The 10 Coolest Cloud Startups Of 2015 (So Far)

Up And Coming In Cloud

Startups are the lifeblood of the tech world -- young companies led by visionary entrepreneurs who are willing to bet their futures and their fortunes on emerging technologies.

Those bold enough to found their own ventures, build out new technology and procure enough funding to survive the early years face fierce competition to succeed. The reality, more often than not, is failure.

The following 10 companies are not necessarily the biggest, best-funded or most high-profile startups out there. Since there's no exact metric for "coolest," it should come as no surprise that this list was compiled using a wholly unscientific approach.

But they all are doing innovative, exciting things with technologies at the cutting edge of the modern data center that are changing the landscape of cloud computing.

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Vapor IO: Collapsing Cloud Infrastructure

CEO: Cole Crawford

Cole Crawford, a pioneer of the OpenStack cloud operating system, sees "a tale of two clouds" emerging.

There are the hyper-scale public clouds hosted on vast arrays of servers residing in massive and remote data centers. And then there are those running on the edges of our networks -- often in cramped, big-city facilities, close to their users.

Crawford's Austin, Texas-based startup, Vapor IO, is betting the data centers of the future -- those that will power the Internet of Things -- will be of the second variety.

The company emerged from stealth mode in March with a hyper-collapsed server rack, as well as management and analytics software to power data centers that are compact, geographically dispersed and intelligent.

Skyport Systems: Hyper-Securing Servers

CEO: Stefan Dyckerhoff

This Silicon Valley-based startup came out of stealth mode in May to reveal a "hyper-secured" enterprise server with advanced security features built into its core architecture.

In the aftermath of several high-profile breaches that heightened corporate anxiety, Skyport's founders, a group of Cisco and Juniper veterans, sense a market opportunity for a truly trustworthy computing system.

Skyport offers a fully managed, converged system with advanced security technologies and best practices integrated across the entire stack, from the physical case, to the hardware architecture, to the networking and application layers.

Cognitive Scale: An Insightful Cloud

CEO: Akshay Sabhikhi

This Austin, Texas-based startup emerged from stealth last year ready to deliver "Insights-as-a-Service."

Cognitive Scale's technology goes beyond big data by making sense of what's known as dark data -- unstructured information ranging from employee or payroll files to online customer reviews, to photos and social posts.

With a cognitive computing layer to infuse the analysis process with greater intelligence -- the more information the app collects, the smarter it gets -- Cognitive Scale attempts to process all that dark data that usually goes uncollected and unanalyzed.

The technology created by a number of IBM veterans, including some who worked on the Watson project, is now available to provision on IBM's Bluemix Platform-as-a-Service.

CoreOS: A Platform For Containers

CEO: Alex Polvi

When CoreOS emerged a couple of years ago, it was touted as the first operating system designed from the ground up for running Docker in the cloud.

CoreOS still loves Linux containers. So much so, in fact, that the startup has created a rival format called Rocket that it says offers a faster and more secure implementation.

With a recent investment from Google Ventures, and a new platform called Tectonic that employs the Kubernetes container management system initially developed by Google, as well as integrates Rocket, CoreOS suddenly looks like a serious Docker competitor.

Twistlock: Clamping Down Docker

CEO: Ben Bernstein

Now that Linux containers have revolutionized the corporate data center and are clearly here to stay, it seems it's time to worry about their safety.

Israeli startup Twistlock's founders say security is the biggest inhibitor of enterprise container adoption, since Docker currently offers scant visibility into what's going on within its virtualized environment.

Never fear. Twistlock is developing technology to provide control of and visibility into applications running in Linux containers as the technology penetrates the enterprise.

Platform9: One-Upping VMware

CEO: Sirish Raghuram

Platform9, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup co-founded by several former VMware engineers, came out of stealth mode last year with a cloud-based management tool for converting an organization's existing servers into a smoothly running private cloud.

Platform9's executive team says it's seen firsthand where VMware has fallen short, and has improved on the virtualization giant's approach.

Platform9 is based on OpenStack and is fully compatible with its APIs.

Ravello Systems: Nailing Nested Migrations

Co-founder and chairman of the board: Benny Schnaider

Moving apps and workloads from one vendor's cloud to another's is a tricky and time-consuming process. Palo Alto, Calif.-based Ravello Systems, a startup founded by the creators of the KVM hypervisor, says it has developed a faster, easier way to do it.

The startup's trick involves the use of nested virtualization -- hypervisors running inside virtual machines. The approach allows migrations of workloads from VMware private clouds to Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform public clouds without requiring apps to be rebuilt.

ProfitBricks: An IaaS Challenge

CEO and CTO: Achim Weiss

It's always pretty cool to see any company, let alone a startup, throw down the gauntlet at the feet of a much larger competitor.

That's what this German-American IaaS provider did in March when it posted a price/performance guarantee on its website that promised to beat any price from Amazon, Microsoft or Google for comparable cloud services running any workload.

ProfitBricks costs less, the company says, because it offers custom virtual servers that don't force users to overbuy resources. The provider claims its internal tests show most workloads are 40 percent to 80 percent cheaper than those running on the Big Three hyper-scale clouds.

SkyKick: Launching Cloud Practices

Co-CEOs: Evan Richman and Todd Schwartz

SkyKick, a Seattle-based startup that automates the process of moving on-premise email systems to Microsoft Office 365, offers traditional solution providers a quick and easy path to launching cloud practices.

SkyKick's technology makes it simple for any channel company to quickly migrate their customers to the cloud. The company recently broadened its portfolio to include cloud backup and management tools, and offered a joint promotion with Microsoft through which partners could use its service without charge.

InsideSales: Overnight Success In A Decade

CEO: David Elkington

While InsideSales has been around for 11 years, the Provo, Utah-based software vendor completed its Series A round only in 2012. In the past year, the company has shot toward the stratosphere after blowing away Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at Dreamforce in October.

Having recently completed a $60 million funding round that values the company somewhere near $1.5 billion, InsideSales can boast the unlikely pairing of software behemoths Salesforce and Microsoft leading the investment charge.

The company, which used its first decade in business as a chance to accumulate mountains of useful data on customer buying habits, is now an ascending force in the exploding predictive analytics market.