Wait: Did I just detect a flicker of personality in the enterprise IT industry?

Founders and top execs from firms like Actifio, Plexxi and 128 Technology get colorful

Wait: Did I just detect a flicker of personality in the enterprise IT industry?
Bob Brown/NetworkWorld

Long gone are the days of the colorful enterprise networking industry I knew filled with provocative personalities like Cabletron Systems President Bob Levine and 3Com’s Bob Metcalfe. But at this week’s Xconomy Enterprise Tech Strikes Back event held at the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology in Boston, I actually detected some real-life individuality and swagger to go along with good business ideas being touted by the industry’s latest batch of young companies.

The message in part seemed to be: Why should the Ubers, Airbnbs, Instagrams and other hot consumer-oriented businesses have all the fun?

Xconomy’s Greg Huang deadpanned about how leadoff speaker Ash Ashutosh of Actifio (see also: “Billions of reasons to listen to these Unicorn founders”), after agreeing to speak at the enterprise-focused event, informed Huang that his presentation would be titled “Infrastructure is Dead.”

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During his talk, Ashutosh pointed to big changes in the industry such as EMC’s pending buyout by Dell, and declared that “If you’re building a box, you have a problem.”

ashutosh actifio Bob Brown/NetworkWorld

Actifio Founder/CEO Ash Ashutosh dove into the decoupling of hardware from software in his Infrastructure is Dead talk

Actifio, whose technology virtualizes and manages data for customers, naturally operates in the cloud itself in this time of access to super cheap infrastructure. Ashutosh says Actifio doesn’t even have an IT person among its 400-plus employees.

Yunchun Lee, whose claims to fame include being one of those legendary MIT card counters as well as selling a marketing technology company called Unica to IBM for nearly half a billion dollars, peppered his talk about his latest venture with the sorts of witty lines that make PR and marketing types blanche.

In discussing Allego, the video compression-powered sales learning platform company he leads, Lee lamented the fact that “Sales people learn through practice, but they don’t practice” and confided that “There are a small number of people at your company that know what they’re talking about” (thus accentuating the need to share their knowledge as widely as possibly throughout your company through tools like the ones Allego sells).

Paula Long, who heads up smart data storage company DataGravity, worked cultural references into her discussion about The Future of Data (with VC Rich Levandov and Carbonite CEO Mohamad Ali). She trotted out the oft-repeated mantra of security experts that yeah, you have been breached no matter how many times you deny it, suggesting that “Your data is going to have its own CSI show.” What’s more, your data is going to get into Amber Alert territory, too, she said.

All this, of course, presents an opportunity for startups like Long's to help organizations get their data under control.

carbonite datagravity Bob Brown/NetworkWorld

Carbonite CEO Mohamad Ali & DataGravity CEO Paula Long discuss The Future of Data

The conference even included a – gasp – disagreement on one panel. Asked about the controversial topic of non-complete clauses among tech companies in Massachusetts (a favorite EMC tool to keep employees from bailing from the company and setting up rival operations), ClearSky Data CEO Ellen Rubin said she was “very violently opposed” to non-competes (“let’s just get rid of them and move on”), having seen the damper they put on people’s initiative to start new projects.

But Rich Napolitano, a big-time ex-EMCer who now leads switch and software company Plexxi, said he didn’t understand why the non-compete issue is such a big deal. He said he moved on from EMC with the CEO’s blessing to start his next venture. The key to helping everyone get along is fostering a real ecosystem among regional companies, Napolitano said.

Fellow panelist Andy Ory, whose stealthy 128 Technology is among the most intriguing new network companies and could one day very well be an ecosystem partner for Plexxi, said he thought the non-compete issue was an irrelevant one. Ory said he hired 1,000 people at his last venture, Burlington, Mass.-based Acme Packet, without it ever being an issue (Oracle gobbled up Acme Packet in 2013).

So there you go, a little bit of personality in the enterprise IT market. And I didn’t even get into the Cyber Insecurity panel…

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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