Open SourceOpen Source Memcached Vendor NorthScale Gets New CEO and $10 Million

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The market for solutions based on the open source memcached distributed caching technology project is continuing to attract interest from investors and commercial vendors. Today, memcached-based startup NorthScale announced that it had raised an additional $10 million in venture funding and that Bob Wiederhold would be taking the reins as the new CEO.

NorthScale officially began operation in March of this year. While NorthScale is a commercial entity, the new CEO and his team remain committed to contributing back to the core open source memcached project as well. NorthScale develops its own version of memcached as well as a commercial high-performance, distributed key-value database called the NorthScale Membase Server.

With the new funds and CEO, NorthScale is aiming to grow the market of memcached-based technologies, though it’s not alone: Other players in the memcached market include Schooner and Gear6. But NorthScale believes it may have an inside edge.

“NorthScale Memcached Server is a packaged version of the open source project that has been enhanced and its supported by NorthScale,” James Phillips, the company’s co-founder and chief strategist, told “The company was founded by members of the memcached project, and we control that project and the leaders of the project are NorthScale employees.”

In addition to its memcached product, which provides caching, the company also has a database product as well. Phillips noted that in his experience, when organizations start using memcached, they often want to extend it to not just cache data but to actually have it persist and stored in similar ways.

“We’ve found that organizations that adopt memcached frequently come back and ask for database software that behaves like memcached but is durable, highly available and dynamically scalable and that’s what NorthScale Membase Server is,” Phillips said.

With the new round of $10 million in venture capital funding, total venture funding for NorthScale has now reached $15 million. New CEO Bob Wiederhold isn’t planning an exit strategy for the company at this point, though an IPO could be in the company’s future.

“Our strategy now is really a general strategy, which is that we’re focused on being an independent company, growing it, making it profitable and then taking the company public,” Wiederhold said. “At this point, we’re not looking at an exit strategy that involves an acquisition. We’re focused on being a profitable independent company.”

NorthScale’s future profitability won’t come at the expense of its open source base. The NorthScale Memcached Server is freely available and the company is pledging to contribute its own unique code developed as part of the effort to the upstream open source project.

“We are giving away NorthScale Memcached Server for free … primarily because that provides us with the best set of potential users for NorthScale Membase Server,” Phillips said. “NorthScale Memcached Server is in effect in effect a lead generation tool for us that provides with an opportunity to engage with us instead of just using the open source project code.”

The difference between the NorthScale Memcached Server and the open source memcached code involves a number of fit-and-finish-type items. Phillips noted that NorthScale provides an installer and a Web-based graphical user interface. Additionally, NorthScale also develops a Windows version that does not currently exist in the open source project, which is Linux based. Phillips added that NorthScale is in the process of contributing its memcached enhancements back to the open source community.

“Our goal is that the NorthScale version of the memcached project is a packaged-up, easy-to-use version that allows more people to get started using the technology than otherwise could,” Phillips said.

Phillips explained that the NorthScale Memcached Server does require an End User License Agreement (EULA) that is not an open source software license. The reason why the EULA is required, according to Phillips, is due to the fact that the NorthScale version is a binary package that is downloaded. He added that the EULA provides for the usage rights of the NorthScale release of memcached on a perpetual basis.

The Future of Memcached

Phillips noted that while NorthScale employs many memcached open source project contributors, it doesn’t dictate the direction of the project. That said, there are a number of new capabilities and features that are currently under consideration by the open source project.

Among the new features for the open source memcached project under evaluation is a multi-tenancy capability called the Bucket Engine. There is also a project underway to examine the memory management system now used by memcached and look for ways to improve memory efficiency and performance.

For NorthScale, though, its executives say a focus will be on growing the company through its commercial NorthScale Membase Server product.

“Most of our development is going to be associated with Membase,” Wiederhold said. “Obviously, we’re still doing development on memcached, but it’s with Membase where there is the biggest opportunity for more functionality and meeting the growing needs of our customers.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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