What’s the worth of six guys in a garage?

The cloud industry is young. Amazon’s EC2 service dates back just to October 2007, and just about everything related to public cloud infrastructure post-dates that point. Your typical cloud start-up is at most 18 months old, and in most cases, less than a year old. It has a handful of developers, some interesting tech, plenty of big dreams, and the need for capital.

So what’s that worth? Do you buy their software, or do you hire six guys, put them in nice offices, and give them a couple of months to try to duplicate that functionality? Do you just go acquire the company on the cheap, giving six guys a reasonably nice payday for the year of their life spent developing the tech, and getting six smart employees to continue developing this stuff for you? How important is time to market? And if you’re an investor, what type of valuation do you put on that?

Infrastructure and systems management is fairly well understood. Although the cloud is bringing some new ideas and approaches, people need most of the same stuff on the cloud that they’ve traditionally needed in the physical world. That means the near-term feature roadmaps are relatively clear-cut, and it’s a question of how many developers you can throw at cranking out features as quickly as possible. Some approaches have greater value than others, and there’s inherent value in well-developed software, but the question is, what is the defensible intellectual property? Relatively few companies in this space have patentable technology, for instance.

The recent Oracle acquisition of Virtual Iron may pose one possible answer to this. One could say the same about the Cincinnatti Bell (CBTS) acquisition of Virtual Blocks back in February. The rumor mill seems to indicate that in both cases, the valuations were rather low.

Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly companies out there who are carving out defensible spaces and which have exciting, interesting, unique ideas backed by serious management and technical chops. But as with all such gold rushes to majorly hyped tech trends, there’s also a lot of me-toos. What intrigues me is the extent to which second-rate software companies are getting funding, but first-rate infrastructure services companies are not.

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Posted on May 29, 2009, in Industry and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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