Whatever happened to last year’s IT start-ups to watch?

Last year, Network World identified a group of tech start-ups poised to develop innovative technology for a new age of cloud computing, virtualization and mobility.

Nearly one year later, several of the companies have made big shifts, gotten acquired or even shut down completely. Most are chugging along, trying to build up their technology and customer base. Let’s take a look at last year’s “25 new IT companies to watch” and see where they are now.

THE ORIGINAL LIST: 25 hot products from new IT companies

First off, the aptly named Cloud.com was purchased by Citrix in July. Cloud.com was founded to help service providers and enterprises turn physical and virtual resources into infrastructure-as-a-service clouds, and could be a good fit under Citrix, one of the industry’s top virtualization companies. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, so it probably wasn’t a huge buyout.

On the other end of the spectrum, storage company Cirtas has given up. Cirtas built an appliance that works with cloud storage services by caching high priority data locally and storing secondary data in the cloud using WAN optimization technology. But it turned out to be a bust.

“Cirtas decided to pull out of the market back in April,” because of “issues with product functionality,” a Cirtas representative confirmed via email.

Cirtas went after the most difficult area of cloud storage — using the cloud as a SAN extension of the primary storage tier via a local hardware appliance,” analyst firm Enterprise Strategy Group notes. Ultimately, “the product didn’t work as expected,” but “that does not mean this is not a viable market segment.”

NoSQL vendor Membase is another company that went through a big shift, merging with CouchOne in February to form noSQL database vendor Couchbase. Couchbase just received third-round venture financing of $14 million to expand in the enterprise and international markets, and attracted 300 attendees to its inaugural developer conference in San Francisco in July.

A network virtualization vendor we have high hopes for, Nicira, is still in stealth mode but seems to be attracting some big customers. The Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) issued a press release saying Nicira helped NTT implement a virtual machine live migration and cloud computing service. This helps NTT move data centre operations to backup sites in case of disaster or overload.

Chip-maker Smooth-Stone changed its name to Calxeda in November 2010 and filled out its executive team with veterans of IBM and Polycom. Calxeda has boosted staff from 20 employees last year to nearly 50 and signed up partners including Canonical, Eucalyptus and the aforementioned Couchbase, but its product is still in the proof-of-concept stage.

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As a potential challenger to Intel, Calxeda has to be counted as one of the most ambitious companies on our list. Another company with a gargantuan task is LightSquared, which plans to build out a 4G LTE network. LightSquared tells us its 10 customers include Sprint Nextel and Best Buy, the latter of which “will use LightSquared’s service to deliver 4G wireless data service to consumers through its Best Buy Connect wireless service.”

Here’s a quick rundown of the rest of the companies, with a short look at what they’ve been up to since last year:

Actifio, a maker of disaster recovery and data protection software, says it is growing revenue steadily and expects to reach 100 customers by the end of this year. Actifio has added the ability to use cloud storage and introduced a de-duplication technology that reduces bandwidth during data replication processes.

Akiban, a database company aimed at improving SQL application performance, released a new version of its product on Aug. 15 but still hasn’t reached general availability.

AppDynamics, a cloud application management company with 40,000 users of its free download and commercial product, has customers including Netflix, Priceline, Georgia Tech and Dell. AppDynamics recently added support for .NET including .NET applications running in the Windows Azure cloud service.

AppFirst, which makes a software-as-a-service IT performance monitoring tool, recently announced a private cloud version for customers who would rather use the software behind their firewalls. AppFirst ran into one problem this month when a technical glitch forced it to close its Sandbox service for testing out the application “till further notice.”

Aryaka, a cloud-based application acceleration and WAN optimization platform, has more than 20 customers, mostly “mid-market enterprises with multiple offices and a global, distributed workforce,” the company says. Aryaka took on $15 million in second-round funding in May.

CloudFlare, which built a content delivery network that acts as a security service and network traffic accelerator, claims to have tens of thousands of customers from individuals to large corporations, and recently hit 10 billion monthly page views served to 250 million unique visitors. “To put it in perspective, that means more than 13 per cent of worldwide Internet visitors passed through our network at least once in the last month,” the company says.

Delphix, a maker of database virtualization, storage optimization and management software, has expanded its employee base from 25 to 60 and logged a few million dollars worth of sales from customers including StubHub, Comcast, Clearwire, P&G and TiVo.

Gridiron Systems, which built a SAN application accelerator designed for large databases, VMware deployments, Oracle and general file acceleration, has tripled the amount of Flash storage capacity in its product to meet the demands of larger customers. So far, customers are being signed up in financial services, e-commerce, media and entertainment, biotech and education.

Infineta Systems, a WAN optimization vendor, started shipping its flagship “Data Mobility Switch” in Q2 2011 to customers in the enterprise, service provider and federal government markets. Infineta claims to provide a 5X to 10X bandwidth capacity improvement with a system supporting 10Gbps speed.

JouleX, an energy management company with Internet Security Systems co-founder Tom Noonan as CEO, has signed up more than 125 customers and announced $17 million in new funding in June to fuel future growth. JouleX’s innovative energy management software is capable of measuring consumption of all network-connected devices, from servers in the data centre to HVAC equipment and lighting systems, and identifying opportunities for power savings.

Nimble Storage, which provides iSCSI storage with backups and disaster recovery optimized for Microsoft and VMware shops, appointed former NetApp executive Suresh Vasudevan as CEO and added another $25 million in venture funding.

Nimbula was founded by the creator of Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud to build software that takes customers’ existing networks and turns them into infrastructure-as-a-service clouds. A public beta was launched in December, version 1.0 came in April this year and a new version to become available in September will make it possible to create a geographically distributed cloud.

Oxygen Cloud, a cloud storage service for work groups and enterprises, positions itself as a secure alternative to Dropbox. Oxygen Cloud has partnerships with EMC and Intel and has built apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android.

SeaMicro, which builds low-power servers optimized for Internet workloads, has lined up customers including Skype, Mozilla, Rogers Communications, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, France Telecom and China Netcom Broadband. With demand for energy-efficient data centre equipment rising, SeaMicro says it is planning to triple its sales force over the next half-year.

Translattice, which speeds up access to applications and data for distributed and mobile workers with a SQL database appliance, recently released the second version of its product but declined to answer questions submitted by Network World.

Truedomain, a cloud-based email authentication company, has signed up partners including Yahoo Mail and Opera Software.

Virident, which makes SSD storage for database, HPC and Web applications, says it has doubled its employee base to 80 and started a partnership with SGI to include Virident storage in servers to hit speeds of 1 million I/O operations per second.

Virsto, a storage virtualization vendor that speeds access to storage for customers using virtualization products, released a VDI product for Hyper-V environments in April and will launch a VDI product for VMware’s vSphere later this year.

ZeRTO, which makes disaster recovery for virtualization and cloud deployments, recently took on $15 million in second-round funding and finished beta trials for its product, which is now commercially available. The company’s virtual machine replication product has customers in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

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