By YASMIN GHAHREMANI
Special contributor to Silicon Hills News
Something was bothering Larry Warnock. It was 2010 and the former CEO of Phurnace Software had recently finished leading his company through a successful sale to BMC. His next challenge was advising two Houston entrepreneurs on how to realize their business idea.
Mike Umansky and Chris Gillan had come up with an encryption solution for open source software that filled a gaping hole in the cloud computing market. But Warnock felt the name they’d chosen for their company, Critotech, was all wrong. It wasn’t just that it sounded like a relic from a Cold War spy novel. It was that the name’s security connotations would hamstring the company’s growth outside the encryption space, a goal the startup veteran considered crucial to its long-term success.
“I didn’t want to be known as Encryption, Inc.,” says Warnock.
So when he joined the firm as CEO that year, one of the first things he did was look for a fresh web brand name. In a request that sounds like it’s straight out of Seinfeld, he asked his team to come up with a name that meant nothing. He didn’t want the company typecast as it continued to find itself. After some fruitless brainstorming, the team began to look through comic books for words used to denote sounds.
“Sure enough a guy went home and his son found in a comic book a picture of a good guy punching a bad guy and it said ‘Gazang,’” recalls Warnock. “And it was in a little cloud. So we said that’s it.”
Gazang.com was already taken, so they added another Z to make the name Gazzang.
Blank slate in hand, the team has since been writing its own story in the cloud. Management has narrowed the market focus to customers who need Big Data solutions. And it’s got two new cloud tools in the works – one of which will debut in July.
Not that the founders are ashamed of their encryption roots. On the contrary, their flagship platform-as-a-service software, recently renamed zNcrypt, is turning heads. Gazzang was one of 10 vendors recently selected for the MIT Sloan CIO Innovation Showcase. What’s more, the company recorded its strongest quarter to date in Q1 and its customer base has expanded to 220, including Philips Electronics, the United States Department of Health and Human Services and Boston Children’s Hospital. Healthcare, finance and government are target sectors because they’re required to protect data.
“Compliance was a huge thing for these folks – PCI, HIPAA, SOX – all those guidelines were big challenges,” says Umansky.
He and Gillan first got the idea for zNcrypt while talking with people involved in grid computing and virtual machine automation – the predecessors of cloud computing. Users needed encryption that wouldn’t interfere with the performance of their databases and other applications.
“Chris and I did market analysis and realized that MySQL was the database of choice for these guys,” says Umansky. “It had such huge traction and really there was no way to encrypt that data at rest, so we went out and built our transparent data encryption platform and key management platform.” Transparent data encryption is a process that happens on the fly and behind the scenes so the developer doesn’t have to change the database or underlying application.
“It just happens auto-magically as the data goes to the disk,” explains Warnock. “Then when the data is requested back for processing, its magic key determines if that requester is authorized.”
Because zNcrypt secures the data instantly, it leaves less room for breaches than products that only encrypt periodically. The tool now protects all LAMP-based applications and data. Wendy Nather, research director of the enterprise security practice at 451 Research, says no one else is specializing in database security for the open source community, and it’s a problem that badly needs an answer.
“Every enterprise has open source software somewhere incorporated,” says Nather. “Even if they’re writing their own software, chances are a developer has incorporated some open source components in it. When you’re developing things and you need a lab to play with you’re generally going to turn to open source components because they’re cheaper and you can have as many as you want when you need them.”
Chasing Big Data
Gazzang has continued to refine its direction, shifting slightly when Big Data began to gain
attention. Big Data refers to huge data sets that are not well suited to be handled by current relational databases – usually petabytes or exabytes of information. Much of the data created today couldn’t be processed in a relational database anyway because it is unstructured. It comes from smart phones, tablet computers, cameras and numerous other connected devices.
Data and distributed file system technologies like Hadoop, Cassandra and MongoDB can turn these otherwise lost bits of data into valuable information that companies, governments,science organizations and the like can analyze for insights. Marketers use Big Data to understand aggregate buying behavior and computer scientists use it to analyze the interactions of thousands of nodes in a network.
Gazzang realized that its zNcrypt architecture would fit with technologies like Hadoop and decided Big Data is the way of the future. It’s a change from what the founders initially envisioned but Warnock says that’s par for the course in startup-land.
“Every startup I’ve been in, when we ultimately had great success it was different than what we thought it was going to be,” he says.
Investors are happy with the way things are turning out too. Austin Ventures provided Gazzang with Series A funding worth $3.5 million and has been pleasantly surprised by the turn of events.
“The customer set they’ve gotten has been a little bit different than we originally thought it would be but better in some ways because the deals are larger and the sales cycle is frankly a little bit shorter,” says Thomas Ball, general partner at Austin Ventures.
With all the hype around the cloud and Big Data, Ball concedes that Gazzang risks getting lost in a game of lingo bingo.
“I think positioning and rising above the clutter is the biggest challenge because everyone wants to use the term cloud now,” he says. “But when people see how good the product is and how easy it is to scale, it’s an easy sale.”
In the pipeline
Next up on Gazzang’s agenda: zTrustee, a universal key manager for a wide variety of applications. zNcrypt manages keys for data it encrypts but zTrustee will work with any kind of key, certificate or token used for a wide array of computing processes. It’s intended to be a “single point of trust” for keys and the policies around them, and it will launch in July.
Later this year the company will roll out zOps, a console to monitor and diagnose issues with cloud computing functions.
It’s all part of Warnock’s vision for market expansion beyond the encryption space.
“A lot of the data center tools that exist were never built for the cloud,” he says. “So there’s actually a market opportunity to rebuild all the tools people have been relying on but in this new architecture.”
If Warnock has his way, when people say the name Gazzang they’ll hear a bat hitting a home run.
“What we’re doing with Gazzang and what I think works best in early-stage is to swing for the bleachers,” he says. “We are going to be wildly successful or an epic disaster.”
Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure. The game will certainly be interesting.