Western Switzerland Internet start-ups: conquering the world from a cloud

Their names are, sobees, nViso, salsaDev, Fontself, or HyperWeek and Camptocamp. They are the rising stars of Web 2.0 in western Switzerland. Less than three years old, they are already experiencing growth rates in their Internet traffic of three digits or more. Take, for example. In just six months, this application – created by SmallRivers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne science park – has gone from 0 to 110 000 thematic journals aggregated by its tool, which automatically classifies information on Twitter. Then there is Fontself, launched by two Lausanne infographics specialists, Franz Hoffman and Marc Escher. It is an application that allows you to display information in your own handwriting (or any other of typeface you have designed) on Facebook or MySpace. Fontself is seeing a massive surge in users ever since Yahoo! India embedded the Swiss application in its mail toolkit.

Meanwhile, Camptocamp has developed, an application to make the Swiss Office of Topography’s maps available to hikers and mountain bikers. With 30,000 visits a day, and 8 terabytes of data downloaded in a month, the application became so popular last summer that in the autumn of 2010 Amazon put it on the first page of the success stories it featured in its cloud computing offer.Computing on demand

Cloud computing is the secret weapon of SMEs that need to manage sharp, sudden growth for their “Software as a Service” (SaaS) products. Instead of buying or leasing entire servers, they rent processing and storage resources from an external provider. With demand for their products unpredictable, they are billed only for what they use, from a few cents an hour to few hundred francs per month.

Cloud computing is derived from the grid computing developed by research centres such as the CERN in Geneva to distribute computational power and storage-intensive work among geographically distinct centres. It has entered the commercial world thanks to the spread of broadband communications and because huge Internet firms as well as telecommunications companies wanted to recoup some of the costs of their vast server farms. Meanwhile, the success of netbooks and iPads has reinforced the demand for cloud computing, because those “thin clients” need its extended memory and computing capabilities for critical applications.

According to François Bochatay, the founder of sobees, a software as a service company that aggregates news from RSS feeds and social networks to generate personalised magazines, cloud computing is more a new business model than a new technology. “You can start with 100 Swiss francs to rent the resources need to test and develop your application. After that, having to pay more is a positive indicator: because your application is being successful.”At salsaDev, a Geneva-based company that develops search engines using the semantic web on the basis of research its founders carried out for the CIA when they were studying in the US, CEO Nicolas Gamard adds: “The big advantage is that what was a large capital investment turns out to be a small operational expenditure. These days, it is becoming hard for a new Internet start-up to convince venture capitalists to invest money in servers and data centres rather than focusing on core business and leaving IT administration to the cloud.”A global level playing field

“Clouds are faster, more efficient, stronger and more agile,” says Raphael Brimer, founder of HyperWeek, a Geneva start-up that creates social networks to replace private companies’ intranets. And it is not the only advantage of clouds. Also based in Lausanne, nViso has developed an online service that combines the user’s webcam with algorithms that interpret facial emotions during marketing questionnaires.With a minimum of 100,000 images to be processed during questionnaires, nViso does not need memory so much as instant and phenomenally large calculating power to run its algorithms in real time.

This capability would once have required a graphics computer costing hundreds of thousands of francs, but nViso founder Tim Llewellynn found it in the NVIDIA cloud computing platform, GPU. “A small company like ours suddenly has access to computing power that only very large companies could afford. This means that you can become competitive globally,” says the entrepreneur. “That is completely changing the game for Internet companies, creating a global level playing field.”

In fact, Swiss ‘Software as a Service’ start-ups have seen the almost instant internationalisation of their business, with bigger client bases from Japan to the US than in their immediate vicinity. “Thanks to the cloud we are creating our second subsidiary in Austria without the need to invest in any kind of data centre,” says Claude Philipona, founder and CEO of Camptocamp. That is good news, because for SaaS companies their primary target markets are on Facebook, the equivalent of the third largest nation in the world by the number of users, Twitter and more broadly within the world’s 1.6 billion Internet subscribers. While these companies might only employ a few people in a garage or an incubator near Lake Geneva, cloud computing gives them the means to conquer the new digital markets. Defining the cloud

Cloud computing is among the hottest buzzwords in IT today. The information technology research and advisory firm Gartner estimates that worldwide cloud services revenues will reach US$68.3 billion in 2010, up 16.6 per cent from US$58.6 in 2009, and forecast them to reach US$148.8 billion in 2014. The concept of cloud computing started as a metaphor for the Internet that many saw first in PowerPoint presentations. Since then, it has evolved as an architecture that may replace the current dominant client/server set-up, just as the client/server model replaced the mainframes. Cloud computing is taking off for two reasons: first, because of the need for greater storage capacity or processing power on the fly; and second, because the drive to keep IT cost-efficient requires minimising investment in new hardware, training for additional staff, and the acquisition of new software licences.

In the cloud, everything you need is there, instantly accessible through improved telecommunications and billed per use. Still, the concept remains fuzzy because not everyone makes the same use of cloud computing. It all depends on whether you a simple Internet user or a corporation – and even then it depends on the type of corporation.



"Public" or "private" cloud?

Cloud computing certainly allows both consumers and businesses to use applications without installing them and to access their personal files from any computer through the Internet. But consumers mainly have access to the “public cloud” – Internet services they can access without buying software. Think Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, massive multiplayer role-playing games, online banking, social networks, etc. In these cases, the same software is shared by many people. Now hardware is also starting to be shared, with the development of online storage services for photos, videos, etc.

The “private cloud” for businesses refers to the broader notion of renting elastic storage capacity and processing power (utility computing or Infrastructure as a Service, IaaS, are close concepts) as well as applications that are run remotely and are accessible on demand and billed per use.

This general notion has given way to a variety of business models, depending on the type of company using cloud computing. The Software as a Service (SaaS) model basically sees a single application being delivered to millions of users who do not need their own servers or software. All the processing and storage needed by the service is executed in the cloud. For application developers, web services offering APIs  (application programming interfaces) that enable software to interact with other software is a related notion, as is Platform as a Service (PaaS), which delivers environments where companies can build an application that will run on the cloud provider’s infrastructure and will be delivered to the company’s users from the provider’s servers. Good examples are the Apple Store or Android apps, which tend to form the cloud-based business model for many new applications that run in web browsers.

Cloud computing is on the rise, but it still faces challenges. Keeping critical data on servers under remote jurisdictions may raise security and privacy issues. That is why local cloud offers are starting to emerge, for example those of Wuala and Swisscom in Switzerland. Then, there remains the issue of interoperability between clouds, which would facilitate migration from one provider to the other and increase competition among providers.



Cloud players

New Swiss internet start-ups benefit from cloud computing

Open Source at Camptocamp

Created in 2001, Camptocamp group consists of more than 35 people in Switzerland (Lausanne), France (Chambéry) and Austria (Vienna). It is one of the first European service-oriented editor and integrator of Open Source software applications for Geospatial Solutions, Business Solutions, and Infrastructure Solutions. Camptocamp’s success is due to the dynamic contributions to various Open Source communities, to the extremely sharp technical expertise of our highly qualified and quality-driven professionals, and to the excellence of the business partnerships fostered with its customers.

Following a logic of sustainable development, Camptocamp commits to share all of its generic developments to the Open Source communities related to its business divisions. For example, it offers a highly automated system to manage and provision servers in public and private cloud using Open technology such as Puppet.Personalised newspapers based on Twitts with organizes links shared on Twitter or Facebook into an easy to read newspaper-style format. The service, launched end of spring 2010, already generated more than 120’000 personalized newspapers. Hosted on Amazon’s cloud infrastructure, semantically analyzes and ranks millions of links every day, and currently serves users in over 200 countries. is a service operated by SmallRivers, a startup based on the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. The company was co-founded in 2007 by Edouard Lambelet and Iskander Pols

SalsaDev closes first round of financing

SalsaDev ‘s mission is to deliver an intelligent software suite to information-intensive customers and partners. “Don’t think. Don’t search. Just find!” is the company’s motto.

Developed from advanced research in the Cognitive Sciences at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, New-York), the salsaDev technology is inspired by the language acquisition process of children: salsaDev replicates the way human beings build mental representations from contextual data. As a result, salsaDev understands highly complex, unstructured sources of data – far outpacing the results and relevancy of keyword limited systems. With the rise of unstructured content within organizations, salsaDev worth has recently been mandated by several organizations in order to deal with lots of unstructured but semantically rich content assets, in the fields of scientific research, financial services, digital media and legal publishing.Since its foundation in 2009, the company has been a privately held company with HQ in Geneva, Switzerland. salsaDev is a winner of RedHerring Europe 2010 and of the Jury vote at SemTech 2010, and a finalist at TechCrunch50 2009. The company has just closed a serie A financing round of one million dollars. nViso digs into emotions

Founded in 2009 by Tim Llewellynn and Matteo Sorci, nViso is a software start-up at Swiss the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) Switzerland that has developed non-intrusive technologies for deciphering consumer emotional reactions for the marketing industry. It does this by precisely measuring and analysing human facial expressions, head and eye movements from images captured through webcam images during opt-in surveys. It’s innovative computer vision software is part of a high growth area as marketers search for new ways to not only reach their customers but to understand the why behind their actions.

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