Lefthand Grabs Another Fistful

Lefthand Networks tops off financial tank with a $3 million mini-round

June 27, 2001

4 Min Read
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Lefthand Networks, the Boulder, Colo., startup from Lefthand Valley, has grabbed an extra $3 million from new investors Portage Venturesand Ironside Ventures, topping off the $10 million it raised in April.

Lefthand is named after Chief Niwot ("the lefthander") of the Arapaho, who was an English interpreter and negotiator for settlers drawn to Colorado in 1859 by the gold strikes. It is making a hardware device that interprets (geddit?) data on storage-area networks (SANs) and in network-attached storage (NAS) and unites it into a single, harmonious network.

The product, code-named Sawtooth, is a hybrid device that blends into one system the file-oriented data common to NAS devices with the block-oriented database, data warehousing, or transaction data residing on SANs. That allows users greater flexibility in configuring their storage networks and accomplishes one of the goals of virtualization, the current Holy Grail of storage networking.

The approach Lefthand has adopted uses the speed of gigabit Ethernet and borrows distributed processing and clustering techniques from the supercomputer industry. The goal is to provide massively scaleable storage that presents the user with a single system image. For example, scaling from 500 gigabytes to 500 terabytes would be a seamless move in all dimensions -- capacity, bandwidth, and processing power -- and the system would behave as if it were a single box. Sounds impressive, if they can pull it off. They are keeping quiet about exactly what final shape their system will take.

Lefthand’s advantage is that a user can buy what he needs, then add whatever incremental elements are required, and the system automatically 'morphs' into a new, unified whole,” says Steve Duplessie, principal analyst with research firm, Enterprise Storage Group Inc. In theory, Duplessie says, there is no downside to this arrangement; but he thinks that in practice they may have to unveil file services (CIFS and NFS) first and provide block services later.This makes sense in light of the company’s product roadmap. Gigabit-Ethernet-supported products are expected to ship in the third quarter of 2001 with a base unit selling for under $15,000. In early 2002, Lefthand will support a Fibre Channel interface enabling the product to sit on the SAN for block-based storage delivery.

Only a small number of players (or potential players) have figured out how to make their subsystems "data structure agnostic," i.e., offer files when required or blocks when required from the same platform.

And the innovation is all happening in the startup arena. At the very high end are 3PARdata, Cereva Networks Inc., Yotta Yotta, and Exanet Inc. (See Top Ten Private
Storage Networking Companies.) The mid-tier companies include Lefthand, Panasas, and Tricord Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: TRCD) -- and plenty more highly stealthy startups. Then there are the software plays, like Sistina Software, PolyServe, InterMemory, and Ibrix. Lefthand will also have to contend with giants EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)and Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP), once they eventually build or buy this technology.

On the customer front, Lefthand is targeting all the big financial services companies, including Goldman Sachs & Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc..

Former GE honcho Bill Chambers (no relation to John) is the CEO of Lefthand and formed the company with John Spiers, the CTO, whom he was trying to recruit to join his previous company, Tango Technologies, a software services organization.The two held regular meetings at the Lefthand Brewery and hit it off immediately. But instead of Spiers coming to work for Chambers, he turned the whole thing around by presenting Chambers with a prototype of Sawtooth, showing he was way ahead of anything else on the market.

Chambers saw the potential, hired a new management team for Tango, then quit to start up Lefthand Networks (he remains on the Tango board). Lefthand now has 35 employees assembled from the major storage and networking companies. (Even the best of startups steal people. The worst steal ideas.)

“[Lefthand] will be one of the first that has demonstrable product and, as such, may have an advantage with the OEMs,” says Duplessie. If they can keep out of the brewery long enough. Chambers told Byte and Switch, “We can still be found down there holding ‘strategy’ meetings from time to time.”

— Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch http://www.byteandswitch.com

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