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Raj Singh Resurfaces

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News Analysis
Light Reading

Raj Singh isn't done with startups, apparently.

Singh, a founder of jackpot startup Fiberlane and VC firm Redwood Venture Partners LLC, is CEO of stealth-mode startup Sonoa Systems Inc.

Having just launched in July, Sonoa doesn't have much to discuss yet. "We are far away from what we're trying to do, so we're trying to keep a low profile," says Ravi Chandra, chief operating officer.

But it seems likely Sonoa is a semiconductor firm, considering Atiq Raza, CEO of Raza Microelectronics Inc., is its chairman and an initial investor. Sonoa is working on an "XML processor," according to Jay Sethuram, another Sonoa investor who helped Singh found Fiberlane and StratumOne.

Singh wouldn't give details about Sonoa's technology, saying only that it's based on the concept of merging servers and switches to simplify the data center.

Whatever Sonoa's idea is, it's attracted an undisclosed amount of venture funding from Bay Partners and Norwest Venture Partners.

It's also attracted its share of Redback Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RBAK) veterans -- hardly surprising, considering Siara, one of the Fiberlane spinoffs, was sold to Redback (we'll summarize the whole Fiberlane thing in a minute). Ravi Chandra, the former VP of engineering who left Redback last fall, is Sonoa's chief operating officer (see Former Ceyba CEO Joins Redback). Other execs hailing from Redback include VP of product management Kishore Seshadri and VP of engineering Ravi Krishna.

Rounding out the team is chief technology officer Vikas Deolaliker, who was CTO of high performance and technical computing at Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW).

Sonoa is still in its hatchling phase, with 15 employees in the U.S. and another five in India, Singh says.

XML processing is becoming chic, as enterprises adopt the markup language for tasks such as transaction processing. Router companies, in turn, are interested in switching and routing traffic based on the XML code itself, as opposed to Ethernet or Internet Protocol (IP). The trend even has Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) interested, as the company is rumored to be preparing an XML acceleration technology called Application-Oriented Networking (AON). (See Telecom Startups Play in XML.)

At the chip level, specialized language processors are being developed to process XML, HTML, and other languages. In most cases, the chips are accelerators, similar in principle to the security chips that offload encryption calculations from a host microprocessor.

Tarari Inc., a 2002 spinoff of Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), got into the XML acceleration game early, targeting the security market (see Intel Spinoff Targets XML, Viruses).

Another company in the space is Xambala Inc., whose CEO, Samba Murthy, sold network processor startup XaQti to Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) in July 1999 for roughly $127 million in stock. Xambala is producing what it calls a "semantic processor" applicable to any application traffic, including XML payloads, but officials aren't giving out any specifics.

To add to the criss-cross of relationships in this story, Murthy tells Light Reading that Singh was an early investor in Xambala back in 2001. Singh wasn't involved with Xambala beyond that, though; he's obviously moved on to Sonoa, while Xambala has picked up undisclosed amounts of funding from Jafco Ventures, Mohr Davidow Ventures, and TeleSoft Partners.

Sonoa is getting a comparatively late start, but it's likely to draw attention thanks to Singh's presence. Here's an ultra-condensed version of the Tale of the Raj:

  • Fiberlane: Founded in 1996 by a team including Singh and split into three companies: Cerent (sold to Cisco for about $7 billion), Siara (sold to Redback for about $4 billion), and Cyras (sold to Ciena Corp. for about $2 billion). We'll give that one a thumbs-up, although there's a question mark over whether all the credit should go to Singh. (When Light Reading previously suggested this, Singh responded with an email saying, "Enjoy living in a well the way frogs do." See The Top 10 Movers and Shakers in Optical Networking.)
  • StratumOne: Singh left Fiberlane before its breakup to found this chip company, which also got sold to Cisco.
From there, the story cools off:

As for what Singh has been doing lately, he took some time off to finance independent movies. One of them, The Great New Wonderful, is up for an award at this weekend's Nantucket Film Festival, he says.

— Craig "Froggy" Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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