Pirus Gets Sun Tan

Former Pirus CEO Rich Napolitano says his job at Sun isn't much different. Really?

February 25, 2003

3 Min Read
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When a huge company acquires a startup, the smaller player often gets sucked into a black hole -- never to be heard from again.

Not Pirus Networks. It's basically been full speed ahead for the storage virtualization switch crew, which was acquired last September by Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) in a deal worth around $165 million. Sun left the startup -- still based in the same Acton, Mass., offices -- largely intact, although it didn't retain Pirus's salespeople (see Sun Beams on Pirus and Sun Completes Pirus Acquisition).

Since becoming a Sun employee, former Pirus CEO Rich Napolitano has been out selling the switch as aggressively as ever. "Really, the job hasn't changed much, to tell you the truth," he says.

This isn't completely true. The Pirus technology, from a marketing perspective, has already been subsumed into Sun's N1 strategy, which is supposed to unify the management of data center resources (see Sun to Pilot N1 in Q1). Meanwhile, the next generation of the Pirus technology [ed. note: not to be confused with Toyota's Prius] will be delivered as an integrated piece of Sun's StorEdge 6900 array. That's definitely a shift from Pirus's previous goal, which was to eliminate a customer's reliance on a single vendor's storage arrays.

Napolitano, however, argues that Pirus's original mission is consistent with Sun's culture of offering open, standards-based systems. It's only that the channels for how that technology is delivered have changed. "What Pirus was about was moving [intelligence] to the edge, which was intended to give people degrees of freedom to pick their back-end storage subsystem," he says. "That's still our proposition." Or to put it another way: Maybe the Kool-Aid at Sun and Pirus is pretty much the same flavor?But Sun has sidelined the iSCSI and file system technologies that Pirus spent significant engineering resources developing. Napolitano, who's now VP of the newly created Data Services Platform Group in Sun's storage division, says his group's top priority now is to find the "quickest path to revenue" and that the market for IP SANs simply isn't ready yet.

"I think we overestimated, ourselves, how fast iSCSI would be adopted," he says, when asked if there was anything he would have done differently at Pirus. "Fortunately, our proposition was broad enough that we could morph -- we could deemphasize iSCSI, focus on Fibre Channel, or NAS, wherever the market opportunity is."

Napolitano started his career in high tech at Digital Equipment Corp. After that, he became director of software at BluePoint Technologies, which was acquired by Adobe Systems Inc. in 1989. He then founded Data Kinesis, a hardware RAID and file system controller developer, which he sold to Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT) in 1996.

But he doesn't see another startup in his future, saying he's committed to building Sun's storage business. Besides, Napolitano doesn't want to tempt fate: "You start doing the math of the probabilities [of successfully launching a startup], and it starts getting very, very small of hitting another one."

Read Napolitano's full interview hereTodd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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