Skytap, With New VC Bucks in Tow, Takes on Big Boys in the Cloud

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virtual machines that take care of data storage, processing, and networking for complex tasks like software development, quality assurance, training, and operations testing. It can sound a bit abstract, but the bottom line is the company tries to do this in a way that saves its customers huge amounts of time and money in their IT operations—and can be used by business people, not just technical experts.

One of Skytap’s customers is Buildingi (pronounced “Building-eye”), a Bellevue, WA-based firm that helps companies like Microsoft and Safeco manage their real estate portfolios. “They came to us, and they use Skytap for all their test environments,” says Knox. That means when Buildingi publishes a new version of a software prototype and is looking to fix the bugs, it uses Skytap to let customers do things like take a snapshot of the software running, send it to the code’s developer, and have them diagnose the problem. Those sorts of tasks are expensive and time-consuming if you’re not able to “spin up” a virtual data center and run software applications collaboratively.

And that seems to be Skytap’s advantage over other cloud offerings from companies like Amazon and Google, in which either you can’t spin up a whole data center with the required networking, or it’s more of a proprietary platform that requires a specific flavor of programming. There are a lot of technical details in these comparisons, but my take is that Skytap is positioning itself to be a simple, efficient virtualization service for a certain class of medium-sized companies that aren’t finding what they want from the big boys.

“One of the key attributes of Skytap is that they give you cloud computing with your existing apps, whereas the others require you to develop specially for their restricted model of computing,” says Ignition partner Brad Silverberg, in an e-mail. “It means you can go cloud computing right now.”

Looking at the big picture of cloud computing, Knox says, “This is a fundamental change in the way computing is delivered, technologically and economically.” There is an analogy here to Web services, he says, which got a lot of hype back in 1999, but took 10 years to become common. In the meantime, Skytap seems to be seizing the moment. “A downturn like this is an opportunity,” Roza says. “By the time folks are less paranoid, by the time the big guys come in, we’ll be close to escape velocity.”

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