Univa's $8M to help speed its commercial grid software

Open-source grid software startup Univa has secured US$8 million in VC backing to speed the development of its software and take on more staff.

Open-source grid software startup Univa has secured US$8 million in venture capital backing, the US company announced Monday. Univa plans to use the money to accelerate the development of a commercial version of its software as well as to double its headcount, according to the company's head.

The financing in the form of Series A funding was led by US venture capital firms ARCH Ventures Partners and New World Ventures, with participation from Appian Ventures and OCA Ventures.

"Over the last year, I've been focused on figuring out exactly what it would take to get the software and the company squarely focused at the enterprise and government [markets]," Steve Tuecke, Univa's chief executive officer and co-founder, said in an interview Friday. With the US$8 million funding under its belt, the company will be able to release Univa Global Enterprise, a commercial version of the open-source Globus Toolkit software, later this year, he added. Tuecke said the Series A funding should see Univa through into 2007.

"We have about 15 staff now, we expect by year-end it will double in size," Tuecke said. The additional employees will occupy engineering and sales and marketing positions at Univa, he added. The company is already receiving revenue from customers, but so far has only publicly named one organisation it's working with, defense and aerospace giant Raytheon Co. Possible partnerships with IBM and SAP are "still in the works," according to Tuecke.

Univa's three cofounders -- Tuecke, Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman -- created the Globus Project in 1995, later renamed the Globus Alliance, where they developed the Globus Toolkit. The grid toolkit includes software services and libraries for resource monitoring, discovery and management along with security and file management.

Versions of Globus are being used at over 1,000 sites around the world, accessing more than 40,000 CPUs (central processing units) and 10,000 terabytes of storage, according to Univa estimates. Major grids such as TeraGrid in the US and the U.K. National Grid Service in England are using open-source Globus.

In December 2004, Tuecke and the other co-founders formally launched Univa as a software and services company to offer commercial implementations of Globus.

"Ian, Carl and I as founders of Globus deliberated for years about how to start a company," Tuecke said. About three years ago, they began to keep a watchful eye on the embryo grid software market to see if anyone would "Red Hat" Globus, in other words, take the open-source software and make a commercial distribution of it available. "Over the subsequent one and a half to two years it was clear that nobody was really doing it in the way it really needed to be done to drive it into the enterprise," Tuecke said. He and his colleagues also came under increasing pressure from existing Globus users keen for the inventors of the technology to commercialise Globus themselves.

Tuecke quit his position at Argonne National Laboratory about 14 months ago to work full time at Univa. The lab is operated by the University of Chicago for the US Department of Energy's Office of Science. Tuecke's colleagues Foster and Kesselman remain in academia -- Foster at Argonne and Kesselman at the University of Southern California -- and they are the keepers of the flame for the open-source version of Globus, according to Tuecke.

"Keeping moving the open-source Globus forward is really critical," Tuecke said. "We've gained a great deal of knowledge [for Univa] out of the open-source community and I hope they will get more and more out of us at Univa." Open-source Globus is already in its fourth iteration.

"We've been tracking Globus for a long time," said Patrick Ennis, a managing director with one of the Series A lead financiers ARCH Venture Partners. Founded in 1986, ARCH Venture Partners is a spin-off from a University of Chicago initiative, with its ARCH name referring to Argonne National Laboratories and Chicago.

"There are three things you look for when making any investment -- market, team and technology," Ennis said. "Univa is one of the rare companies that has all three present in a big way." The company is operating in two large and important growth markets, open-source and grid, it has the "original brain trust" behind Globus as its founders, and its technology has been around for a long time, he explained.

Ennis believes Univa's timing for bringing out its software is spot-on. "If they did it a couple of years ago, it would've been too early, and a year in the future, it would've been too late," he said. "A lot of folk are [already] using Globus and are moving more into the commercial arena so they need documentation and professional services delivered by a separate, independent company."

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