Bare Metal Networking Goes Mainstream

As an investor in Cumulus Networks, I often give the company’s elevator pitch to technologists and networking folks I meet on my travels.  Almost universally the reaction is very positive.  People quickly understand both the economic and operational benefits of unlocking networking from its green (sometimes blue) box. They have seen this movie before.  The single vendor blob, aka “mainframe approach”, gives way to disaggregated supply chain, and customers win via choice and openness.

I’m almost always asked a quick follow-up about Cumulus Networks: “Where can I buy it?”   Today I am proud to say you can “Buy it from Dell.”

Today’s announcement from Dell and Cumulus Networks is a turning point in the evolution of networking and is another enabling piece, fulfilling the vision of the software-defined data center.  Dell becomes the first Tier 1, IT supplier to sell bare-metal, fixed-configuration switches and will be offering Cumulus Linux as an option for the networking operating system. Dell pioneered the modern server supply chain and is the ideal partner with which to usher in the new era of networking.   Dell has heard first hand from customers the demand for bare metal switches and is leading the market’s transformation.

Incumbent vendors have attempted to minimize the impact of the transition to bare- metal networking as a niche for the ultra-sophisticated, DIY Web-scale crowd.  While this argument has always been little more than FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) spread by those with the most to lose, today’s announcement blows it out of the water. Now getting into bare-metal networking requires little more than a browser and a credit card. Dell’s world-class hardware and supply chain are now behind Cumulus Networks and are already driving the Linux networking model into the enterprise market.

Today bare-metal networking goes main stream. Are you ready for a revolution?

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Cold Pizza and AWS: Adrian Cockcroft Joins Battery from Netflix

A big part of being a VC is recruiting.  I spend a lot of time looking for people to join companies I’ve invested in, and I also spend a lot of time looking for people to be on the founding teams of new companies that are yet to be founded. In all the time I’ve been at Battery, I spent next to no time recruiting for Battery.

Today, we’re thrilled to announce a change to that history as my good friend Adrian Cockcroft is joining us as a Technology Fellow.  I first met Adrian years ago at the Hacker Dojo in Mountain View. Another friend and I went to have cold pizza and listen to him talk about how he moved Netflix’s streaming service to AWS. At the time I’d seen plenty of start-ups on AWS, but this was the first time I saw some put a massive workload on AWS.  It really opened my eyes to what the cloud was capable of.  I distinctly remember Adrian comparing Amazon to the semiconductor fabs of the 80s and making the appeal that in the future, everyone was just going to build on top of the cloud in lieu of building and managing their own infrastructure.

After his talk I reached out to Adrian and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him quite well over the years.  He continued to be a luminary in recognizing opportunities for new start-ups as well as advising existing start-ups (and VCs) on how to approach a wide array of problems.  If you’ve ever been to a Battery dinner in the Bay Area you’ve probably seen Adrian there — he was a mainstay for us because people always commented to me how much they enjoyed getting his perspective (as did I).  So, you can imagine my excitement when Adrian broached the subject of coming to join us at Battery!  The other Battery investment-team members, some of whom have gotten to know Adrian recently as well, were similarly excited and helped work to make his hiring happen.

Adrian’s role at Battery won’t be significantly different to how we’ve engaged him in the past — except now we get more of him. Adrian will continue to give talks and write blog posts.  He’ll get to spend a lot more time meeting with companies, advising companies, and helping us formulate investment theses. But he’ll be doing it for us full time, and also playing a role in actually sourcing deals and performing due diligence on potential investments. Unlike a traditional VC-firm “entrepreneur in residence”, Adrian’s position as a Battery technology fellow is expected to be long term. We couldn’t be more excited to welcome him to the Battery family.

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The Changing Face of Cyber Crime

ImageCyber-crime used to be reserved for top-secret, state-sponsored operations; today it regularly targets everyday businesses and has become a major drain on corporate resources. In a recent survey, one-third of enterprises were aware of targeted cyber-attacks against their companies. While network-based defenses have seen a lot of progress in recent years, laptops and phones continue to be exposed to security threats and are easily compromised. A new wave of startup companies is addressing this gap. With apologies to Jason Bourne, here is my spy-thriller take on the latest trend in cyber-security: innovative “endpoint” technology solutions battling previously unknown, “zero-day” attacks.

London, 2006

In December the storefronts of Lexington were even more dazzling than usual. Nevertheless, the Syrian official, call him Hamid (1), was in a bad mood. He was leading complicated negotiations with the North Koreans, under strict orders: The construction of the top-secret nuclear reactor in Deir-es-Zor, in northern Syria, must continue on schedule. Hamid was fed up with dealing with the Koreans and their obstinate negotiating. Fortunately, he had the afternoon off. He dumped his laptop in his hotel room and went shopping.

He was not aware that while wandering the Lexington streets, he was followed by an Israeli Mossad team; at the same time, a related team entered his hotel room, hacked into the laptop, copied its files and installed a Trojan horse, which let the Israeli spies keep track of his future actions. Data from Hamid’s laptop provided the “smoking gun” evidence ultimately leading to an air raid on the Syrian nuclear reactor, destroying it in September 2007.

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OpenIncubate: A Call to Arms for Open Source Innovators

ImageToday, along with Austin Ventures and The Valley Fund, and with strong support from the Open Compute Project and Facebook, we launched OpenIncubate.   Our goal is to reach the next generation of entrepreneurs who are leveraging the latest wave of open infrastructure hardware and software including OpenStack, The Open Compute Project and open networking.   After seeing the amount of energy and innovation at the last Open Compute Hackathon I was convinced that an opportunity existed and we should formalize our efforts.  OpenIncubate is the first time this recipe — funding, mentorship and workspace — has been brought together specifically for open source. 

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The Next Phase of Networking Evolution: Cumulus Networks and the Linux revolution

ImageSometimes you just know. Rarely do you meet entrepreneurs whose expertise is so great, vision so clear, and passion so strong that you leave the first meeting knowing you must do whatever it takes to work with them. 

This happened to me in April of 2010 when I met JR Rivers and Nolan Leake for the first time at Hobbee’s in Cupertino.  Over breakfast we had a mind-bending, 90 minute conversation about the current state and future direction of networking.  As we left breakfast that morning and walked to the parking lot, my mind was racing, thinking and planning what I would do next.  Little did I know I had absentmindedly walked out of the restaurant without paying our bill (which I only realized half way to Palo Alto).  Fortunately JR and Nolan are menschs; they went back inside, paid the bill, and didn’t hold it against me.  Thus began my journey with Cumulus Networks. 

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Analyze This! Generation 3 of Business Analytics is Finally Here

image for sisense postIt’s well known that gaming poses the most demanding requirements on consumer computing. Graphic Processing Units have been on the forefront of innovation, driving more distributed computing and higher processor-memory bandwidth, all for drawing more polygons with finer textures at higher frame rates.

A similar role is played in the enterprise IT stack – servers, networking, storage, virtualization – by analytics. Instead of shooting aliens ever more realistically, companies want to get more accurate predictions for trouble in their supply chains, better know their customers, crunch through more realistic credit risk models, and more quickly optimize their next best offers.

All of this requires data; lots of data.  Correspondingly, it requires architectures that can crunch through this data, and generate results and insights – NOW.

It’s not hard to be convinced that increasingly more companies want to process increasingly more data to drive better business decisions. But how you do it is the hard part. So at Battery, when we find companies that come up with relevant, unique and truly innovative approaches, we are happy to back them.

Generally speaking, we think about the evolving analytics market in generations.

  • Gen 1: The first generation is dominated by big software stacks. Buying such a solution and implementing it is typically a multi-month process that involves costly in-house and external resources, and has a non-negligible failure rate. I’m sure many of us used such systems, usually sold by members of the MISO* soup gang, with their frustrating user interface and the long IT cycles required to adapt them to changing business needs.
  • Gen 2: The second generation is more in-line with the consumerization trend of the enterprise. Unconsciously, the modern business user is trying to replicate the experience of browsing the app store, downloading his choice and getting up and running in a few minutes. The Departmental BI solutions of the likes of QlikView and Tableau are going a long way towards that goal, and are much better at one of the key metrics we view at Battery as a predictor of success: Mean Time To Pretty Chart. Still, once Data gets Big, these solutions hit a fairly abrupt limit, forcing companies to invest time and effort to reduce their data volumes and make sub-optimal business decisions.
  • Gen 3: Which leads us to the third generation: analytics suites that are up and running in minutes and are not easily defeated by large data volumes. As is quoted of the late Steve Jobs, “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” SiSense, a recent Battery investment, is this in action: a huge amount of innovation went into the ability to mash together different schemas into a coherent data source, requiring almost no user intervention or, God forbid, IT involvement. Moreover, the ability to seamlessly churn through 10s of Terabytes of data in close to real-time looks easy and natural to the end user. But under the hood, SiSense shows a deep understanding of the architecture of modern operating systems and the hardware chains from disk to RAM to CPU.

The modern enterprise is driven by analytics of Terabytes of data. The business user wants the solution here, today, tailored to her needs without resorting to that dreaded word: “Project.” The third generation of BI tools is the first to satisfy these seemingly contradictory requirements in a neat, simple, package.

At Battery, we’re happy to be on the train to transforming the modern IT stack.  Have ideas in this space?  We’d love to hear from you!

*The Big 4 analytics vendors, © of Bruno Aziza, VP Marketing of SiSense
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So, My Hadoop Walks Into A Bar …

There’s so much buzz and activity going on in and around Hadoop these days, that it’s become a running joke with our Enterprise IT team and the entrepreneurs in the space I have Hadoop, but what’s it doing?  Hadooping?”  There’s truth behind any joke, and in this case, clearly Hadoop has taken off and is making a huge difference in the way companies store and analyze data.  But then what?  How to you access and make that data usable?  Fortunately, we’re working with two new companies and incredible teams that are leading the way here.

The last 24 hours have been very exciting for Battery’s Big Data portfolio.  Yesterday we announced that we led Platfora’s Series B financing and this morning news is out that we co-led the Series A for Continuuity (after investing in their seed round earlier this year).  Both companies are led by exceptional founding teams in an enormous market, but there’s something else going on here.  Both companies are fundamental bets on a trend that we’re a huge believer in — making Big Data accessible to mere mortals.  

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