Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Meet Qwilt, Creator of Smart Video-Caching Gear, and New Member of the Flash Madness Club

Some interviews go faster than others, especially when I can figure out what a company does before they tell me what they’re about. It was like that with Qwilt, a video network infrastructure start-up that is coming out of stealth mode today.

I was on the phone with its two founders: Alon Maor, CEO; and Dan Sahar, VP of marketing. They had just started telling me about how they plan to sell network appliances that network operators — like, say, Comcast or Time Warner or Verizon — might put on their network in order to help them meet the growing demand for video content. The aim, Maor told me, is to get the most popular content as close as you can to the customer.

The first thing that popped into my mind was creating an appliance that sits on the network; close to, but not in the customer’s house. Maybe in the nearest network hub or central office. It turns out I was right. Then I wondered aloud what Qwilt might be using as storage technology. Could it be, maybe … flash memory? The chips that have so revolutionized the data centers of companies like Facebook and Apple and the banking systems of Credit Suisse, among others, when put to use by the likes of Fusion-io and Violin Technology?

Why yes, it does use flash memory, they told me, making them the latest member of the steadily growing “Flash Madness” club, which gives me yet another excuse to use the image taken from the cover of Flash Comics #1, circa 1940. For reference, the other members are Fusion, Violin Memory and Pure Storage.

Maor and Sahar laughed on the other end of the line at my guesses. “Would you like a job in our engineering department?” Sahar kidded me. I didn’t answer, because I wasn’t done guessing things like how Qwilt does what it does. “You must use some kind of algorithm to figure out what’s popular,” I said. Right again, mostly. The interview hadn’t been going for as much as five minutes, and I hadn’t even asked a single question and pretty much had it all figured out.

Well, not everything. There was the small matter of funding. Qwilt has raised $24 million in two rounds from Accel Partners, Redpoint Ventures and the Crescent Point Group, a fund based in Singapore. Maor is a Cisco veteran who got absorbed into that company following its $200 million acquisition of P-Cube. Before that, he was an engineer at Seabridge, which is now known as Nokia Siemens Networks. Sahar was director of marketing at Crescendo Networks, now part of F5 Networks. Tom Dyal, a Redpoint partner, is on Qwilt’s board.

Video is so popular with consumers that Internet services providers are struggling to get their networks scaled up to meet the demand, Maor says. The traditional way to solve that problem when everyone is watching the same show on Hulu, or the same movie on Netflix, is to just add routers and pray. That’s expensive. What if you could add some extra piece of gear that works with the existing network infrastructure? If you could figure out what was the most popular show in a particular neighborhood, make a copy of it right in that very neighborhood, and deliver it from there rather than all the way back from Hulu’s or Netflix’s data center, you’d lessen the network’s burden.

So that’s exactly what Qwilt does: It has three patents pending on processes for determining what video applications are being used on a network, and for figuring out what content is most popular in a particular area. So if you’re in a neighborhood full of “Jersey Shore” fans, the Qwilt box would figure that fairly quickly, and keep copies of it close at hand so that everyone gets their required daily dose of Snooki.

Also on Qwilt’s board is Rich Wong of Accel; Peter Wagner, an independent board member who has previously worked at Accel; Ohad Finkelstein, a partner at Crescent Point; and Giora Yaron, the former chairman of Mercury Interactive, which is now part of Hewlett-Packard. Also investing is Rob Glaser, the former CEO of RealNetworks.

Got all that? I told you it was an easy interview.

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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