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Originally published Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Brier Dudley

Seattle startup Skytap rents out virtual lab space to software developers

Excerpts from the blog One of Seattle's hottest new startups may be a Pioneer Square company founded by a group of UW professors and a graduate...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Excerpts from the blog

One of Seattle's hottest new startups may be a Pioneer Square company founded by a group of UW professors and a graduate student with an especially promising thesis project.

The project was the basis of a secretive company called Illumita they started in mid-2006.

Today the company's revealing its core product, a new name and a chief executive recruited by investors who funded the company in August.

Now called Skytap, the 20-person company is offering an online service called Virtual Lab.

It basically rents out virtual test labs in all sorts of configurations, so that software developers won't have to set up labs themselves. Skytap hosts the labs at its data center, and users access them via browsers.

When testers find bugs in a particular configuration, they can use the service to save a snapshot, share it with software developers and collaborate on fixes.

Likely customers include small to midsize software-development companies, software integrators and departments within larger tech companies, according to Scott Roza, who left Hewlett-Packard to become the company's chief executive March 1.

The company is licensing its "infrastructure over the Web" on a monthly basis, with discounts for companies that sign up for six-month or one-year blocks. It will also sell hourly usage of its virtual machines and charge for storage.

Other possible uses of Skytap's platform include hosting product demonstrations and product training sessions, or even disaster-recovery services.

What's exciting about the company, though, is that it's pointing toward the next phase of cloud computing, beyond the horsepower and storage-rental services offered by companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and, as of Monday, Google.

As companies do more of their software development on hosted machines, demand is likely to grow for specialized online applications like Skytap's.

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I wonder how long Skytap will remain independent, before it's snapped up by one of the tech giants building their cloud-computing application stack.

Amazon is one obvious buyer, although that could be complicated because Jeff Bezos is one of Skytap's initial investors, along with Madrona Venture Group, Ignition Partners and Washington Research Foundation. They provided $6 million in August.

Roza has seen the consolidation cycle before at iConclude, a Bellevue enterprise-software startup where he ran marketing and business development. It was sold to OpsWare, which, in turn, was acquired by HP.

But it may take a few years before the cloud-computing acquisition wave begins, Roza said. "It's a very, very new, very immature market."

Speaking of maturity, Skytap had some growing pains as it moved from a university project to full-blown business and underwent a reorganization over the last few months.

David Richardson, the graduate student who developed the initial technology and served as Illumita's chief scientist, left and returned to academia but remains a "significant shareholder," Roza said.

Still on the board are co-founders Hank Levy, chair of the UW computer-science department, and Brian Bershad, a former UW computer-science professor who took a sabbatical to get the company started. Bershad ended up going to Google and now manages its Fremont engineering office.

Yahoo and grief stages

Maybe it's time to start covering Microsoft's pending acquisition of Yahoo the way Times staff reporter Percy Allen wrote about the loss of the Sonics on Wednesday in the Sports section: Where are we in the five stages of grief?

From Yahoo's perspective, it sounds like the depression stage.

Why else would it clutch its crosstown rival at the last minute, floating a partnership with Google that nobody expects to survive antitrust scrutiny? Bargaining chip or resignation?

The parallels make sense, and not just because the Sonics and Yahoo were both pushed by Steve Ballmer deadlines.

We've already seen Yahoo's denial and anger, and the bargaining stage seems to have concluded last weekend with Ballmer's ultimatum. Sorry Yahoo, but that means it's now time for acceptance.

Brier Dudley's blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

About Brier Dudley
Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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