New CEO At SDN Startup Plexxi: Former EMC Exec Rich Napolitano

Software-defined networking upstart Plexxi on Monday named former EMC executive Richard Napolitano as CEO in a move that gives the young company a new level of maturity as it develops its strategy for disrupting the networking business.

Napolitano, who in April left his position as president of EMC's former Unified Storage Division, is taking over the CEO spot for Nashua, N.H.-based Plexxi, a move which gives former CEO and company founder David Husak more time to focus on the engineering side of the business.

Joining Napolitano at Plexxi is Tim Lieto, the company's new senior vice president of sales and customer service, where he will lead sales, channels and distribution.

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Plexxi is a developer of software that "renders" network configurations based on application requirements. That software sits on the company's software-definable hardware platform, which uses photonics to create flexible networking paths.

Plexxi's initial solution went into beta about 18 months ago, and the current version was released in June, Napolitano told CRN.

"The time is now for Dave to bring in guys like Tim to drive sales and let Dave focus on the technology," he said. "I'm just overhead."

Napolitano is far more than overhead, said Jamie Shepard, regional and health systems senior vice president at Lumenate, a Dallas-based solution provider and longtime EMC channel partner.

At EMC, Napolitano revamped that company's midrange VNX line and pushed the development of the entry-level VNXe family and the newer VNX2 line, Shepard told CRN.

"In the last three years, Rich went through blood, tears and sweat getting the VNX family into shape," he said. "His whole focus was on developing the infrastructure to provide applications, and protect applications."

Napolitano has a lot of experience in developing software-defined technology, making him ideal for the Plexxi role, Shepard said.

"If you look at why this is such an awesome move, it's not about storage," he said. "It's about making applications intelligent. And that is something you can only do with software-defined."

In the networking world, many companies like Cisco provide quality of service, which is important, Shepard said. "But the world today is about the application and the user," he said. "Applications are getting mobile. The problem is how those applications are accessed. With software-defined, you need to decouple the hardware. The application needs to decide where it needs to go."

NEXT: SDN Lets The Applications Do The Work

With VNX, Napolitano came up with the idea of letting the application change the storage, Shepard said. "If the app needs something, don't let the administrator do it. Let the app do it. Now he's doing the same with software-defined networking. Think about that label. 'Software-defined.' So fitting a name. You could call it app-defined networking."

Napolitano is not new to Plexxi. He actually joined the company's board of directors about three years ago, and is the only independent member of the board, Husak told CRN.

"He has been a mentor to me," he said. "His fingerprints are all over the company."

Plexxi is similar to all networking vendors that have a software-defined networking technology sitting on top of their hardware. However, Napolitano said, Plexxi's difference is in how its hardware can be quickly defined and redefined by the company's software in response to the needs of a customer's application.

"Our solution is highly differentiated," he said. "It can integrate into VMware or OpenStack environments, or live underneath Cloudera or HortonWorks environments."

Plexxi offers a software-definable hardware platform, Napolitano said. "We say the underlying hardware matters. We see many, many paths in the network. And since we use photonics, we can see a 90 percent reduction in cables in 1:1 connections," he said.

More importantly, Napolitano said, the Plexxi solution easily adopts to everyday needs. "One customer in the first quarter plans to deploy our solution," he said. "They want to render one network for VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] in the day, and render another for analytics at night, with the same hardware."

Most software-defined networking companies require customers to buy switches, virtual switches, and other gear for each implementation, Husak said. "How software-definable is that? We provide a single hardware platform to do all that."

SDN overlays like VMware's NSX require the building of multiple network overlays, Husak said. "You need flexible topologies," he said. "We can render all those networks over one infrastructure. We're the one network for when you need multiple networks."

Plexxi's naming of Napolitano shows the company is ready to grow up, Shepard said. "Plexxi either has a great management team and board of directors who understand Rich, or Rich just happens to have a great Italian smile they liked," he said.