Lifting Enterprise Computing Into the Cloud

Time was, if you ran a medium-to-large-sized company and had software that processed lots of data—any kind of data, whether it be payroll or a product catalog for your Web storefront—you needed expensive, proprietary database software like Oracle’s to manage the data and expensive, finicky, power-hungry servers from IBM or Hewlett-Packard to run that software. No more. For several years, many businesses have been turning from Oracle and other traditional database providers to cheaper, open-source database alternatives like MySQL. And now they don’t even need hardware to run those systems: they’ll soon be able to tap into a vast computing “cloud” via the Internet, thanks to new services like one announced by Edison, NJ-based EnterpriseDB last week.

EnterpriseDB makes an relational-database management system, EnterpriseDB Advanced Server, that’s based on the open-source PostgreSQL system and can handle most of the same applications that run on top of Oracle databases, at lower cost. On Tuesday, the company—which will be four years old in March and has venture funding from Waltham, MA-based Charles River Ventures—said it would begin offering a related product called EnterpriseDB Advanced Server Cloud Edition, customized to run on Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and store data on Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3). EC2 and S3 are “utility computing” services that the online retailer has rolled out over the past couple of years as a way for other companies to tap into the massive computing infrastructure it built to run its own business.

Essentially, small organizations could use EnterpriseDB’s service, which it is marketing in partnership with San Francisco-based database firm Elastra, to access the same computing power long available to big companies, but without having to spend a cent on in-house software or hardware. And judging from the inquiries the company has been getting since the announcement, that’s an opportunity a lot of companies would like to investigate.

“The response has been incredible, to say the least,” says Bob Zurek, EnterpriseDB’s chief technology officer and a longtime fixture of the Boston technology scene who usually telecommutes to work from his home in Acton, MA. (He’s the former director of product strategy for the Information Platform and Solutions Group at IBM, which bought his previous company, Westborough, MA-based Ascential Software, in 2005). “We were a little bit unsure of what the response might be, but the beta applications have been pouring in by the dozen every day.”

Any company with the necessary in-house IT expertise is free to tap into Amazon’s utility computing services directly. But there’s also a small (so far) collection of companies like Elastra and EnterpriseDB that are helping other organizations access the cloud. Elastra, a small company founded last summer with venture backing from San Francisco’s Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, exists solely to help other companies deploy their database management systems on EC2 and S3.

“Immediately upon joining EnterpriseDB [last year] I started doing some research around EC2 and S3—it just made sense to me that since our software has to run on Windows and Mac and Suse Linux and Red Hat Linux, why not run in the context of the cloud as well?,” says Zurek. “And I was talking to the folks at Hummer Winblad, who said, ‘Gosh, you ought to talk to this startup we recently funded called Elastra.’ The next thing you know, we had a partnership established, and we contacted Amazon, and they got all excited too. It’s amazing the applications we’re already getting—we’ve heard from health care companies, startup companies, organizations all across the board who say that it makes sense for them to give this a test run.”

Organizations using EnterpriseDB on EC2 and S3 won’t have to worry about how much server capacity or storage they’re going to need through the course of the day, week, or month—Elastra’s software handles all of the negotiating for resources with Amazon’s systems. “The only difference that you can really see, between running the system on your laptop or desktop versus the cloud, is that instead of the server being inside your firewall there will be a URL pointing to Amazon,” says Zurek. But for a lot of beleaguered companies that want to focus on their mission, not their information technology infrastructure, this small difference could really lift some clouds.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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