Melbourne University-born start-up Manjrasoft is showing its grid computing technology around Australia's venture capital community in the hope of raising $700,000 in seed funding, ahead of a further $3 million to $4 million at a later date.
Founder and chief executive Rajkumar Buyya is keen to grow his team of just half a dozen, and will require more cash to take the product to its planned full commercial release in the third quarter of this year.
"To really make a real business where we can create revenue of millions we will need VC funds," he says.
The technology takes idle computers and links them together into something more powerful. Originating in the university's GRIDS (Grid Computing and Distributed Systems) computing lab, Manjrasoft's Aneka software enables applications to be run easily across a network of Windows computers, so that complex processing tasks can be carried out at higher speeds by creating an organisation's own cloud computing infrastructure.
Buyya, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne's Computer Science and Software Engineering Department, says the software is suitable for tasks such as finely-detailed graphics rendering, calculating investment risk or modelling complex drugs.
He says Aneka (the name is derived from the Sanskrit term for "many in one") differs from other distributed processing tools in that it is not restricted to just one model of computing. Manjrasoft supports multiple application programming models including Google's MapReduce software framework for distributed computing.
"We wanted to have a technology that could support multiple models for developing applications in one software development kit," Buyya says. "That led to creation of a single container with basic capabilities that can be extended to support different models of application creation."
To really make a real business where we can create revenue of millions we will need VC funds
Manjrasoft CEO Rajkumar Buyya Buyya
The company was established in May 2008 and received a Commercialising Emerging Technologies (COMET) grant to develop its business plan and commercialisation strategy. Manjrasoft has received funding from the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science and Research, as well as support from the commercialisation arm of the university, Melbourne Ventures.
An alpha version of the product was released in December last year, and has since been downloaded more than 150 times by companies including Tata Consulting Services. A beta version was released in March this year.
Early users include China Southern Railway subsidiary GoFront, which is using Aneka to accelerate the 3D rendering of railway design prototypes using Autodesk's Maya software. By creating a grid from 20 desktop machines (which during the day are otherwise used for word processing), Aneka was able to complete rendering tasks in three hours, which previously would have taken three days to complete.
Buyya says he has also received interest from a US-based game hosting company that is keen to find a low-cost way of scaling up its platforms across multiple machines.
Customer interest in grid and cloud computing should ensure that Manjrasoft gets a hearing with potential investors, but whether they put their pens to their chequebooks will depend on Buyya's capacity to convince them of his business plan.
There is still investor interest in cloud computing out there. In February the US company Appirio raised US$10 million in its third round, while RighScale raised US$13 million in December. Both technologies solve a different part of the puzzle to Manjrasoft.
Selling technology that makes better use of existing technology has already proven to be a winner — just look at the success of VMware in the virtualisation space — and should have added spice as companies scale back spending on new hardware. Handing a business a high-powered machine cobbled together from its desktop PCs could be a compelling prospect.
The fact that Tata has downloaded the software is promising, as the company has shown a desire to team with both investors and start-ups to get new technologies off the ground through its Co-Innovation Network (COIN). Tata is already working with at least 10 COIN projects related to cloud computing.
Manjrasoft is also far from being alone in its marketplace, competing with the likes of Digipede Technologies and DataSynapse, and in the low-cost distributed computing market. The question is whether Manjrasoft's advantage in catering for multiple computing models will be sufficient to overcome the noise in the marketplace from potentially better-funded and larger competitors.
Of course, the entire discussion is redundant if Buyya can't find funds. And he is far from the only person looking.
bootstrappr opinion: BOOM