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Virtual Instruments: Avoiding "The Abyss", trouncing Brocade and not hiding behind SDN

Bob Brown | April 16, 2013
Virtual Instruments, the nearly 5-year-old infrastructure performance management software and hardware maker, is one of those companies that might never become a household name no matter how successful it becomes. In fact, many at first mistake the company for being in the music business.

But CEO John Thompson, who during 42 years in the tech industry has led Symantec and held high-level positions at IBM, says Virtual Instruments isn't trying to win a popularity contest. It's focused on helping customers make what Thompson says he believes is the inevitable transition from physical to virtual to cloud-based infrastructure. "Would you have had the same degree of ambivalence about CA or VMware years ago? The day I announced I was leaving IBM to go to Symantec, the guy I was working for said 'Who?' I bet the world knows who Symantec is today... If we're as successful as I think we'll be, maybe in 5 years a lot more people will know Virtual Instruments, too."

In a wide-ranging interview with Thompson and Virtual Instruments' Vice President of Marketing John Gentry, we covered everything from competing vs. the likes of Cisco and Brocade to avoiding the SDN buzzword to changing IT careers to naming conference rooms.

Yup, naming conference rooms. Thompson immediately latched onto the candy-themed Reese's conference room name at our office, which indeed does feature a glass container filled with the scrumptious peanut butter and chocolate treats that we're now all sick of. That led to Gentry offering that Virtual Instruments decided to name its conference rooms after virtual reality and sci-fi movies (The Matrix, Blade Runner, etc.), but that he recently decided to scrap The Abyss as the name of the marketing conference room and change it to Star Trek. "That didn't send quite the right message," he says.

Probably a good call for a company that by all accounts is headed in the other direction, growing its customer base and revenue on average 80% to 90% a year (with average deal sizes of $200,000 to $300,000 among mostly Global 2000 organizations) and possibly even filing to go public within the next 12 months. Virtual Instruments (not to be confused with fellow management products company Network Instruments) is a private equity carve-out from a company called Finisar best known for its optical networking technology. Virtual Instruments has raised nearly $70 million in venture funding in an increasingly enterprise IT-friendly investing climate, most recently snagging $27.5 million last fall to help fuel product development. Thompson says Virtual Instruments is chasing a $9 billion market opportunity for software and hardware probes and related offerings.

Virtual Instruments vs. the world 

Thompson says his 250-member team - including 60 in engineering -- feels good about its progress but also has a long way to go. "We've defined a new category called infrastructure performance management and interestingly enough all the big boys (i.e., CA, IBM, etc.) claim they do it, too. We've got to run a bit harder to make sure we don't get caught."


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