Former Palo Alto CEO Tackling Cloud Security At Zscaler

Lane Bess is ready for his next act and, not surprisingly, his future is in the cloud. Cloud security, to be exact: Bess earlier this month was named COO of Zscaler, a fast-rising SaaS vendor with channel chops and a strong buzz.

"I'm a habitual builder of companies, and I've got a few more left in me, I think," said Bess, reached by phone while on the road in Tokyo earlier this week.

Bess is a longtime channel presence, particularly among security companies. After his tenure as executive vice president, global sales at Trend Micro, Bess became CEO of Palo Alto Networks in June 2008 and was soon the public face of one of the hottest upstarts in Silicon Valley, security or otherwise.

Two years later, Bess and his team had established Palo Alto as a force to be reckoned with -- a network security game-changer throwing a scare into the space's established players, and crossing into cash-flow-positive territory with a potential IPO on the horizon.

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Fast forward nearly another year, and Palo Alto is still firing on all cylinders: The IPO chatter continues and the growth story is impressive.

But Bess is no longer part of it.

Palo Alto said in December 2010 that Bess had resigned -- a decision that Bess and Palo Alto came to mutually "due to differences in leadership philosophy."

According to Bess, he took three and a half months off and spent time with his family. He also did some consulting for clients such as Arista Networks, and the company that's now his employer.

"I became so enamored with what I figured was a game-changing technology with regard to security in the cloud, and [Zscaler CEO] Jay [Chaudhry] approached me," Bess recalled. "He said, 'Are you looking to do another CEO gig?' I told him I'm not about title so much as the excitement of technology and what I think can be built."

Zscaler, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., and founded in 2008, is a cloud security startup earning Silicon Valley buzz not unlike that which Palo Alto had earlier in its development. Zscaler's appeal, said Bess, is that it offers security as a service but does so with a multitenant architecture designed specifically for the cloud services model.

That's a big difference from incumbent vendors that look to extend their legacy, box-based security appliances to provide cloud security services, Bess said. Cloud security and managed security services are expected to approach $17 billion in market opportunity by 2015, according to Infonetics Research, and Zscaler has designs on becoming the space's vanguard vendor.

"We started talking about the idea of putting the Web gateway in the cloud all the way back when I was at Trend Micro years ago, and you just couldn't do it yet," Bess said. "But [Zscaler] was a bottom-up build for the cloud."

Zscaler's services, which comprise Web and e-mail security, require no hardware or software to install, and Zscaler claims the services can protect users from inbound and outbound threats no matter where they're located. The services also protect mobile devices, such as Apple's iPhone and Google Android devices.

As Chaudhry told CRN in January 2010: "In a true multitenant infrastructure, customers take advantage of a common back end, and they're not tied to a single data center. This is what the multitenant architecture is all about."

Zscaler uses nearly 50 data centers around the world to provide its services, which include protection against cross-site scripting as well as other vulnerabilities. According to Bess, Zscaler's most immediate competitor is probably ScanSafe, the SaaS Web security vendor acquired by Cisco in 2009.

Nearly 100 percent of Zscaler's business goes through channel partners, of which there are now about 200 worldwide, according to Bess. The growth of Zscaler's channel will be one of Bess' priorities, particularly the midmarket-focused solution providers that own the relationships with midsize enterprise customers and are in a position to advise them on how to migrate their infrastructure to the cloud model.

There are still plenty of VARs, Bess said, who need to get cloud religion.

"Many traditional security VARs still have the mind-set of selling boxes on premises," he said. "These are technologies that are truthfully old and should be done in the cloud, where they can be done much more scalably and much more effectively."

NEXT: How To Grow Zscaler In The Channel

Bess envisions Zscaler appealing to managed service providers, traditional VARs and systems integrators alike. It's also garnered interest from telecom service providers and carriers very much interested in the flexibility of the Zscaler Cloud.

"I'm a channel guy," Bess said. "The challenge I'm trying to undertake here is not only moving security into the cloud but also to help bring the reseller channel into the cloud. I would like to think four years from now what you'll be hearing is that we did that."

Bess will spend his first 90 days visiting partners and customers around the world, including in Japan and other Asian geographies. The channel will come next, because Zscaler definitely has the technology, he said.

"The guys who came together on the engineering end at Zscaler -- and this is what impressed me most here -- figured out how to build a global infrastructure that could pass traffic at very high, 10-Gig-plus speeds and do the scanning on the fly," Bess said. "You point your IP to the Zscaler Cloud, you could be anywhere in the world, and you're not going to have any latency. And you do that with a cloud structure that creates at the level of capacity."

The company is filling out its management team and Zscaler is on the hunt for channel marketing professionals "looking for a great gig," Bess added.

As for his departure from Palo Alto, Bess said there's nothing more to say.

"It's a great company, and I'm very proud of what we did with the team," Bess said. "I think it will do well."