ThinkAtomic gives startups a head start
Technology • Biz veteran Ralph Yarro is extending ThinkAtomic data-center services into Salt Lake.
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If you're a small technology startup struggling to get off the ground, you might not need technical expertise, management guidance and an office, but surely what you do need is some computer firepower and that can be expensive for an entity with little money.

That's where ThinkAtomic adds a twist to the standard business incubator concept.

Unique resources • While it can offer capital, technical know-how, office space and plenty of marketing and management experience, ThinkAtomic also can provide use of a high-powered data center to companies trying to develop new products.

Being able to offer the hardware and software of Voonami, the ThinkAtomic arm that operates data centers in Orem and now Salt Lake City, is a huge help to startups that need computing power to develop products, run their businesses and offer any online products, said Ralph Yarro, a veteran of Utah technology companies and the owner, CEO and chairman of ThinkAtomic.

"There is not another incubator like us in the state of Utah, maybe even in the region where they're tied to computer resources like Voonami, which makes us very, very unique," Yarro said.

Business beginnnings • Yarro, 47, started ThinkAtomic in 2005 as an incubator of high-tech companies.

He is a 1989 Brigham Young University political science graduate. From 1995 to 2004, Yarro worked at companies controlled by Ray Noorda, who had been CEO of Novell Inc. during its glory years as one of the nation's leading technology companies.

Yarro rose to became chairman and CEO of The Canopy Group, Noorda's umbrella company that held interests in various enterprises more along the lines of a tradition venture capital fund.

But in 2004 Yarro and Canopy bitterly parted ways and fought over his ouster in competing lawsuits. Yarro ended up as the single largest shareholder of The SCO Group, a Canopy company that held the rights to the Unix computer operating system.

In 2003, SCO filed an infamous lawsuit against IBM, accusing it of contract violations for allegedly using SCO's Unix operating system as the basis for changes that made the Linux operating system a viable competitor. SCO was accused of launching an attack on the open-source community that backed Linux and Yarro was roundly vilified. The lawsuit remains pending but SCO eventually ended up in bankruptcy court, where it still remains today. Unix was sold to another company.

In the mid-2000s, Yarro also was known for his extensive anti-pornography campaign.

Tech and support • The data centers of Voonami, once a startup in the ThinkAtomic fold, are large banks of computers used by outside customers and the Think­Atomic startups.

But it's not just the availability of a data center that's important for startups, said Ben Bush, president of Voonami," it's the expertise of utilizing those computer resources that we bring to the table."

In Orem, ThinkAtomic houses 23 companies, perhaps the most visible now is Fishbowl Inventory, which provides the biggest-selling inventory software that meshes with Quickbooks.

Another company at the Orem offices is ClientRunner, whose software for disaster restoration construction management first was created in 2003 by contractor Jerry Pennock. He and others formed ClientRunner in 2008 when they decided the software could be marketed more widely.

"Coming to ThinkAtomic allowed us to create a more corporate structure and gave us resources we could share," cofounder and CEO Scott Severe said. "So we've got some marketing resources … [and] a data partner with Voonami."

Revenue has tripled since ClientRunner joined ThinkAtomic, he said.

In return for its help or for direct capital infusions, ThinkAtomic typically takes a 10 percent to 20 percent owernship of the business, depending on which services it provides and whether it extends capital, Yarro said.

Now, ThinkAtomic is trying to duplicate the same services it offers in Orem in Salt Lake City, where it opened its second data center, which also has space for startups. Bush and Yarro call their centers hybrid clouds, smaller regional facilities (as opposed to massive centers such as those Amazon.com and others run) that combine the same tools as the bigger operations but with more personalized services.

"We're expanding into Salt Lake because No. 1, I think the hybrid cloud will play very well here," Yarro said. "We clearly see opportunity."

The Voonami facility in Salt Lake City also is perhaps the greenest data center in the region, Yarro said.

Data centers usually take much more electricity to cool than the servers use. But the Voonami Salt Lake City center takes advantage of the area's higher, cooler atmosphere and dry desert air to cool mostly with the outside air and, when needed, a giant swamp cooler that operates much like the home versions kicks in. The rooms and racks of servers also are designed so cooling is more efficient.

Most data centers require 1.6 to 2 watts of power for cooling for every watt consumed by the computers, Bush said. The Voonami facility in Salt Lake City requires less than 1.2 watts of cooling for every watt consumed by servers.

That figure is "really phenomenal and that's what all the providers, all the big boys are trying to do," Bush said.

tharvey@sltrib.com

Twitter: TomHarveySltrib —

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