Basho Charges Ahead, With Focus On Enterprise and The Guy Who Wrote the Book (or Theorem) on Databases as Board Member

Earlier this month, Don Rippert made a major career change, going from his gig as chief technology officer of technology consulting firm Accenture to Cambridge, MA-based database software maker Basho Technologies, where he joined as CEO.

“I wanted to really focus on the technology, and I thought this would give me a chance to do that,” he says.

Basho, which also has offices in San Francisco and Reston, VA, announced his appointment earlier this month, alongside the news that it had added $4 million to complete a $7.5 million funding round. The money came from Georgetown Partners, and Trifork AS, a Danish systems integrator that is the European distributor of Basho’s software.

I took this as an opportunity to sit down and talk to Rippert, sift past the database buzzwords, and figure out what exactly Basho and its open source software, Riak, do.

It all goes back to the CAP Theorem, originated by Eric Brewer, now Google’s vice president of infrastructure and also a Basho board member, Rippert explains. In a nutshell, the theorem states that no database or distributed system can provide consistency, availability, and partition tolerance (the ability to break up data and store it in different physical locations) at the same time. From the 1970s until five or so years ago, the bulk of information in databases was largely consistent and transaction based (for example, the specs on a customer in a sales database), Rippert says. But recently, gadgets like smartphones sprouted up and started producing loads of more complex data.

Traditional relational databases worked well for storing the more uniform, transactional types of data, and focused on providing consistency and availability. That didn’t work so well for the complex data found in videos, data logs from smart meters, and the like.

“Existing databases were the wrong storage mechanism for the sudden jump in data, based on unstructured and machine-made data,” Rippert says. “An industry formed around solving that problem. Basho is one of the companies in that industry.”

Basho, and others in the industry, focus on the A and the P of the CAP Theorem— availability and partition tolerance. Base on those principles, the software is designed to help break up the data and store it in different pieces, and then know what sits where. It also stores the same data in multiple places to “take into account the possibility that some piece will break,” Rippert says. Other database technology that is part of this new generation includes MongoDB, CouchDB, and DataStax. Basho’s founders come from Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM), the Cambridge-based maker of technology for delivering Web content.

Customers can download Riak right from the Basho website, but Basho makes its money by selling technology enhancements and implementation services to businesses and organizations. As far as customers go, Basho serves startups with a lower cost model, as well as Web app developers, and enterprises and government agencies. The third set of customers is what Rippert says sets Basho apart from the others in the field.

“We think we have the best product and the best focus on enterprises and agencies,” he says.

Now for some examples of how it’s used. Basho powers the database for medical records in a foreign country that uses a single-payer payment system, Rippert says. It also runs the data storage for an application used by a cable company that allows consumers to order content like video-on-demand from a number of different devices, including smart phones and tablets.

The company has almost 50 employees spread across its offices. Describing Basho as a “three-legged stool,” Rippert says the startup will continue to serve other startups and Web app developers, but sees itself making its mark with big customers.

“We want that third leg,” Ripper says, “We want to be the guys who are helping traditional large companies, and big government agencies.”

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