Technology companies often have unusual names that have little to do with the company's actual business. Hulu, for example, comes from a Chinese proverb in which Hulu is described as a "holder of precious things." Startup MemSQL, however, took a much more descriptive approach.
The San Francisco-based company's first product was an in-memory relational database designed to run on commodity hardware.
"We started with the principle that disk was slow; there was so much new memory and solid state coming into servers that we knew anything we built would be in memory. We decided it had to be distributed, it had to use memory, and it had to have SQL," said Eric Frenkiel, the company's CEO and co-founder.
The company's name came from combining two key components of its solution: Mem for memory and SQL for structured query language. "It says what it does, and any geek gets it," Frenkiel said, noting that, as a bonus, he and MemSQL co-founder and CTO Nikita Shamgunov only paid six dollars for the domain name.
Frenkiel and Shamgunov met at Facebook, where Frenkiel worked with partners and sales and Shamgunov worked with databases. Seven years older than Frenkiel, Shamgunov spent more than half a decade as a senior database engineer at Microsoft SQL Server prior to his time at Facebook.
They were in the same orientation class, which Frenkiel described as a "boot camp" in which new Facebook hires were given a laptop and a problem to solve, an approach MemSQL has borrowed for its own employees. "It gets you immersed very quickly," he said.
Eye on the Enterprise
Finding they shared an entrepreneurial bent, the men left Facebook to participate in Y Combinator, the influential program that provides seed funding and business advice to startups. According to Frenkiel, MemSQL was the first company with an enterprise focus to complete the program. MemSQL initially focused on transactional processing when it was founded in 2011, but it began offering analytics capabilities at the behest of its early customers.
"We are now a database platform for real-time analytics," Frenkiel said. "In addition to the database engine itself, we have the ability to store data at petabyte scale on disk and apps that let our customers go real-time very easily."
The combination of processing and analytics earned MemSQL recognition as a "visionary" on two of Gartner's Magic Quadrants. Gartner tapped the company as a visionary in its quadrants for both Data Warehouse and Data Management Solutions for Analytics and Operational Database Management Systems. This is not a common feat. Just four other companies -- SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft -- appear as either leaders or visionaries in those categories.
The enterprise focus was a natural for MemSQL due to Frenkiel's business-oriented background and the nature of its product. "A high-performance database lends itself to the Fortune 2000," he said, noting that MemSQL has more than 1,000 active clusters worldwide.
Who Uses MemSQL
The company's marquee customers include Comcast, Pinterest, Akamai and EMC. Financial services, advertising technology and e-commerce companies are among MemSQL's most enthusiastic adopters, with logistics, real-time shipping and other types of geospatial analytics among the most interesting use cases.
"Our customers are fundamentally and functionally data-driven companies. Information is a key facet of their business," Frenkiel said.
But not all of MemSQL's users are big corporations. The company also offers a free and downloadable community edition of its solution, for anyone who wants to accelerate their analytics or ETL processes. The community edition lacks the authentication, data replication and disaster recovery capabilities of the enterprise product, Frenkiel said.
Fast Facts about MemSQL
Founders: Eric Frenkiel (CEO), Nikita Shamgunov (CTO)
HQ: San Francisco
Product: database platform for real-time analytics
Customers: Include Comcast, Kellogg, Pinterest, Akamai, Samsung, EMC, Novusand Tapjoy
Funding: $85 million with investors including Accel, Caffeinated Capital, Khosla Ventures, Data Collective, First Round, REV, IA Ventures and In-Q-Tel
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.