Q&A with Infineta Systems co-founder and CEO Raj Kanaya

By Editor June 16, 2011

Infineta logo 

Infineta Systems brings Hyper-scale WAN Optimization solutions to the enterprise market. The San Jose–based company was founded in 2008, and recently closed a $15 million Series B funding round.

SUB: Please briefly describe what Infineta is, and the value proposition you bring to the WAN optimization market.

Kanaya: Infineta is a provider of Hyper-scale WAN Optimization systems. We make a product—called the Data Mobility Switch—that helps customers improve the movement of critical network traffic traversing between enterprise data centers through a combination of unique technologies in traffic control, network layer optimization and data reduction. The value realized by customers is significant cost savings, enhanced WAN infrastructure performance, and improved reliability for their critical applications.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?

Kanaya: We compete in the broader “WAN (Wide Area Network) Optimization” category of networking. Established companies in that space include the likes of Riverbed, Cisco, and host of other, smaller players. None of those WAN Optimization companies solve the problems that large enterprises experience in what is commonly referred to as the inter-data center WAN, or network connectivity between two or more of their large data centers. The industry is starting to refer to this segment of the WAN infrastructure as the Hyper-scale WAN, where machine-to-machine traffic is pushing for higher levels of throughput and reliability. In this sense, Infineta’s competition is the status quo of upgrading bandwidth, compromising the amount of traffic to move, and even sitting pat and doing nothing. All of these choices are detrimental to data protection, network efficiency, and, ultimately, incur an enormous cost in the face of growing datacenter-to-datacenter WAN traffic—which the industry experts peg at 3x growth over the next two years.

SUB: What differentiates Infineta from your competitors?

Kanaya: Simply put, Infineta’s flagship product, the Data Mobility Switch, operates at a scale and throughput level that others can’t match. The end result is a very cost-effective solution that improves high speed, latency sensitive data traffic to support critical initiatives such as BC/DR (business continuity/disaster recovery), cross-site virtualization for private cloud build outs, and Big Data processing for multi-site deployments.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind Infineta? Was there an “aha” moment, or was it a concept that was a long time in developing?

Kanaya: The core leadership team at Infineta—including myself—have spent the better part of our careers working to solve core infrastructure challenges to make IT more powerful, efficient, and cost effective. While it may sound boring, these are the foundational issues customers face year in, year out. The “aha” moment is really when we looked at the explosion in inter-data center traffic and zoomed in on the “why” and “how” attached to this growth trend. Then, we invested an enormous amount of time meeting with the day to day leaders of IT—the guys vested in making sure initiatives such as BC/DR are carried out without hiccup, architects tasked with making data center assets more flexible, the high performance computing folks rolling out distributed systems.

The insight we gained was as amazing as it was simple. The inter-data center WAN is where all of this innovation is running across, and the WAN cannot scale to support it. There must be a better way than the status quo of adding capacity that, in the end, may or may not solve the problem. IT is not a gamble, so how do we get them out of the casino? The DMS was the answer. With Infineta’s products, customers can drastically reduce the amount of high speed traffic while filling the WAN links. This delivers faster completion of critical workflows, instant 5x to 10x increase in network capacity, and immense cost savings by lengthening the life of current WANs and pushing out expensive circuit upgrades. That’s the net value we deliver. Better performance. More reliable, efficient network capacity. Lower costs.

SUB: When was Infineta founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?

Kanaya: Infineta was incorporated in mid-2008 with two co-founders and an idea. I’d say the first steps were to prototype our systems and fine tune our data reduction algorithms. There’s a lot of stuff in-between—such as filing patents, buying computers, and so on—but those are the major steps. Then, we began hiring the first of several key engineers. Recruiting talent is a 24/7 effort. I can tell you first-hand that all of those articles stating that hiring talent is critical and hard are actually true. Luckily, we have a fine group of people who are up to the challenge of making a significant impact on customers with a game-changing technology.

SUB: How are you marketing your services?

Kanaya: Fundamentally, I’m a strong believer that marketing starts at identifying a real problem customers want to urgently solve. Then, it’s figuring out the initial product requirements, route to customer or market, identifying collaborative as well as gating factors as it relates to market entry, and honing the proper messaging and positioning to shorten the time-to-mindshare. For us, marketing is not product promotion or merely finding selling channels. So, that’s the basic marketing strategy. Build the right product, find industry allies, message to customer value, and then deliver on that message or promise.

On the execution front, we will initially sell to large enterprise through a direct sales force. Over time, as we mature, we will enlist strategic VARs and technology partners for a better channel mix. Orchestrating a complex channel mix too early is not something we will pursue largely because the initial crop of accounts will require “high touch” and involve longer sales cycles due to the newness of our solution and trial periods the inter-data center WAN solutions require.

SUB: You recently closed a $15 million funding round. How do you plan to use the funds?

Kanaya: We’ve begun shipping DMS so the latest funding will be allocated to building out our sales and marketing. We’ll also invest in engineering, as well.

SUB: Why was this a particularly good time for you to seek a Series B funding round?

Kanaya: Generally speaking, infrastructure investments are not top-of-mind for the venture capital community as a whole, as many prefer to focus on more capital-efficient deals. Any time that you’re building infrastructure or, in our case, hardware, there is more capital required and some VC’s shy away from that. The good news is that we’re addressing a large market opportunity with highly differentiated technology, and that gets the right people to notice.

SUB: Do you plan to seek more funding in the near future?

Kanaya: Most likely, yes. For now, we need to stay focused on building the business with the resources that we have. We’ve got plenty to do!

SUB: What have the biggest obstacles been so far to building Infineta?

Kanaya: Finding the right talent is by far the hardest thing with building highly skilled engineering teams tasked with building first-ever, complex systems. We’re not a Web 2.0 application startup that can crank out a beta product and upload it to the web in sub-12 months or even 6-months. Our full system (hardware plus software) development cycles are long relative to software projects. Given all of those factors, I’m proud of our team for being able to deliver version one of DMS in two years. A lot of people had to sacrifice time spent with family and hobbies to get us to where we are today. Constantly articulating and reinforcing our mission has been instrumental in keeping things moving forward. But, as I’ve said, recruiting talent as a startup grows is tough business.

SUB: Where do you see Infineta in a year from now?

Kanaya: I see Infineta translating vision and product into customer value. It’s that simple.

SUB: Finally, as an entrepreneur who has successfully navigated the waters of the bad economy, what advice do you have for those just now starting out with new ventures?

Kanaya: Great question and one that I often think about. I’d say it’s really three things. Conviction, guts, and perseverance. My VP of marketing once re
minded me of Mark Twain’s quote that “90 percent of life is just showing up.” I’d say the same is true of early stage startups. Ninety percent of being at an early stage startup is about showing up. By showing up, I don’t mean going to work and clocking in. Every single day, you need to go in and put in your best effort—both for self-respect and for your teammates. To do so, however, you need guts. There’s a lot of uncertainty, incomplete information, and unexpected problems that come up with great frequency at startups. To internalize it all and have the courage to move forward and seek solutions, you really need guts. And, no one can persevere or be courageous without conviction—a belief in what you are doing. You can work on the conviction part but the guts and perseverance are traits people bring with them into a startup job. So, you have to have an antenna to be able to find talent with those characteristics.

Infineta Systems – www.infineta.com