Eric the Intransa Gent

The former king of 3Com has popped up as chairman of a stealth mode IP storage startup

July 10, 2001

3 Min Read
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Eric Benhamou, former president and CEO of 3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS) has popped up as Chairman of the Board at Intransa, a stealthy storage networking startup thats reluctant to admit its parentage.

And who can blame it really? 3Com is hardly the picture of success these days.

While Intransa firmly denies that it's a spin-in or spin-out of 3Com, sources at the old networking giant tell us Intransa was a 3Com idea and actually operated on 3Com's campus in Santa Clara for at least six months.

Now based in the heart of Silicon Valley, in Palo Alto, Intransa intends to stay out of the limelight until the beginning of next year. And it’s done a good job of keeping things quiet so far, considering its location. There’s about as much information around on this company, including on its own Website, to fit on the back of a postage stamp. The executives were reluctant to chat for long, too, but here’s what we dug up.

It's just scored $15 million in a first round of funding from a couple of notable VCs -- Advanced Technology Ventures, its first investment in this sector, and U.S. Venture Partners, which has already dipped its toe into this market with an investment in MaXXan Systems Inc.The original concept for Intransa was investigated at 3Com and “most of the staff and intellectual property at Intransa came from us,” says an insider there.

“But the support wasn’t there,” according to Intransa’s founder and president, Peter Wang. Previously he ran the corporate technology group at 3Com before eventually leaving to set up the operation as an independent company last year.

It seems there's little love lost between the two firms today.

Like the shopping list of other startups in this space, Intransa is building a system to address the convergence between IP networks and storage, “to scale-up storage using the network,” Wang says. That describes just about every company on the Byte and Switch Top 10 list of private companies (see Top Ten Private
Storage Networking Companies).

Press material on Intransa states it is: “Building a storage product family that will radically reduce the complexity of mid range through enterprise level, networked storage solutions leveraging Ethernet and IP networking.”And, of course, no storage startup is complete without a dash of virtualization. Geoff Baehr, general partner at U.S. Venture Partners, says, “Intransa will be the leader in virtualized storage, unifying the complex and fragmented non-SAN storage market."

So why didn’t 3Com go for the idea? A booming new sector to pull in an additional stream of revenue is surely just what the ailing, old firm needs. “We can’t go forward with every great idea we have, and Intransa was one of these,” says Brian Johnson, head of corporate communications at 3Com.

3Com flirted with storage area networking back in late 1998 when it took a 10 percent stake in Gadzoox Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: ZOOX). It then changed its mind and pulled out by early 1999, as it would have required “too much investment to become a major player in the Fibre Channel market, which was, by that time, well established,” according to Wang.

However, Benhamou has always had a soft spot for this sector and jumped at the chance to be a part of Intransa. He intends to play an active role in pushing the company forward, says Wang. Benhamou’s also on the board at Legato Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: LGTO).It’s clear Intransa’s skills are heavily weighted on the networking side, with most of the engineering team originating from 3Com. In addition, there’s folk from Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HWP), Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW),and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC). But for more on this bunch, it’s a case of: Watch this space.

— Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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