Plexxi, the Nashua, N.H.-based maker of optical data-center switches, has quietly transitioned to a new CEO, which it officially announced today. Richard Napolitano, a long-time entrepreneur and tech executive who had been a member of Plexxi’s board for years, has taken over for former CEO David Husak, who will retain a role at the company as executive vice president of engineering and product.
Napolitano (pictured above), who worked closely with Husak to get Plexxi started, has actually been CEO for two months. Husak says he had convinced Napolitano to get involved in the company, then later talked him into being the boss. The idea germinated several years ago over drinks at the Gibbet Hill Grill in Groton, Mass., according to the two of them.
“It was time to get back in the startup world,” says Napolitano, who most recently was president of EMC‘s unified storage division. “Dave and I hit it off a few years ago and he’s been working on me a long time.”
“Yes, we remember it very well, as his last words were, ‘You know I hate you,'” says Husak. “The reason he hated me is that I had penetrated the bubble of the big company executive to get his startup juices flowing again.”
In moving on, Husak hints that he might be an engineering guy at heart, not a CEO, whose tasks tend to gravitate more toward raising capital and selling.
“This was my first CEO job,” said Husak. “There’s a lot to learn in building out an early development organization. The fact is that Rich’s fingerprints are all over Plexxi. We’re at that inflection point. Plexxi is transitioning.”
Napolitano has been in the networking business most of his career, as a startup founder, CEO, and big-company executive. He started out working for DEC in the 1980s, then was the principal software engineer at Blue Point Systems, which was sold to Adobe. He later founded his own companies, including Data Kinesis, which was acquired by Adaptec in 1996, and then in 2000 he was the founder and CEO of Pirus Networks, which was sold to Sun Microsystems. At Sun, he was president of U.S. sales, and then later he moved to EMC.
Although there has been some buzz in industry circles about Plexxi having hit some rough patches gaining revenue traction, both Napolitano and Husak deny this, saying revenue is building with the newly launched Switch 2 product. They both said further customer announcements will be coming in the next few weeks.
“We’ll have double-digit millions in revenue next year,” Napolitano says.
As part of that mission, Napolitano also helped recruit one of his new top sales guys. Plexxi also appointed Tim Lieto as senior vice president of sales and customer service to lead the company’s worldwide sales and channel effort. Lieto held similar positions at Sun, 3Com, and Lucent.
Plexxi is going to start stressing its role in helping scale-out data center applications, such as big data, quickly move data between servers. Although Plexxi is often lumped into the broad category of software-defined networking (SDN), it’s actually a hardware company.
The Plexxi Switch 2 is designed for high-scale data applications, with 48 10-Gb/s access ports, four optical ports, and 2.56 Tb/s in total switching capacity. The idea is that the switch that can create an optical fast lane to shuttle east-west traffic between racks in data centers. This is important, as the large-scale data centers that address big data often end up moving more bits within the data center than to WAN connections to the outside world.
The company says its unique positioning as a data-center switch has led it to focus on three market use cases: agile IT datacenters, scale-out application infrastructure, and distributed cloud environments.
“Plexxi is a better infrastructure for cloud, Hadoop, and big data,” says Napolitano. ” It’s a unique moment in the industry.”
Husak says the Plexxi technology, because it includes optical switching, is still on track for industry trends. “If you think about five to 10 years from now, networks don’t scale to where they need to get to unless they embrace photonics. Plexxi is the only company with products like that in the market.”
When asked about the company’s funding and employees, Napolitano says the company is hiring. It currently has about 76 employees and it plans to add another 20 engineers.
The company, which has raised $48 million in its first three rounds of funding, won’t be looking for another round still the second quarter of next year, says Napolitano. The company last raised $20 million, in June 2012.