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NASA Hands Bugbusters Launchpad For Growth

Having your technology adopted by NASA would be an ideal launchpad for any business. But the Cambridge UK bug-busting software company involved prefers to take the scenic route to global expansion rather than ride a rocket to the stars.

The down to earth approach is going very nicely so far for Undo Ltd, a new tenant at ideaSpace – the technology accelerator in Cambridge.

Undo Ltd has created a software development tool that allows Linux developers to find and fix in minutes bugs that would otherwise have taken weeks to detect and repair.

The tool records everything a program does and allows the developer to “wind the tape back and forth” – reversible debugging – to uncover that proverbial needle-in-a-haystack bug.

When lives and millions of dollars are potentially at risk for a client like NASA, Undo’s software is gold dust. And it is proving a game-changer across a range of global industries where Linux predominates.

Founder Greg Law, who started the venture in his garage, reckons software bugs could be costing companies around $600 billion.

Drilling down so many international opportunities to a focused strategy has been one of the greatest challenges for Undo – along with transforming the original idea into a business proposition that investors and customers could readily understand.

The enterprise was born in Law’s garage in 2005 so it has been a slow burner. He told Business Weekly: “It took a while to develop the technology to a point where I felt it could be widely used commercially.

“In the early days I spent months trying to sell the idea to Cambridge angel investors to win seed funding but initially couldn’t engage their interest. Having turned up with an idea but no business their lack of interest was probably understandable.

“But once we went back with a fully developed product and real customers – a business rather than an idea – the whole scenario changed. Angel support isn’t just about cash – it’s about what these experienced investors and entrepreneurs can bring to your business in terms of supporting technology transfer.

“We identified a wish list of five angels who could help us add commercial strength and when we went back with the fully developed business we got all five.”

As one of those five was celebrated Cambridge software svengali Robert Brady – founder of the globally successful Brady plc – Law could feel rightly proud of his efforts. Brady is now Undo Ltd’s chairman and “has been incredibly supportive over the years,” Law says.

The angels bought into the company’s philosophy and also provided substantial – undisclosed – funding to cover near and medium term plans.

ideaSpace is Undo Ltd’s first office base and Law says the company wants to “keep things lean. There are four of us at the moment and we’re looking to hire a couple more. We’ve addressed the issue of how quickly we want to grow – and the opportunities opening up are enormous – but this year we want to further build the platform and go the organic route.”

As an indicator of scale-up opportunity, Linux is used by a majority of leading research institutes worldwide; by air traffic controllers and weather forecasters globally; NASA is a big user; so are many of the Fortune 500 companies – and some of these are also Undo Ltd clients. Technology pioneers like Google, Facebook and Twitter all use Linux.

“In that regard we have been lucky in focusing on Linux. I’d like to say it was some grand vision of mine but that wouldn’t be true. On a broader point, computer security is No.1 priority for any business and software bugs are a real problem.

“There was a great stat in 2002 saying that software bugs cost US industry $60 billion. Ten years later and taken globally, it wouldn’t be wild speculation to estimate that the figure is probably more like $600bn.

“When you’re NASA dealing with space programmes or air traffic controllers with responsibility for, say, 100 flights at any one time, you don’t want a computer bug to rear its head. And they are incredibly common. Bugs are the software industry’s dirty secret – code is vulnerable.

“Reversible debugging is a game-changing technology for software development. It is an unpalatable truth that debugging dominates software development. Not only do developers spend the vast majority of their time debugging, but the unpredictability of bugs makes managing software projects a thankless task.

“Debugging is like solving a murder mystery: the developer must think backwards to work out what went wrong. A reversible debugger is to a developer as CCTV footage of the murder scene is to a detective. Bugs that would have taken weeks to solve can now be solved in minutes.

“UndoDB was the first commercially-available reversible debugger for programs running ‘native’ code. We defined the technology and UndoDB continues to represent the state-of-the-art.

“Almost any application can be debugged, including applications that use threads, signals, and/or shared memory. Applications using custom system libraries (e.g. malloc or threading) are supported. We even support applications that directly access hardware (e.g. openGL or Infiniband). UndoDB brings reversible debugging to complex, real-world applications.”

http://undo-software.com/

Business Weekly, Full story can be found here http://www.businessweekly.co.uk/hi-tech/14128-nasa-hands-bugbusters-launchpad-for-growth.