The 10 Coolest Startups Of 2016 (So Far)

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Enterprise IT is an evolving beast, one with plenty of room for the next startup to capitalize on the next big thing. But what separates a new company from the pack and makes them standout as cool?

In security, it's the companies that enable enhanced protection to environments that are understaffed in a time of increasing threats.

In the blossoming Internet of Things industry, it's the nimble startups that are not only demanding a seat at the table, but taking money out of the pockets of the biggest IT vendors.

In the cloud, it's the startups that are disrupting the industry's most disruptive space, standing out in a crowded SaaS landscape and leading the charge toward the most modern computing environments.

Each year, CRN honors the coolest startup companies across a variety of technology areas, including cloud computing, security, storage, networking, big data and Internet of Things. From those we’ve selected these 10 standouts as the coolest startups of the first half of the year.

For a look at the rest of the startups and other tech happenings throughout 2016, check out CRN's Tech Midyear In Review.


CEO: Mansour Karam

Network automation startup Apstra launched out of stealth mode in June with plans to automate data center operations. Its vendor-agnostic operating system, Apstra Operating System (AOS), manages data center networks designed to improve agility required for the cloud.

The startup says AOS is comprised of software agents that sit on top of each network device and can "massively reduce" total cost of ownership through vendor-agnostic automation that leverages the choice of hardware. The software will be subscription-based and available later this summer.

In statement to CRN regarding its channel strategy, Apstra's Karam said, "Because of the vendor-agnostic nature, AOS is ideal for system integrators and value-add distributors looking to add value by providing complete solutions to end users. Apstra is already engaged with partners, and plans to deliver its solution through a network of distribution partners, system integrators and resellers worldwide with a strong commitment to partner and customer success."

Karam was a former top executive at Arista Networks and Big Switch Networks. Apstra is being funded by David Cheriton, who co-founded Arista.


CEO: Akshay Sabhikhi

This Austin, Texas-based startup founded by former IBM executives with deep ties to Big Blue's Watson team offers self-learning, cognitive computing software.

Cognitive Scale's analytic solutions, specialized for specific verticals, involve computer learning algorithms that can reprogram themselves with continued use, constantly improving the quality of the intelligence they produce. The technology ingests structured and unstructured data to deliver insights to consumers and business executives.


CEO: Prat Moghe

Cazena has developed a Big Data-as-a-Service offering that businesses use to assemble cloud-based data lakes and data marts for provisioning and optimizing big data systems, including those built on Hadoop, Spark and MPP SQL technologies.

Launched in 2014 and based in Waltham, Mass., Cazena has attracted a lot of attention and financing because CEO Moghe and board members Jit Saxena and Jim Baum helped found Netezza, a pioneering developer of data warehouse appliances that IBM acquired in 2010 for $1.7 billion.

In May the company began offering its cloud-based data marts and data lakes on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform.


CEO: Brian Biles

Datrium, which came out of stealth late last year, in January unveiled its first solution, the Datrium DVX, which separates flash and disk storage by tying large amounts of SSDs in a server to a separate hard disk-based appliance as a way to get maximum application performance.

The Datrium DVX software works on any server certified to run VMware software. The servers can be configured with any processor or SSD. Channel partners load the software on the server and then connect it to the NetShelf disk appliance. Each NetShelf is configured with 48 TB of raw capacity, or up to 180 TB of effective capacity after deduplication and compression, and can connect to up to 32 server hosts, with the addition of extra servers causing performance to increase.


CEO: Amir Aharoni

Herzliya, Israel-based Elastifile develops technology for software-defined, all-flash storage. The company's solution allows commodity servers to be configured as scale-out all-flash primary storage arrays supporting distributed block, file and object storage.

Elastifile this year unveiled a funding round worth $15 million, with Cisco Systems counted as one of its investors.


CEO: Florian Leibert

The resurgence of container tech is ushering in an era of distributed enterprise applications. Mesosphere sees itself as the platform to host those modern apps.

The startup, based in San Francisco, offers powerful enterprise capabilities based upon the Mesos open-source project some of its founders played instrumental roles in creating.

The Mesosphere Datacenter Operating System, a commercial version of the platform, turns data center nodes into cohesive computing clusters complete with scheduling and container orchestration capabilities.

The underlying technology powers many a massive web application, including Twitter and Airbnb.


CEO: Oliver Friedrichs

Winner of this year's prestigious RSA Conference Innovation Sandbox competition, Phantom offers a security orchestration and automation solution that aims to help enterprises close the gap between a rising tide of threats and a shortage of security staff. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company's platform achieves that by allowing companies to orchestrate a range of security actions from prevention to response, automate simple tasks to free up resources, and consolidate third-party capabilities into a single platform for greater control. In addition to winning the Innovation Sandbox competition, Phantom landed $6.5 million in Series A funding in September and a strategic investment and technology development agreement from In-Q-Tel in April.


CEO: Ajeet Singh

Under the motto "search-based analytics for everyone," ThoughtSpot has the audacious goal of eliminating the need for all complex business intelligence software. The company's ThoughtSpot Relational Search Appliance combines data from on-premise, cloud and desktop sources, and provides users with the ability to access that data with a simple search interface.

Founded in 2012 and based in Palo Alto, Calif., the company launched its appliance in October 2014. In December it released ThoughtSpot 3 with some 200 new features across search, analytics and visualization.

In May the company raised an impressive $50 million in Series C financing.


CEO: James Brear

Backed by the U.S. Department of Defense, Veriflow says it can predict outages and breaches while providing SaaS revenue opportunities for channel partners. The Oakland, Calif.-based company emerged from stealth mode in April with $2.9 million in funding, touting that it can bulletproof networks by using a mathematical verification approach.

"We're basically fortunetellers. With our technology, we're going to be able to proactively predict what's going to happen on your network before it actually happens," said Veriflow CEO Brear, in an interview with CRN.

The startup's software applies principles it calls "formal verification" to discover ahead of time what could go wrong on a network, with a focus on high-level policy. By using that information, it helps companies apply policies to prevent problems from starting or spreading out further.


CEO: Ed Hemphill

WigWag, founded in 2014, offers an open-source platform that can securely connect smart devices and IP networks across residential and business locations. Smart devices can be set to automatically obey rules, like setting a light switch to turn on at a specific time, or users can also control devices via a mobile app.

Launched in Austin, Texas, WigWag was founded by executives from videoconferencing vendor Lifesize Communications. The company raised $3.175 million in seed funding from CSV Venture Capital in February, which WigWag said would go toward product development and the expansion of its development and marketing teams.