Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Former Nicira VP Alan Cohen Joins Stealthy Security Startup Illumio

alan_cohen_illumioAlan Cohen, one of the early executives of the software-defined networking company Nicira, has joined the stealthy security startup Illumio.

Cohen (pictured from a Nicira video) left Cisco Systems to join Nicira in 2011, before it was acquired by VMware for $1.26 billion last summer. Over the weekend, he changed his LinkedIn profile. His new title is chief commercial officer at Illumio. Beyond confirming the change, he didn’t have anything to say about the new company.

Also joining Illumio is Ben Verghese, a former VP and chief management architect at VMware. His title at the new company is VP of engineering.

Details about what Illumio intends to do are kind of sketchy. Its founding CEO is Andrew Rubin, a former CEO of Cymtec Systems. Its CTO and co-founder is PJ Kirner, the former CTO of Cymtec and a onetime distinguished engineer at Juniper. Its VP of product design is Alan Stokol, a former exec at Juniper and Hewlett-Packard. It is based in Santa Clara, Calif.

Illumio’s website describes its mission as “tackling the biggest challenge holding back enterprise adoption of cloud computing.” Also on its website are the three words “virtualization,” “cloud” and “security,” implying that its primary aim is to provide security for virtual machines. Aside from Andreessen Horowitz, it has also landed an investment from the Junos Innovation Fund, the investment arm of networking equipment vendor Juniper Networks. The company received an $8 million series A in March, according to Crunchbase.

Virtualization is a key technology that enables cloud computing. When a computer is virtualized, its physical hardware is carved up by software that allows one computer to act like many. In cloud computing settings, these “virtual machines” are easily spun up via software, and are usually running and configured within minutes, rather than hours, as would be required by a new physical computer. VMware is a significant vendor of virtualization technology. Virtualization is also taking hold in other parts of the data center, including networking and storage.

I’m speculating, but here’s a little about what Illumio seems to be up to: One big concern that causes some resistance by large companies to adopt cloud computing models is security. When machines in the cloud are operated off-premise by someone else, concerns linger about whether or not sufficient security measures have been taken to protect the data stored on them. Current security measures have, for the most part, been developed with physical machines in mind. There are ongoing worries that new kinds of attacks might leverage the virtualization technology itself. Secure that piece of the data-center puzzle, and you have eliminated a lot of those worries.

Nicira, you’ll remember, was once a stealthy startup, also notably backed by Andreessen Horowitz, which focused on creating virtualized networks. It was seen as an early player in the software-defined networking space. It attracted a lot of attention for the people it hired and the competitors it inspired, among them Big Switch Networks.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik