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Founding Nuova Systems

OTD 2005: Nuova Systems is founded, and I get to carry a $10M check to the bank.
Steve Mcgarrett Tani Rey GIF by CBS

I was especially careful handling the check, because when Ipsilon was funded back in 1994, one of the VCs lost his check in the bushes outside the office!

In 2004 I had started Netillion, but we never made it past seed funding. We spent the summer of 2005 trying to sell the team and/or IP of Netillion, including to Sun and Cisco.

At the same time, the famous MPLS team had “retired” from Cisco, and they were putting together a startup. MPLS = Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Cafiero, Soni Jiandani. Perhaps the most legendary team in Silicon Valley.

Mario and Luca had been together since Olivetti. Prem joined them at David Systems (with my sister-in-law Peggy Asprey). I think Soni joined at Crescendo – which became Cisco’s first acquisition.

They went through incredible growth and countless acquisitions at Cisco. I had met Mario around 2003 – Andy Bechtolsheim had left Cisco and was building servers at Kealia. Mario wanted help figuring out if Cisco should buy or partner with them.

That didn’t happen, but MPLS were definitely interested in the server space, so when Mario heard I had a failing startup he gave me a call. They wanted to do a startup that was “in-between” networks and server, seeking better integration.

Saying no to Mario and Luca is both stupid and impossible, so I jumped at the opportunity. But what of Netillion? I had spent an honorable amount of time and grief trying to sell it, so it was time to let it die. BUT…

I was able to take the entire team to Nuova! Soft landing! Myself, Satya Nishtala, Joe Eykholt, Peter Newman, and Ben Stoltz. We were the first Nuova employees.

But back to founding – we were hanging out at Wilson Sonsini to create the incorporation documents, etc., when the MPLS team mentioned that they weren’t sure whether they were still Cisco employees! (using up vacation time or whatever)

I did not want any possible Cisco legal entanglement at that stage, so I ended up being the sole legal founder of Nuova. Mario wrote a check for $10M, as a loan – paid back later when Cisco turned us into a spin-in.

It's common practice at the lawyers to draw up papers for "New Company" or "NewCo" until a name is chosen. Someone at WSGR was clever and came up with "Nuova Impresa" because that was Italian for "New Company" (Mario and Luca are *very* Italian).

The name stuck, except we changed it to “Nuova Systems”. A month or two later, we also recruited @ebugnion from VMware/EMC to be our sixth founder. He made a huge difference.

It quickly became obvious to the folks at Cisco that they had to do a deal with Nuova – otherwise MPLS could recruit *anyone* from Cisco – and we were getting plenty of unsolicited applications.

Two really key people: J.R. Rivers and Dan Lenoski – we got from Google – but they had been recently at Cisco. With these guys and their people networks, we had the best Ethernet switch team in the world.

J.R. went on to found Cumulus Networks. Dan is the best engineering manager I’ve ever worked with, he went on to manage iPhone hw at Apple(!) and then to found Barefoot Networks.

So the *first* deal with Cisco was to create the Nexus 5000 series of top-of-rack 10 gigabit Ethernet switches. That was final and announced in August 2006 – we were officially a spin-in then.

A key innovation in the switch – putting the ports in the rear, which is where the servers had their ports. Prior to that, network equipment only had ports in the front. I kid you not. But the 5000 really made 10G affordable for servers.

But the Nuova founders wanted to do more than yet another switch. It took more time and money to get Cisco on-board, but in April 2007 we announced the second deal. Which was developing the Cisco UCS server series. By May of 2008, we had met our milestones…

and Cisco acquired the rest of Nuova. Cisco UCS was announced in March of 2009, and it trounced the comparable blade server systems (HP, IBM). I believe UCS ultimately caused IBM to exit the x86 server space! Good times!

Originally tweeted by 𝙏𝙤𝙢 𝙇𝙮𝙤𝙣 – (@aka_pugs) on September 6, 2021.

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