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Vyatta CEO interviewed; Usable Source Networking discussed

Yes, you heard it, I am throwing the term Open Source out of the window! We have seen enough battles between Open Source and Closed Source. My keynote at the International Virtualization Conference in Belgium was about just that: Usable Source!

Talking to our good friend and CEO of the rockstar Networking start-up, Kelly Herrell was just the same. Kelly is a fan of Clayton Christensen , like me. I love the work of Porter, Dawkins, Beer, Nohria, Prahlad etc as well. Anyways talking to Kelly was really fun. This man is smart, witty and is steering a great start-up!

As CEO and member of the Board of Directors, Kelly provides the strategic leadership and vision for Vyatta and drives it through to rapid execution. Kelly has a proven track record for growing companies based on open source in the systems, embedded and telephony industries. Before joining Vyatta, Kelly was the SVP of Strategic Operations at MontaVista Software, the world's pre-eminent embedded Linux supplier, where he led the strategic focus into telecommunications equipment and mobile phones. Today operators around the world such as NTT DoCoMo have network infrastructure and tens of millions of mobile phones in use that are based on MontaVista Linux. Prior to joining MontaVista, Kelly was Vice President of Marketing for Cobalt Networks, the dominant provider of open source-based server appliances for web hosting. After helping drive the company growth through an explosive IPO and beyond, he played a key role in driving its successful $2.3B merger with Sun Microsystems. Previous to Cobalt, Kelly was VP of Marketing for CacheFlow (Nasdaq: BCSI), directed worldwide marketing for Oracle's database products, and served in various product- and market-focused roles at NCR, Teradata and AT&T. Kelly holds a Bachelor's Degree with Honors in Marketing from Washington State University, and an MBA from Cornell University.

Anyways here's the Q&A from our chat:

  • Hi Kelly, great to have chatted with you. Please tell us a bit about Vyatta, how was it born?

Vyatta began with the recognition of two key facts: First, that the vast majority of networking is driven by software; and second, that the networking industry had not yet harnessed Moore’s Law. We set off to prove that an open software alternative could be produced by leveraging open-source, and one year later had a beta version. Following that proof point, we’ve raised nearly $20M and are now in-market with customers.

  • Tell us about the Vyatta product?

Vyatta delivers a complete software appliance; no other software is required. It runs on standard x86 hardware and delivers 5-10X better price/performance vs. proprietary products, largely courtesy of Moore’s Law. The current functions it performs are scalable routing, security and a full suite of networking functions typically found on traditional infrastructure.

We package it as a bootable ISO and as a virtual appliance. Free versions of each are available, and Vyatta has been downloaded over 100,000 times in the past year. With that distribution, and with a 5-10X better offering, Vyatta is now deployed across small- and medium-sized businesses, enterprises and service providers.

  • Vyatta is apparently the only real alternative to proprietary vendors in the networking space, how did that happen?

In general, the networking industry has been extremely insulated from the computing industry. It has different vendors, different IT buyers, different press, different analysts. Because of this insulation, the networking industry lived on an information island. Meanwhile, throughout the ‘90s the computing industry underwent the “open system revolution.” So it took a certain rebellious group, like Vyatta, to pierce the veil – to bridge the two industries, and bring open systems to networking.

  • How did the changing of strategy, meaning moving away from hardware appliance to a hardware-agnostic Vyatta software appliance, help Vyatta?

Vyatta’s strategy has always been centered on our software, simply because the universe of x86 hardware is so vast. We believe that markets are efficient, and that given the chance many customers will want to optimize their hardware decisions separately from their software decisions – and not be force-fed weak proprietary hardware. This has turned out to be a correct assumption on our part, and has led to a variety of deployment styles that have surprised even us.

Some customers will prefer an all-in-one solution. We satisfy that requirement easily through pre-configured servers and partnerships. But in our mind, that should always be the customer’s decision.

  • How are the sales, are customers getting anything out of Vyatta?

Sales are good, and growing. We’ve arrived wanted… it turns out a lot of people were eager to find an open solution. We’re finding that once customers switch to Vyatta they end up with a mindset that prevents them from going back to proprietary systems. The economics and freedom of choice are simply overpowering.

We’ve also been positively surprised by the way virtualization has played into the adoption curve. Customers are specifying multi-function branch boxes, bringing together data, security, voice, and even desktop virtualization – all on the same box.

  • Are er expecting more innovation in Vyatta? What else can be plugged in?

Vyatta’s system design is extensible, meaning we will be rapidly folding more discrete networking functions into the system. Networking boxes have proliferated largely because they’ve been single-function; we’re changing that.

  • How are your expansion plans moving ahead?

We will continue to grow, domestically and internationally. Demand for Vyatta is fairly global; we’ll grow with that demand.

  • How about the funding? Is all going well there?

We’ve raised $20M to date, and have solid backers. There has been a lot of interest from new parties as well. It’s not hard to figure out why; we’re basically Red Hat for networking. And that’s an attractive position for investors to consider.

  • Bob Young (Founder of Red Hat) had a great strategy in place when he moved ahead with his dual-pronged move to sell Linux and free Linux, will we see that happening as we gradually move into a slowing economy? Such strategies have been successful in hard economic times.

Bob Young was famous for saying his objective was to shrink the size of the operating system market. That’s simply because proprietary OS’s were wildly overpriced. Vyatta faces a nearly identical scenario, and our impact will be similar. Certainly, slower economies make budgets tighter and our story will land on more ears; but Linux took flight during the bubble days too. The bottom line is that markets are efficient, and wildly better price/performance always receives an enthusiastic embrace.

  • Looking ahead a bit in the future, what do you think the future of networking will be and who are bound to survive?

We think that the majority of networking will be conducted on hardware that is similar to what the computing industry uses, simply because the R&D in standard hardware so vastly outweighs the paltry investment made in networking hardware. And we believe the software of choice will be open systems, not proprietary ones.

Given that we’re looking at a revolution in system architectures, and looking at historical industry shifts that occur during such times of change, the also-rans of the networking industry will likely fail to keep up. The top two players will evolve their systems slowly, and a pure-play software vendor like Vyatta will establish ourselves in the new world with the leverage of the IBM/HP/Dell/Intel hardware ecosystem.


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