Each year, CDN profiles five Companies to Watch, from up-and-coming vendors with compelling, innovative technology to solution providers with smart strategies in hot markets

Ranging from a fast-growing cloud company and a big data challenger to quantum computing and a company taking touchscreen to the next level, CDN‘s 2012 Companies to Watch are a diverse group.

Toronto’s Nevex Virtual Technologies, along with Quebec’s SherWeb Inc., Oakville, Ont.’s Stage2 Data and B.C.’s D-Wave Systems Inc. are the Canadian companies to make our list and Israeli start-up Ringbow Ltd. is also one to watch for 2012.

This year, CDN also spoke with James Alexander, senior vice-president of London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, to see which other companies and markets the industry should be looking out for.

The perfect storm

Alexander calls it a perfect storm, leading to a potentially problematic trend– big data.

“Mobility is kind of driving social media, and social media is driving mobility and all of this is creating big data,” he said.

“If they’re (customers) struggling today, they’re going to continue to be struggling tomorrow,” since data will grow to 10 times what it is today in the next six years, he said.

“I think that those are the kinds of issues that the partner community is going to have to come to terms with in a very practical and pragmatic way as they help their customers get ready for this perfect storm that’s occurring.”

For Alexander, one of CDN‘s own choices, Nevex and its CacheWorks product stands-out to take on the challenge. “(I’m) glad to see that they’re out there recruiting VARs with their early adopter program and their 90 day ramp up program,” he said.

On the social side, Alexander is watching Mzinga Inc., a social software and analytics company based in Waltham, Mass., which currently partners with content and service providers and systems integrators.

Its OmniSocial cloud-based software integrates social networking and collaboration features with analytics and reports for business management.

“They’ve developed excellent platforms both in terms of employee engagement through social media and customer engagement through social media,” Alexander said. “They are at a price point that the mid-market can actually implement at.”

New security opportunities

But the big data trend will lead to opportunity for other companies outside of Nevex’s area. “If you think about the confluence of all these things, the thread that weaves through all these areas is really the thread of security,” Alexander said.

The company to watch here is Ping Identity, a Denver-based security company that specializes in identity management and secure single sign-on for access to enterprise cloud applications.

It stands out to Alexander because it represents a shift in security from the device or application to the actual user.

Ping Identity is also looking to bring its products to market through more channel partners. It currently has partner programs for software-as-a-service providers, resellers and systems integrators.

“From a channel perspective, security’s the gift that keeps on giving because there’s always more to do in it and it’s heavily services based,” he said.

New player gaining in mobility?

“I think we’d all like to see Research in Motion picking up their game in terms of having products that are next generation,” Alexander said, but it first needs to decide what kind of company it wants to be.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see them enter into licencing and partnership agreements with some of the other mobile players and mobile platforms.”

Though it may not qualify as strictly a mobility company, Amazon.com Inc., is also one to watch, especially with its launch of the Kindle Fire tablet in late 2011. “They’ve kind of become the Sears of their generation,” he said. “They understand how to retail.”

The Kindle Fire has done better than other tablets in catching up to Apple Inc.’s wildly popular iPad. “I think the Kindle Fire is like when they put sleeper agents in another country and wake them up later,” Alexander said, adding that it probably has a lot of capabilities that haven’t been unlocked yet. “They’re going to disrupt that mobile device market.”

Executive shifts at big vendors could mean change

“It’s interesting now that for the first time, two of the largest enterprise systems companies are now being run by women and I think that’s terrific,” Alexander said, referring to IBM CEO Virginia Rometty and Hewlett-Packard president and CEO Meg Whitman.

Neither executive needs to prove herself, but it will be interesting to see whether either makes any big changes, which will probably be the case at HP, he said.

Executive changes could also mean a shift at Oracle Corp.

“Oracle’s never been known as necessarily the channel’s best friend,” Alexander said, but that company’s partner strategy will be one to watch.

It has been taking on former member of HP’s team on a global level, including Mark Hurd and former channel chief Adrian Jones. “To me, that’s an indication they’re going to aggressively go after HP channel partners,” Alexander said.

For him, Oracle becoming a more channel-friendly company is logical. “The channel has relationships that vendor’s can never have,” he said.

“It’s not just the size and intimacy thing, it’s the fact that channel partners can provide a wider and deeper variety of integration services that transcend one vendor’s products.”

Follow Harmeet Singh on Twitter: @HarmeetCDN.

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