Many veterans of the networking technology market will recognize the name Jonathan Reeves. A long-time entrepreneur with engineering roots dating back to General Datacomm in the early 1990s, Reeves has long been part of the New England startup community, having launched successful outfits such as Sahara Networks and Sirocco Systems. A trained engineer, he can also talk tech shop with the best of them, reminiscing about the era of Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) technology.
A UK native and long-time Connecticut resident, Reeves over the last several years has been focusing on the cloud services and virtualization market as the Chief Strategy Officer of AFORE Solutions, a Candian company. Reeves joined AFORE in 2007 and helped lead its re-positioning around security in cloud-computing environments. He leads product strategy and is the “vision” guy, working with business partner AFORE CEO Alex Berlin, who runs most of the operations of the company.
This week, at the VMWorld conference in San Francisco, Ottawa, Ontario-based AFORE Technologies is making a splash with its new product, CypherX, a security product that aims to solve the vexing and complicated problem of securing cloud-based applications.
Reeves indicated in a phone interview and later by e-mail that the telcommunications systems market had changed sufficiently to lead him to greener pastures. That trajectory can be tracked by his startup starts and finishes. His first big score, Sahara Systems, was sold in 1997 for about $217M to Cascade Communications, a legendary New England communications tech company which was later subsumed by Ascend Communications, which in turn was gobbled up by the former Lucent Technologies just before the implosion of the tech and telecom bubble in 2000. Sirocco, Reeves’ greatest score to date, was bought by Sycamore Networks Inc. in 2000 for nearly $3B in stock, putting him in the upper echelon of entrepreneurs who cashed in on the networking bubble — with great timing. But his next gig, Mangrove Systems, was not as successful. Its assets acquired by Carrier Access for about $8 million, far less than the capital that was pumped into the company His most recent venture was NextCloud, a cloud-computing play which was quietly sold to California cloud-hosting company TSE Communications.
With his last two startups not having gone as well as the first two, Reeves is looking to re-establish his game with AFORE. In follow-up questions by e-mail, Reeves referred to Mangrove days as his most difficult. “Mangrove was a difficult situation, the telecom market had literally imploded and there were few exit opportunities in the space at that time in 2007… Assets were sold to Carrier Access and company wound down. One of the most difficult periods, perhaps lessons learned but difficult to see a company with such potential that was unable to keep going.”
These lessons led Reeves into different markets, as it was clear by that time that virtualization and cloud computing was the future. AFORE looks promising. It has won some industry awards by focusing on security products in a virtualized network environment. As Reeves points out, networks are changing drastically with the introduction of cloud services and Software Defined Networks (SDN). On the security front, enterprises are challenged more than ever, as data moves around more rapidly in cloud environments. That’s not to mention the need for security strategies that combat rogue data bandits such as the former NSA analyst Edward Snowden.
So read on, and follow some of these key trends form my interview with Reeves a little more than a week ago:
Rayno Report: Tell us about your move to AFORE Solutions. How did you get involved?
J. Reeves: After Mangrove it was clear things were not happening in hardware. It’s becoming more of a software-centric world, not just applications but core functions. That’s a real departure. You really don’t need network processors. There are software-defined elements. Pretty interesting time.
RR: So, it’s clear you shifted directions.
Reeves: I decided to focus on the cloud 4-5 years ago. I was involved with AFORE. I started a cloud hosting company called NextCloud, which was focused on an enterprise-grade experience. There’s one way to understand the cloud and that’s to build one. We started to host real workload.
RR: What happened to NextCloud? NextCloud was acquired [by California-based TSE]. We had a data center. We did a lot of work with VDI, high-performance Citrix (CTXS) farms. There was a need for a high-performance database. We built out some fiber infrastructure.
RR: What’s going on with AFORE?
Reeves: For the last three years, AFORE’S been focused on cyber security. We were taking the company from a services company to a focused product company. Three years ago we commenced a program that was focused on cloud security. It sits between the virtual machines, running on the physical hosts, physical storage.
Cloudlink is a virtual application that sits between the applications and the storage feeding the data. It’s a software layer managing access to the data beneath it. It’s an important approach. We are able to talk to the virtual machines and present a storage interface. The key thing in the encryption process is that it is in the hands of the enterprise — the gateway can control all the data in the cloud. This way, you can solve HIPPA compliance and PCI compliance. If you leave the cloud, there’s a digital shredder that will ensure that your data is no longer accessible.
RR: Sounds cool. So what are some of the key developments at the company?
Reeves: We Just recently signed an agreement with EMC. This is being sold by the EMC sales force. We’ve been bringing funding into the company — $6 million in financing. We’re launching CypherX at VMWorld [this week]. CypherX is focused on the next layer of granularity — it moves into the operating system itself. It puts a secure virtual container around applications running in the cloud. On that virtual desktop you might have different applications running. What CypherX does is allow you to protect applications. Network, sockets, clipboard, files, everything, is encrypted. You build a secure zone around those applications.
RR: Virtualization is spawning a lot of interesting new technology, it seems.
Reeves: Yes. There’s been some interesting technology from a company called Bromium. It allows you to run each Windows process as a mini virtual machine, which protects against malware. CypherX goes beyond just malware protection and in particular protects against APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats), which foreign governments are using to penetrate defense contractors. It also protects against insiders. Insiders are the weakest link because they don’t follow policies and procedure. All the information coming out of cypher zone is encrypted. If you cut and past, it’s encrypted. If you drop something dropbox, it’s encrypted.
Reeves: It’s become a serious problem. With the [foreign hackers], you’re not dealing with a lone ranger, they are building entire development teams. An APT is built to be embedded in a file. So if you open a word file, it [gets into your system] and builds something very sophisticated and you don’t know what’s happening. The APT builds a path across your file system and starts siphoning off data. All this is happening and you have no idea.
(At this point the Rayno Report editor squirms and checks to see if his anti-virus system is updated)
The easier it is for us to communicate, the more open it is to abuse. The cloud environment has made this easier. It is easier to plant this malware.
RR: How does what you are doing relate to Software Defined Networks (SDN)? I have been digging into SDN for weeks and trying to figure out what it means.
Reeves: The SDN movement is a significant one, NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) is attempting to ring that software-defined environment into the carrier space. That’s an interesting wave for sure. Virtualization is everywhere. It’s tried true and now it’s trusted.
Rayno Report: Tell me about what that means for the big IT companies.
Reeves: Microsoft has done well bring HyperV and bring that up to snuff with VMWare. HyperV is coming on pretty strong. There’s a lot of mud being thrown at Microsoft for [what they’ve screwed up] in BYOD devices and tablet devices. But in the server realm they’ve done very well. Server 2012 is a very strong product. Microsoft is continuing to have a strong position in the data center. We work with both.
RR: What do you expect to see at VMWorld? VMWare is doing a lot more work with storage and they’ve been talking about the challenges or benefits of a shared SAN (Storage Area Networking) working with VMWare. Clustering relies on the fact that you’ve got shared storage. The virtual machine image is stored on a shared SAN. There’s been a lot of improvement in how fast and how scaleable that is. Ultimately SANs are not the answer, you need fully shared storage and a grid system. We expect to seem some information in that, which will be interesting.
[This paragraph may be daunting for the less technically inclined. Basically Reeves is talking about the virtualization of data centers — a foundation of cloud computing — in which computer servers are split up and “virtualized” for the same computer to run different operating systems and applications for thousands of clients to access. But the data must also be stored somewhere, so the storage network, or SAN, is another component of this. For a great primer on the whole virtualization trend, read this.]
RR: Back to your company. So you came to AFORE about five years ago. Tell us about the big changes you made. Alex Berlin is the CEO.
Reeves: Alex and I had a good long chat about how you change the company. It was very hard at that time to get venture dollars to fund new ventures. We had a company at that point that was profitable and had top talent. We could pivot and wait for when the VC dollars came back. [Our investment] was led by BDC, smaller investors.
RR: How many employees does AFORE have?
Reeves: 50. The company has existed for almost 10 years. About 4 years we started this pivotal change. That’s when we went into cloud security cloud.
RR: How many startups have you done done in total now?
Reeves: Sahara, Sirocco, Mangrove, NextCloud, AFORE. [So, five.]
RR: You’ve had a long relationship with venture capitalists. I’ve writen that the VC business is somewhat under assault right now. Do you see that, entrepreneurs not trusting them as much anymore?
Reeves: Venture capital had lost it’s ability to innovate. There was not enough investment going in to new ventures. It became very risk-adverse. Recently, what I’ve noticed is an upswing. I’ve seen a more aggressive approach.
RR: So, it’s coming back?
Reeves: They were ignoring networking and communications for a while. It was all Internet deals, more on the software Web-based applications side. Networking was a dirty word. But recently a VC told me it’s hot again. But it’s not like the old networking, it’s not about hardware, it’s about software overlays. It’s still very laborious process.
RR: Thanks for your time Jonathan. Good luck with the new product launch!
Reeves: Thank You.