As time marches on, more and more businesses are looking to cloud computing as a convenient and cost-effective alternative to traditional desktop-based hardware and software. Amid this revolution in computing, companies are seeking services that provide greater security and performance for data stored on the cloud. Enter: Exotanium, Inc., Rev: Ithaca Startup Works’ newest member company.
Founded as a collaboration between Cornell Computer Science Professors Hakim Weatherspoon and Robbert van Renesse and Postdoctoral Researcher Zhiming Shen, Exotanium is developing a new “container architecture,” known as X-Containers, that will greatly enhance the security of cloud-stored data and applications. The concept started out as Shen’s doctoral thesis, with Weatherspoon and van Renesse serving as the faculty advisors. It soon became apparent to all three that the program could have significant commercial potential— the cloud computing market is massive, widely estimated as being as large as half a trillion dollars, and existing companies in the container space report annual growth rates of around 40 percent.
The Exotanium founders believe their technology could appeal to a wide range of customers, from large corporations such as Microsoft and Google, to small businesses, including financial companies, interested in improving both the performance and security of their cloud computing operations.
Weatherspoon shared that the word “Exo” implies a strong outer shell, highlighting the technology’s protective capabilities. In explaining their invention, the company uses the analogy of a library. Exotanium essentially converts the cloud operating system into something like a plug-in library for various applications, which allows customers to increase performance by removing the wall between the application and the operating system that characterizes the older, and clunkier, technology for securing cloud operations—so-called “virtual machines.” The library design allows for the customization of cloud operations, since X-Containers can “Exotanium-ify” any application to enable it to be plugged-into the library. Plus, the architecture is portable, since the whole library can be accessed anywhere you have a network connection. This library design separates X-Containers from both the older virtual machine model, and existing container models.
“The problem with existing containers is you can break security isolation,” Weatherspoon said. “What Exotanium does is reduces that risk or prevents it entirely. Other container technologies might increase security but reduce performance. But in our case, the technology actually increases performance. So, we reduce attack surface and increase performance at the same time.”
The Exotanium team connected with Rev through their participation in the I-Corps Short Course this past Spring, a National Science Foundation program that trains researchers to become entrepreneurs and identify their customer markets. Through the program, they received mentorship from Ken Rother, the Director of Rev and the Program Lead for the Hardware Accelerator. Shen says that Rother helped the company expand their potential market by not only focusing on Computer Science PhDs, but broadening their market to include everyday business people. By joining Rev, they hope to maintain relationships with the organization’s entrepreneurs-in-residence and transition from working in their garages to utilizing Rev as a physical meeting space.
“We are scientists and technologists, and not involved in business,” Shen said. “Ken helped us think from the customer’s point of view, which is a very different, but important, mindset.”
The firm recently submitted an SBIR application to receive funding for additional research and development and they hope to hire more employees as they start to market their demo product later this year. Having launched within the Cornell Computer Science Department, the company looks forward to a long future here in Ithaca.
“Cornell is key because that’s where we were able to do the innovative research, the high stakes research that may or may not have succeeded.” Weatherspoon said. “Cornell also helped us prepare for commercialization through programs like I-Corps, which enables us to have a transformative impact on the public.”