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Industry Vet Rich Napolitano Joins SDN Startup Plexxi as CEO

network-2-300x225Software defined networking specialist Plexxi just named industry veteran Rich Napolitano as its CEO. Napolitano left EMC after heading its midrange storage business for the better part of a decade. Napolitano has built a reputation as a strong leader at both large companies (DEC, Sun, EMC) and smaller firms (Pirus Networks, Data Kinesis, Bluepoint). At heart Napolitano is a startup guy who has both engineering and management chops. He’s experienced, smart, technical, likable, humble with a giant network of contacts. He’s perfect for Plexxi, a New Hampshire based networking company with a scale out approach.

Plexxi also announced that Timothy Lieto is joining Plexxi to head sales for the company. Napolitano and Lieto worked together at Sun Microsystems when Napolitano helped engineer a turnaround of Sun’s business post the dot.com implosion and prior to the sale of the company to Oracle. Lieto was instrumental in the effort to stop the bleeding at Sun and stabilize the company’s systems, storage and services business.

Here’s a recent interview we did with Rich while he was looking for his next big thing…looks like he’s found it with Plexxi and brought his top sales guy with him:

Plexxi was founded by David Husak. He’s a long-time networking “Alpha Geek” with a deep technical background in Ethernet and network backbone technologies. He told me recently that he started Plexxi to attack the entrenched problem with networks, namely that networking infrastructure has been hierarchical and rigid for two decades…compute scales out, storage scales out and with new mobile and big data apps exploding, the network needs a software-based approach to scale out. The way Husak explained it to me is “it’s fundamental geometry…” in networks today, “if you want to build wider, you have to build taller.” This has created a disconnect between the way applications are moving – mobile, agile, flexible scale out – and the inability for network infrastructure to keep pace.

Husak explained to me that virtually all traditional networking vendors approach the market in a hierarchical way, including of course Cisco. Husak explained that Plexxi has a different approach to wiring and orchestrating networks with an SDN methodology that drives more automation, visibility and manageability than what the entrenched networking companies can deliver today. In particular he said Plexxi has a better solution for Big Data and Hadoop applications because of the scale out nature of the infrastructure supporting these apps.

I asked Husak how Plexi plans to crack through the entrenched mindset of the Cisco engineering/operations practitioner and he said in the early days of Plexxi he was worried that the years of process and scripts that have been built up over time around traditional networks would be a big barrier. Husak was surprised, however that not only did the CIOs and application architects love the Plexxi value proposition but the engineering community expressed frustration with the inflexibility of existing network infrastructure and the Plexxi approach has resonated with this crowd also.

Plexxi completed it’s A-round in 2011 and has raised a total of $48.5M from the likes of Lightspeed, Matrix and Northbridge. With Napolitano, Plexxi gets a proven executive who I guarantee will highly focused on building out infrastructure to support the next wave of applications for cloud, mobile, social and Big Data – what his former company calls the “Third Platform” in IDC parlance.

In my view, what’s happening in organizations today is that industries are transforming from static stovepipes with hardened vertical stacks (design, manufacturing, distribution, sales, partnerships, ecosystems, etc.) toward a world where infrastructure is delivered as a utility, applications and social graphs (including security and privacy) are horizontally cutting across industries and Big Data analytics is becoming an insight transport that also traverses industry sectors.

Author David Moschella has succinctly described this trend as the “Digital Fabric.”

Wikibon has frequently discussed its premise that practitioners will create more value going forward than the technology vendors that sell to them. However those technology suppliers that can support this digital matrix will prosper and gain a foothold in their respective value chains. Will Plexxi be one of these companies? It’s certainly hitting on all the hot buttons…SDN, scale out, Big Data, flattening of the network hierarchy, etc.

And it just added a big time exec to step up to the next layer of the vision.

Here’s the full video interview with Husak that provides some background on the company:

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