Ex-Informatica chief returns touting next wave of data integration

Dhillon takes reins at data integration startup Snaplogic

After a stint in digital Hollywood, Informatica Corp. co-founder and longtime CEO Gaurav Dhillon is back full time in the field that made him rich: data integration.

Last week, Dhillon assumed CEO duties at data integration startup, SnapLogic Inc. The move was not that surprising. Dhillon was, along with two other Informatica executives, one of the San Mateo, Calif. firm's co-founders, as well as its first investor, seeding it with $2.5 million of his own money back in 2006.

The 44-year-old Dhillon was already chairman of the open-source SnapLogic. But since resigning from Informatica in July 2004, Dhillon had spent most of his time on a startup Web movie portal, Jaman.com.

SnapLogic CEO Gaurav Dhillon
SnapLogic CEO Gaurav Dhillon

Jaman offers free and for-a-fee access to movies-on-demand, mostly foreign and indie films. As such, Dhillon mixed with Hollywood moguls and other cover-of-Fortune-magazine-type celebrities. Advisers and investors to Jaman include Jeff Berg, CEO of talent agency ICM, and former U.S. senator and basketball star, Bill Bradley.

Still chairman of Jaman, Dhillon is bringing to SnapLogic some stars of the Silicon Valley scene. The startup, along with Dhillon's formal return, also closed a $2.3 million Series A round of venture capital financing. Investors include Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen, Google engineering head Brian McClendon and Epinions co-founder, Naval Ravikant.

As he delivered with Informatica, Dhillon said SnapLogic is ahead of the curve on the data integration market.

"When we started with Informatica back in 1992, relational databases running on client-server systems were starting to take over from mainframes," he said. Informatica created "the best product for moving a big batch of data from a mainframe to a server."

But today, the big need is real-time, constant data exchange between cloud applications, such as Salesforce.com and other corporate apps, either on-premises or also in the cloud, he said.

This "Business Internet" is "going to be much, much bigger than client-server ever was," he said.

Too bad that all of the data integration vendors, and Informatica is no exception, offer products that are basically stuck in the past, Dhillon claimed. "At best, there is a generation gap of 15 to 17 years," he said.

Rather than "wring the last bit of value out of the traditional data integration play," Dhillon said SnapLogic is tackling this newer problem.

It offers software that companies can either run on-premises or host on Amazon.com's EC2 cloud to enable the bi-directional flow of data. SnapLogic is based on the popular Web application programming interface (API), REST.

The open-source software has been downloaded by "thousands" of users, with almost 100 paying customers at this point, he said.

The timing of Dhillon's formal return is no accident. Informatica is preparing to launch the latest version of its suite, Informatica 9, at its annual conference Tuesday.

Informatica launched its own on-demand service for replicating data between Salesforce.com and on-premises databases such as Oracle Database and Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server almost 2.5 years ago.

And in July, the company put its PowerCenter Cloud edition software on Amazon's EC2, to accommodate the growing number of companies hosting instances of Oracle, MySQL, JBoss and other server software in the cloud.

Claiming not to be focused on tracking what Informatica and other data integration incumbents such as IBM (Ascential), Oracle and others are doing, Dhillon declined to comment on their cloud offerings, except to say that "no company can do everything well."

Meanwhile, his startup -- about 20 employees -- is moving forward with Web 2.0 ideas, such as crowdsourcing developer talent. SnapLogic announced today that it is testing a new App Store-like marketplace for data integration and ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) programmers to sell their wares. SnapStore vendors get 70% of all revenue -- the same cut as Apple Inc.'s App Store -- and pay a fee to list their apps.

Dhillon admitted that the pool of data integration programmers who could contribute to a SnapStore can't compare to the ecosystem of iPhone developers. He estimated that there are about 100,000 developers doing data integration full time. Which is why he is also reaching out to Web programmers.

"There are a lot of people who don't think of themselves as traditional data integration developers but who do a heck of a lot of it," he said, pointing out that any developer who is helping pull data from a blog or Twitter stream into an app is doing data integration.

"Why write a bunch of throwaway code in Perl when you could use a platform like SnapStore and resell it?" he said.

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