Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Now 50 Million Daily Users Strong, OpenDNS Wants to Be “the Akamai for Security”

OpenDNS isn’t a company you think about much. And that’s by design — its products quietly block users on a network from botnets, malware and phishing. But between consumer users and large customers like H&R Block and Deloitte, OpenDNS now has 50 million daily active users.

David Ulevitch headshotThis week, OpenDNS founder and CEO David Ulevitch invited me to the company’s new San Francisco office — a former party-supply warehouse where the walls are now blue and the conference rooms are named after top-level domains — to share new stats and explain more about where his company came from and where it’s going.

In the past three years, OpenDNS has become more of a security company than a domain-name system provider, Ulevitch said. It still routes users to Web sites using a global network of 14 data centers — in fact, it handles about 40 billion DNS requests per day.

But Ulevitch’s goal is to become a distributed security provider — “the Akamai for security,” he called, it, giving people anywhere in the world a secure connection to the Internet on any device — in the same way Akamai delivers content from its huge global network of servers.

Ulevitch, who founded OpenDNS in 2005 straight out of college, is also changing his company’s business model.

OpenDNS has been cash-flow positive since 2007, with “well into eight figures” of revenue today, Ulevitch said.

But where the company used to make its money from advertising a few years ago, today it brings in 75 percent of revenue from paid products, mostly massive enterprise and school deployments. And OpenDNS will soon try to compete with virtual private network and virtual machine providers.

Making money from advertising is a bad fit for a security company, Ulevitch argued. “I think it’s fundamentally incompatible to be paid by somebody who’s not your customer,” he said.

And I can see his point — when I used OpenDNS a few years ago, I was annoyed that it would hijack my attempts to use the browser toolbar to navigate myself to Web sites, by taking me to an ad-supported search results page instead.

OpenDNS has toned all that down now, Ulevitch said.

These changes started to kick in when Ulevitch was reinstated as CEO of his own company in 2009, a year after he’d been demoted by major shareholder Halsey Minor. Minor has since sold his shares and given his board seats to Greylock Partners and Sequoia Capital.

For Ulevitch, spending time under a hired CEO seems to have lit a fire in his belly. Since 2009, OpenDNS users have more than tripled, and the company’s employee count has grown to 80 from 20. Recent management hires include the former CTO of Websense, Dan Hubbard, and the former head of global alliances at ScanSafe (acquired by Cisco), Mark Kreitzman, who now have the same titles at OpenDNS.

Ulevitch’s next challenge? Figuring out if he should change his company’s name to something that better describes what it does now.

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