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Ken Xie

After dabbling with software-based firewalls for most of the early 1990s, Fortinet CEO Ken Xie’s meteoric rise to prominence began in 1996 in a garage in Palo Alto, Calif.

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Published for the Week Of October 18, 2004

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FOR: Integrated firewall appliances

After dabbling with software-based firewalls for most of the early 1990s, Fortinet CEO Ken Xie’s meteoric rise to prominence began in 1996 in a garage in Palo Alto, Calif.

There, in his free time away from his day job at Healtheon, Xie developed his first ASIC-based firewall/VPN appliance. The device boasted stateful packet inspection at faster speeds than ever before, and in 1997, he used the appliance as the foundation to form a company named NetScreen.

But Xie didn’t stop there. Instead of sitting back and watching his bank account grow--Juniper Networks acquired NetScreen earlier this year for $4 billion--the 6-foot, 5-inch engineer from China kept working to make his perimeter security tools better, faster and more robust. He added content-scanning functionality and performance capability. And in 2000, he launched Fortinet, Sunnyvale, Calif., to sell the appliance that came about as a result.

In the brief time since then, Xie has nearly quadrupled Fortinet’s size and is making plans for an initial public offering early next year. He has also built one of the strongest channel programs in the security industry, as well as a unique channel program specifically targeted at managed security service providers.

“At the end of the day, customers really only want to have to go one vendor to solve all of their security needs,” Xie said.

Was the integrated firewall appliance a technological innovation? “I don’t know,” he said. “But it sure makes sense.”

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Education: B.S. and M.S. in engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing
Yahoo or Google: Google
Favorite handheld: RIM’s BlackBerry
Most-used app: Microsoft Outlook
First paying job: TV repairman
Bush or Kerry: “Still undecided.”
Carbs or no carbs: “I eat anything.”

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