Evans Takes Helm at Optovation

Optical test equipment maker Optovation Inc. has hired Peter Evans, the former ONI Systems Inc. marketing executive, as its CEO, the company said Tuesday.

Evans left ONI at the end of May, just before its shareholders voted to approve ONI's merger with Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN). Though he had originally been hired to help retrench ONI's marketing, he spent his four months there working to prepare the firm for its combination with Ciena (see ONI's Evans Hones the Message).

After helping with that transition, Evans opted not to stick around. "These merger integrations are typically a binary thing," he said during a telephone interview on Monday. "You either end up in some newer, bigger role, or you end up as the downsized part of the company."

The Optovation job is an interesting one for Evans. It'll be his first time at the helm as CEO. It also puts him back in Canada, where he began a stint at Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) more than 14 years ago. Prior to Nortel, Evans was with CNCP Communications (now AT&T Canada Inc.). He began his telecom career there in 1985 as a packet switching engineer, working on frame relay and ATM services.

Why Optovation? Evans says he's interested in the company's technology and the need to develop a story around it. "They've chosen an architecture for an OPM [optical performance monitor] that's a bit different from everyone else… It's based on tunable filters." The distinction, Evans said, is that besides doing the basic job of measuring the performance of optical signals, it has more software to allow it be used in other network applications.

Those "higher level" functions could including monitoring quality of service and how disparate equipment works together on a network, according to Evans. By being able to pinpoint exactly where a signal is degraded in a network ring, an OPM can save the carrier from checking every single point in the ring for trouble.

"They have a very interesting product that's targeted to a specific niche, so they're not trying to do too many things at once," he explains. "They have a very strong board and very strong engineering team. Where they need help is determining where to take their technology next… There's a lot of different paths we could take the company on, and figuring that out is the art of marketing."

Optovation has also dabbled in wavelength conversion, which enables a component to translate a data signal from one wavelength to another without first having to convert it back into electricity (see Interest Grows in Wavelength Conversion).

Before he accepted the Optovation job, Evans says he was approached by a company in the "optical Ethernet space" that needed a CEO. He declined to be more specific. "I decided they needed more of a turnaround expert."

Optovation began in September 2000, when a metro optical switch startup called Roshnee was split in two. The systems half, Inara, folded shortly thereafter, but Ottawa-based Optovation survived (see Roshnee to Split in Two and Optovation Brings in $20M).

The company's last funding round was a $3 million installment announced in January. Optovation has raised $37 million to date from several investors, including Altamira, Newbury Ventures, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Redwood Venture Partners LLC, RBC Capital Partners, Desjardins Venture Capital Group, and BMO Nesbitt Burns Equity Partners.

Evans says the company plans to have a product in general availability during the fourth quarter of this year.

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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