Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Katana Technology, a start-up that aims to link low-end computers into single, more powerful machines, has chosen a new chief executive and has changed its name for the second time in two months, CNET News.com has learned.
John Thibault, a longtime telecommunications technology executive who unsuccessfully ran for the Massachusetts Senate, took over as CEO on Jan. 17. Co-founder and former CEO Scott Davis now is chief technology officer, Thibault said.
The Acton, Mass., company had planned to rename itself VirtuOS Computing, but instead has chosen Virtual Iron, Thibault confirmed in an interview. "VirtuOS is a name no one relates to," he said.
The name Virtual Iron refers to the approach the company uses to make powerful "big iron" servers out of inexpensive lower-end servers linked with the InfiniBand high-speed networking technology. With Virtual Iron's software, a single copy of the Linux operating system can span several machines, the company says.
Key to the approach is the idea of virtualization, which breaks the tight link between software and the physical hardware it runs. By making software run on an abstracted, virtual version of the hardware, changes to the real hardware can be made without ruffling the software's feathers.
Virtual Iron believes the approach will let companies run a host of software tasks on a large group of servers, with different tasks expanding or shrinking as computing demands change—letting hardware be used more efficiently. However, Virtual Iron's approach is one that established server companies such as Dell have explored but so far not offered.
Thibault's priorities will be to get the company's products into the marketplace, secure customer references and round out management, he said.
The new name and CEO aren't the only changes at the company. Virtual Iron also replaced its vice president of marketing and business development, William Ledingham, with Bob Guilbert. Guilbert previously held the same post at storage specialist NSI Software.
Thibault has led several telecommunications technology groups at Wang and Cisco Systems. He also ran start-ups Coral Networks, GeoTel and, most recently, Convergent Networks. When the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, he left Convergent and took time out to run for office.
In his short-lived political career, he finds a silver lining. "It was a very humbling experience. I came out a better person," he said. And his personality wasn't cut out for a career in politics anyway, he added.
Running start-ups today is different. Not surprisingly, new ventures today must be much more conservative with cash compared with start-ups of the 1990s. "There is much more work being done today with less money to go around," he said.
But start-ups also are different from more conservative eras because of scandals and poor management troubles at companies such as Enron and WorldCom, he said.
"All the regulatory changes that have been put in place take some of the flexibility that we had in the early 1990s out of building a company. Revenue recognition is much more defined and more rigorous. The types of investments you make in capital changed," he said. "And the customers are smarter. They aren't buying technology for technology's sake or to try it out. You have to come to market with technology that will solve a problem that is definable or understandable."
Another change is that companies must plan their future beyond an initial public offering or acquisition by a larger company. At Virtual Iron, his goal is to "build a substantial company, take it public and continue to grow it," he said.
The company has shared some details of its technology but plans to demonstrate and fully discuss the technology at the LinuxWorld and Demo shows in February, Thibault said.
Virtual Iron has raised $20 million in two rounds of investment from Goldman Sachs, Highland Capital Partners and Matrix Partners.