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NorthScale launches data infrastructure tools; announces Zynga as first customer

A new company is launching today to manage the growing data needs of popular web applications. NorthScale built its tools around the open source memcached technology, and it has already enlisted some high-profile venture firms and customers.

In fact, the company was basically incubated by Accel Partners, which helped put the founding team together and orchestrated its $5 million first round of funding — Accel’s Kevin Efrusy said his firm saw an opportunity around the “explosion of orders of magnitude more data” used by web applications, and specifically around memcached, a memory caching system that helps companies access their data more quickly. In addition to Accel, North Bridge Venture Partners also participated in the round.

Memcached is already used in some form by many popular web applications including Facebook (an Accel investment), but Mountain View, Calif.-based NorthScale is rolling out commercial products to help companies take advantage of the technology. The team is uniquely equipped for the job, because it includes key players from the memcached project, said co-founder and chief strategy officer James Phillips. According to the NorthScale website, the company’s technical team has contributed more than half of memcached’s code base.

Phillips contrasts that with other companies offering products around memcached, such as Schooner Information Technology and Gear6. Those companies are essentially hardware companies, he said — Schooner, for example, offers flash memory chips that use memcached.

“With Schooner and Gear6, if you look at who the contributors to memcached are, they’re just not the guys who have done this stuff,” Phillips said.

NorthScale is announcing two products today. The first, the NorthScale Memcached Server, offers memcached alongside a standard relational database. That’s the NorthScale version of what many companies are doing already, Phillips said, so it’s a good first step for using NorthScale products. However, he said memcached is really only a “Band-Aid for the ultimate problem,” that normal databases just aren’t a good way to store data on the scale that web applications need. That’s where the next product, the NorthScale Membase Server comes in — it doesn’t just run memcached alongside a relational database, it also stores the data in a new kind of database that’s built around memcached. Phillips said Membase should “look like memcached” to the companies using it.

The company’s first customers are a pair of popular gaming sites. One is social gaming giant Zynga, maker of Farmville, which says it’s using Membase to serve its 235 million monthly unique users. The other is Korean web gaming company NHN, which says it serves 150 million unique visitors each month, and which is using the Memcached Server.

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