It’s been a busy few months for Charles Foley, who became the president of Tacit Networks in September after nearly three years at InfiniCon Systems, an InfiniBand
A South Plainfield, N.J., start-up with 60 employees, Tacit’s devices allow companies to exchange content between data centers and remote offices over wide area networks (WAN), where performance is typically poor. With Tacit’s gear, enterprises can trim infrastructure budgets by consolidating storage workloads onto one file server that serves employees worldwide.
This nascent niche, branded wide area file services (WAFS), is set for explosive growth, potentially reaching more than $1 billion in sales by 2008, according to The Taneja Group.
Tacit Networks Chairman and CEO Greg Grodhaus, whom Foley worked with at Inrange Technologies before it was bought by CNT, lured his friend and former colleague to Tacit to “take it to the next level.”
Foley, known in the industry as Chuck, discussed WAFS and the competition in the burgeoning space, with internetnews.com.
Q: What made you decide to leave InfiniCon and try your hand at something different?
This is different from InfiniCon but not different from my roots. What we’re doing now is all about networking and storage. I was executive vice president and CTO of Inrange, and we took that company public. For three years running, it was the fastest growing SAN vendor. InfiniCon is a great little company. I’m really proud of what we built. InfiniBand is a very cool, very powerful technology, but the dreams and hopes that many of us in the industry had for it in 2000 and 2001 when I went there — the reality after the tech downturn is that it wasn’t what we thought it would be. You look at the technology — and I still think it’s powerful — and it might not have quite as broad an applicability as it was once pegged to have versus what we have here.
Q: Speaking of what you have at Tacit, the company plans on buttering its bread with an emerging market called WAFS. What problems do they help enterprises solve?
If you look at our industry, the Holy Grail is to create efficiency and productivity for people without breaking the bank. The way to do that in IT is give them access to all the information they need. [Renowned business and management guru] Tom Peters says the company of the future has only two redeeming assets — its brand and its information.
That’s why so much money has gone into networking, information sharing and file sharing. File sharing has become part of the DNA of a business. You walk into your office, you plug in your laptop and you might have your C drive with some stuff on it. But you, like everybody else, probably go to a K drive, or an I Drive, or an M drive or something that’s the file server. That’s where a company puts things they want everybody to have; that’s where you store things that really have to be backed up and managed by the IT professionals. If you’re like every one of the other billion users, you don’t back up your PC very often.
Q: The file server is the network’s file cabinet, then?
Yes. But the stuff on the file system stays secure and backed up. If you look at a company that had a 50-story building and a thousand employees, everybody would be using the file server in the basement. You would not say, I got a file server on the first floor and a file server on the second floor… all the way to the 50th. Everybody uses the enterprise class filer in the basement. And that makes sense. But once you leave the brick and mortar walls of that building, the model falls apart. If you have remote offices in Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Hong Kong and London, etc., they can’t use those enterprise file servers nearly as easily. It’s very painful. Performance is terrible. Availability is awful. What happens?
Now you’re forced into a world where you have to spend a tremendous amount of money to put file servers in each individual office. You’ve got to put tape drives in each individual office, back-up software in each individual office. Most painful, somebody’s got to be there to manage those servers. What we’ve done is said: You know, file sharing is a part of the DNA of business. File sharing from a single set of consolidated storage files is the Holy Grail, and we now have a technology that lets that happen.
Q: What is Tacit offering to support that, and what is your role in making that happen?
We’ve put in place a technology that lets users around the world use data-center filers as if they were in the same building. So, just like you wouldn’t ask the employees in the second, third, fourth, fifth and 50th floors to use separate, discrete file servers, you have the use of one, centralized storage facility. You can now do that with a remote office.
One of our customers is a Fortune 500 retailer. They’ve got 19 locations for their sourcing division around the world. These people are all using the file servers centrally located on the East Coast, and they don’t even know they don’t have their own file servers. The concept is so clean and so logical, and the ROI is so clear it makes it really compelling.
This wide area file services market has been estimated by the Taneja Group to be a greater than $1 billion market in the next five years. That’s our value proposition. To allow people to do storage consolidation, to have one instance of corporate files that anyone around the world can use without having redundant investments and remote file servers and tape back-up. My role is to take the company to the next level, which includes strategic positioning of the product, product direction, corporate strategy, marketing, business development, and services and support.
Q: What is the competition like in this space?
The competitor that I am most laser-focused on now is Cisco. Cisco acquired Actona Technologies. And you know, Cisco is $100 million all in. When you think about it, if this were 1999 and Cisco paid $100 million for a company, nobody would think twice. But this is 2004, after the bubble burst and if they spend $100 million, there is a good reason for it. That’s excellent validation of the market. And the good news for us is that the typical pattern of behavior for Cisco is that when they acquire somebody, they want to do a good job of thoroughly integrating it so they go quiet for six to nine months.
Q: What’s your plan of attack to thwart Cisco?
What I’ve basically told our sales rep is that we’ve got a bye with an expiration date on it. You better know that you’ve got six to nine months to go establish your beachheads, generate your war chest and build your account base. Because then Cisco is going to come back into the market.
The good thing for us is we have a far, far richer product. We are the only company in the industry that supports both Windows and Unix on our appliances. Actona is Unix only. We are the only company that supports NFS (for Windows) and CIFS (for Unix). We are the only company in the industry that survives LAN disruptions, so if you’re a user and you’re making a change to a file and the WAN goes away for seconds, minutes, or hours, we protect users against that by the virtue of our persistent caching architecture. Everyone else has problems with loss of data or prematurely terminated applications.
I do know that Cisco is coming. I’m not naive. They’re a massive competitor — a gorilla. And if you’re going to spar with a gorilla you’d better be nimble and quick and take your shots very wisely. We are going to do that. But we’re also going to do it with a very serious weapon and that is a technology that is, at least in my mind, two generations ahead. It’s very nascent, but the amount of attention and investment is growing faster than I’ve ever seen out of a nascent technology. This is a technology that as recently as nine months ago wasn’t even categorized. Yet you look at us, we’ve got dozens of customers, we’ve got eight Fortune 500 and 12 Global 2000 customers. We’re a young company with only about a year of revenue generation under our belt, yet we’ve got 20 of the 2000 largest companies in the world using our stuff in production. The value proposition is undeniable.
Article courtesy of InternetNews.com