06/04/2013 01:04 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2013

Software-as-a-Slice of the Cloud: Interview with GreenButton CTO Dave Fellows

Throughout human history innovation has changed the status quo by casting aside the "skins" of the old way of doing things with the new. Take Zip Car. Its micro-pricing model disrupted the car rental business, forcing Avis to buy the startup and Avis' competitors to copy Zip Car's rent-a-car-by-the-hour format.

In the past decade, a little known New Zealand tech startup called GreenButton has developed the technology that empowers users to go to the cloud and micro-lease various high-end, expensive software suites at a fraction of the cost. Like buying a New York slice of pizza instead of the whole pie, once expensive software licenses, say, in seismic engineering or animation rendering, could be had for a single license for milliseconds of use. What did that do? It empowered the lone consultant or small business to compete directly against Fortune 500 companies in terms of using the same premium technology.

Affordable is only the start of the many benefits in leveraging the cloud platform. GreenButton's simple user-tracking interface allows a project team scattered around the globe can see and monitor the monthly usage of software, track actual costs, and see other visualization data.

GreenButton's cloud-as-a-slice subscription model is the dawn of this new revolution.

From The Lord of the Rings

The history of GreenButton began with managing the massive digital renderings and virtual set pieces on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, which was filmed on location in New Zealand. How was the post-production team going to store, access, share, and collaborate on all of those digital files?

The cloud became the platform solution and GreenButton's original incantation, InterGrid, released the RenderMan On Demand system in partnership with Pixar, which grew into one the company's premier offerings.

Working with such heavy weight firms as Pixar and SAP with their Visual Enterprise product, GreenButton has rolled out 13 products, including financial services, biotech and engineering verticals. Its 14th "Cloud Claritas," the seismic processing software run on the AWS cloud platform, in which an average 3D seismic processing project can take "10-50 terabytes and can take hundreds of thousands of compute hours during a project to build an image of a sub-surface structure."

Cloud Claritas was born out of a partnership between GreenButton, "New Zealand's GNS Science and Houston-based Stillwater Group to leverage the cloud for complex seismic processing," according to the firm's 2012 press release.

Having met, listened to, and interviewed GreenButton twice last year at the Cloud East Expo (held in NYC next week) and Cloud West Expo (held in Santa Clara, Calif.), I followed up with a telephone interview with GreenButton's CTO Dave Fellows to see where the company's micro-leasing software model was heading in the rapidly changing world of technology.

Interview with GreenButton CTO Dave Fellows

Fourteen time zones ahead, GreenButton CTO Dave Fellows and I spoke via the telephone.

"How are sales going?" I asked.

"We are gaining significant traction across our target markets now. A year ago, many organizations were still doubtful of the cloud as a delivery model and a technical computing environment for big compute and big data. That perception has changed dramatically. PROAN Entertainment in Mexico just completed the world's first full-length animated feature film rendered entirely in the cloud, without any on-premise infrastructure. The studio calculated it would have taken them 13.7 years with their computers. With GreenButton they rendered the project over a three-month period," Fellows said, then added, "We are about doing the complex heavy lifting but with the simplicity of just pressing the 'green' button.

"GreenButton is addressing the requirements of various service providers, including ISVs, developers and enterprises by enabling them to pay for compute and license fees in a fine grained way," he explained. "The savings for our customers are significant and can be found in a variety of industries, from motion picture and oil and gas, to biotech and other professional services." He paused and continued, "There's a ton of processing in seismic trace data and images. Today, the Cloud Claritas platform is a tool for processing this information, driving terabytes of data to Amazon's AWS cloud for storage and scaling-up thousands of processors."

"Can you give an example?" I asked.

"We enable high-speed data access using Red Hat's GlusterFS file system and long-term archiving with Amazon's Glacier archive service. GreenButton Cloud Fabric--our flagship product--is a multi-cloud Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) shrink-wrapping the entire package. The custom workloads and the compute component are key to many customers, enabling them to not be locked into a single cloud vendor," he said.

"GreenButton Cloud Fabric is really the focus of our strategy."

Fellows went on to explain the IT automation and utility computing software that is the core of GreenButton's platform. For a company in Germany, GreenButton saved the customer tons of processing hours, from weeks down to hours, with the manhours resulting in lower costs.

"Put another way, a five-person company can harvest 10,000 servers with no infrastructure investment, all at the push of a button. That can be pretty disruptive to industries where computing power is everything," CTO Fellows emphasized.

"GreenButton, a 25-person company, has grown, from 150 percent in 2011 to 2012 doubling to 300% next year. For The Lord of the Rings, the filmmakers found New Zealand's rendering capacity small. They needed wider drive to utilization, a ubiquitous portal with each program having different parameters. But it had to be simple. Push a button to use. Push it again to visualize data. What GreenButton has done is managed the back-end plumbing. New Zealand government has a 10 percent equity stake in the company," he said.

I asked the CTO about GreenButton's overall vision.

He replied, "GreenButton's vision is to become the standard for micro-sharing high end software and complex computing power through a cloud service provider, with a highly optimized user experience. What does the user want in terms of a seamless experience and elegant interface? For one, they want to push a button to get the answer to their problem or research. Our patent-pending Job Prediction and Commercial Engine allow the user to make a Time vs. Cost decision rather than them being concerned with the numbers of cores. Our Cloud Fabric REST API can be easily integrated with any system."

"What about your value premise?" I asked.

Dave Fellows answered, "Eliminate Capex. Eliminate the complexities of what is inherently a very complex space. Do it in a seamless manner without the hassle, and with a first class user experience."

Now that GreenButton has opened up a North American office in Palo Alto, CA, the heart of Silicon Valley and a short plane ride down to Los Angeles and Hollywood's entertainment center, the emerging company will be around for the long haul as the business world will change with mobile enterprise, the Internet of Things, automation of all workflow processes, and the power of cloud computing to share, leverage, and lend space for data, computing power, and 24/7 access to project team members.