, so he joined Avokia as employee number five.

Oracle’s RAC is an approach to application management that shares the workload over more than one server. McMillan says that Avokia’s Aplive middleware competes with that technology and works on top of Oracle’s database as well as database products from IBM, Microsoft and Sybase.

“In today’s world, people use data mirroring and data backup. It’s very costly to shift that data. You can’t keep that data live, so most organizations will have a second disaster recovery site in the same city. The reason being is to get that data to that second site requires quite a large cost. They can’t move that to a second city far away,” explains McMillan. “With our product, we’ve figured out how to run that second database in that second city and keep it live. It’s called transaction replication.”

McMillan has worked in the PC and software business with stints in Toronto, Vancouver and Hong Kong. Several of the companies he’s helped build have been acquired or merged with larger players, including Pacific Connections, which was bought by and more recently, Think Dynamics, which was acquired by IBM.

Think Dynamics, which was started by venture capitalist Brightspark, was sold to IBM in 2003 for its load-balancing software. “They saw the value of product,” says McMillan. “They needed to have a software automation play. They’d be trying to build it but weren’t successful, so they decided to acquire.”

Avokia is currently partnered with IBM to help drive sales of its product. (IBM was also partnered with Think Dynamics before it was acquired.) Target markets for Avokia include finance, insurance and telecommunications.

“Our product can go across horizontal markets,” says McMillan, “but we did select those markets because they have a higher IT spend. They’re more advanced in their knowledge than other industries, so they’re more likely to look at a new technology, make the decisions and go forward with it.”

Avokia is entering a difficult marketplace, says Forrester Research analyst Noel Yuhanna, one that has seen other ISVs take on large vendors like Oracle and lose.

When Oracle CEO Larry Ellison introduced RAC at the company’s Open World conference in 2001, he staked his job on the technology’s success.

It got off to a slow start, but blossomed as more users settled on Linux as a server operating system, says Yuhanna. “More customers are deploying RAC on Linux because you can cluster low commodity servers in a fashion where you can save money. That’s been the key driver.”

Avokia may have more success selling its product as middleware for IBM and Microsoft implementations, he adds, “where you don’t have a very good equivalent of RAC.”

McMillan says it isn’t his intention to sell Avokia to a larger vendor like IBM as he did with Think Dynamics, but may consider opportunities if they are presented. “We have an organization that can sell on its own,” he says. “We do not need to be acquired to be successful.”

McMillan also co-founded Acetech this year, an association of Ontario CEOs, as a forum for networking and leadership development.

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