The 10 Most Disruptive Enterprise Tech Companies

The combatants: Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Larry Page, and Steve Ballmer

Enterprise technology is in the middle of a massive transformation caused by major technological shifts:

  • Mobile cell phone networks are getting faster.
  • Cloud computing has put unlimited computing power into the hands of everyone at very low costs.
  • Software-as-a-service has become a safe and reliable alternative to on-premises software.
  • Social networking is changing how companies interact with each other and customers.
  • Employees are more tech savvy, bringing their own devices to work and supplementing enterprise software with their own hand-picked cloud-based services.

All of that means that there’s an enormous opportunity for tech companies to disrupt the status quo.

It’s already happening.

No. 10: Calxeda – making data centres run like smartphones

Company: Calxeda

What it does: It makes ARM-based CPUs that run in servers. In other words, the chip that powers your smartphone powers servers in the data centre.

Why its disruptive: These chips use less power and are at least as fast as typical servers. Enterprises need to find ways to get more out of their data centres without eating up more resources. ARM-based servers could really help. Michael Dell said that by 2016, 20% of servers sold worldwide will be using these smartphone chips.

Who gets hurts: Intel and AMD mostly, but also Oracle and IBM, as both of them sell hardware using traditional CPUs.

Who else wins: The earth. Lower-powered servers means greener data centres.

HP could win. It's experimenting with Calxeda-based servers with its Project Moonshot. Boston Ltd., famous for its liquid-cooled servers dunked in oil, also sells a Calxeda server known as the Viridis. Dell also has an ARM-based server, too, though not from Calxeda.

No. 9: Fusion-io – making enterprise storage run like thumb drives

Company: Fusion-io (also known as Steve Wozniak's current employer).

What it does: It makes a flash storage device that plugs into a server and makes it run faster. Flash storage is the kind of storage that runs on your cell phone and on thumb drives. It is fast, low-power and inexpensive. Fusio-io also lets servers share their Fusion-io flash storage devices which companies can use instead of buying new, traditional storage systems.

Why its disruptive: It has proven that flash storage is good for enterprise use.

Who gets hurts: EMC, Hitachi and, to some extent, Dell, although Dell is also investing heavily in alternative storage tech, including flash.

Who else wins: Flash storage competitors like Nimble and Virident win because the entire flash storage industry is now a hot investment for VCs and customers alike.

No. 8: Apple – bringing mobile into the enterprise

Company: Apple Computer

What it does: Apple makes PCs, smartphones and tablets that are fast, beautiful, work well and are simple to operate.

Why its disruptive: A decade ago, Apple was a struggling PC maker with the enterprise war all but won by Microsoft. In its fourth-quarter results released in October, 2002, CEO Steve Jobs had to report a net loss of $45 million. 'Looking forward, we do not expect our industry to pick up anytime soon, though we're hoping to help put a lot of iPods, iMacs and iBooks under trees this holiday season.'

Enter the iPhone and the iPad and Apple has created one of the biggest shifts in enterprise history: the bring your own device (BYOD) phenom. Enterprises can no longer dictate to employees what tech tools to use and this is changing everything about how they operate.

Who gets hurts: Microsoft and its whole PC ecosystem, including HP and Dell. But also, enterprise software companies, as employees now want to choose their own tools and not just use what IT gives them.

Who else wins: iOS application developers, of course. But cloud startups like Box, Asana, Sunglass.io, Xobni, Qualtrics, Hootsuite also win, because the corporate user is choosing the application, often for mobile devices, and bringing it into the company and letting it spread virally from there.

No. 7: Google – making enterprise software cheaper, more collaborative

Company: Google

What it does: Google generates about $1 billion a year on its five enterprise products. That's a drop in the bucket compared to its full revenue stream, but it's had a significant impact on competitors like Microsoft.

Why its disruptive: Google's enterprises business is all about the cloud. These services are fast and cost far less than traditional software: Google Apps compared to Microsoft Office and Exchange, Google Maps and Geospatial services compared to super expensive mapping software, Google search compared to HP's Autonomy and so on.

Who gets hurts: Microsoft mostly, though the competition has forced Microsoft to step up its Office cloud at reasonable prices. Amazon could feel a pinch against Google's new cloud service. Also niche software players in enterprise search (Microsoft, HP, Solr/Lucerne), and mapping software makers.

Who else wins: Startups, small businesses. Many a startup today uses Google Apps and avoids Microsoft Office, Windows and enterprise software licence agreements.

No. 6: Bromium – Turning computer security on its head

Company: Bromium

What it does: It's been a long time since a startup with established cofounders came up a really good way to fend off computer viruses. Bromium launched its much-anticipated new computer security product earlier this month. It's tech is like having a thin sheet of glass between each app and the guts of your PC. A virus picked up on the 'net or through e-mail can't get through the glass to harm the actual computer. (Read more: Startup Bromium Could End Computer Viruses Forever)

Why its disruptive: Security has become a multibillion business built on the idea that to defend yourself, you have to disarm each way the bad guys can break in. Bromium lets them break in, and stops them from doing harm after that.

Who gets hurts: Traditional antivirus security companies like Symantec, Trend Micro, McAfee. Enterprises won't ditch their typical security software right away but this should lead to whole new ways to think about security.

Who else wins: Any other security company that's willing to attack the problem with new tech like virtualization.

No 5: 10gen – making databases faster, bigger, less expensive

Company: 10gen

What it does: It makes one of the more popular 'no SQL' databases, known as MongoDB. NoSQL is a new approach to databases that's good for Internet applications and big data apps. It will be a $3.4 billion market by 2018, says Market Research Media.

Why its disruptive: While it won't cause companies to yank out their SQL databases, it is a whole new way to deal with data. As companies use it, they find that they can write new apps for no SQL and don't have to buy traditional databases.

Who gets hurts: Oracle, IBM, Microsoft. Oracle is offering its own no SQL database and is tying it into big data technologies like Hadoop. But MongoDB is open source and that's a plus for many developers.

Who else wins: Other open source no SQL databases are doing well, too, including, CouchBase and Cassandra.

Note: 10gen's cofounder, Dwight Merriman, is an investor, board member, and cofounder of Business Insider. Also, 10gen's co-founder and board member Kevin Ryan is also co-founder and chairman of Business Insider.

No. 4: Salesforce.com – offering a vision for a new age of software

Company: Salesforce.com

What it does: Salesforce.com offers a customer relationship management cloud service and proved the software-as-a-service model, where companies pay monthly for software delivered over the Internet. The company has since pushed into a bunch of new areas including human resources software, social media, and marketing software.

Why its disruptive: CEO Marc Benioff is defining a new era of software. All the big traditional enterprise companies are spending billions to chase his business model, the cloud. This includes Oracle and SAP. Next up for him is the so-called social enterprise, where social tools are baked into all enterprise cloud software.

Who gets hurts: Oracle, SAP and Microsoft are the easy targets, though all of them are ramping up their own clouds to compete.

Who else wins: A whole slew of SaaS companies has since come along using the same business model including Workday.com, Zenoss, Okta, ServiceNow.

No. 3: Amazon – challenging the idea that IT can't be a profit centre

Company: Amazon

What it does: Amazon is an online retailer turned cloud powerhouse.

Why its disruptive: Every big thing Amazon does has been disruptive. For the enterprise it invented the idea of cloud computing. Amazon's cloud is the company's own internal data centre sold to others for a per-usage fee. There are now lots of clouds, but Amazon is biggest and is always two steps ahead.

Who gets hurts: Cloud computing has actually created a lot more opportunity for everyone including incumbents. Enterprises are buying more servers, storage and network gear to make their own data centres work more like a cloud, too, a concept known as 'private clouds.'

Who else wins: Startups and small businesses. They now have the power of a supercomputer at a fraction of a cost.

No. 2: Facebook – changing how hardware is designed

Company: Facebook

What it does: In order for Facebook to keep its social media site up and running, the company is custom designing all kinds of data centre equipment. This new stuff is faster, greener and less expensive.

Why its disruptive: It's sharing its designs with the world, open source and for free. This has already lead to a fledgling new hardware industry where companies can custom-order their servers. Over the next 10 years, watch Facebook's Open Compute Project alter the hardware industry the way free open source software changed the software industry.

Who gets hurts: Dell, HP, IBM to the extent that they ignore Facebook's requirements and don't participate. Dell has already started to get involved.

Who else wins: Upstart contract hardware designers like Synnex, Avnet, Quanta.

No. 1: VMware – taking on everyone, all at once

Company: VMware

What it does: VMware makes server virtualization software, which lets many different types of software share the same physical server, tricking each one into thinking it's got the server to itself.

Why its disruptive: VMware is to IT infrastructure what Amazon is to retail. It was born of a disrupting idea and so every way it expands also causes big changes. It has plans to change how networks are designed. It wants to change how cloud computing data centres are designed, too.

Who gets hurts: Cisco to the extent that it resists this new network tech. Cisco is working on a tech that will compete with VMware's plans. HP and Dell have already made moves to accept this new tech, known as OpenFlow, into their networking products. On the cloud side, Rackspace and HP could be hurt by VMware. They've invested heavily in a competing open source cloud operating system called OpenStack. VMware just joined OpenStack but it may be trying to disrupt from within, too.

Who else wins: Enterprises win with the new way to design networks, as they can stuff more servers on networks for less cost. But so do other startups pushing this tech like Big Switch Networks.

Here are the companies that enterprise startups plan to disrupt ...

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