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Optical/IP

Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris

It didn't take long for new CEO Surya Panditi to shake things up at optical transport switch startup Polaris Networks.

The startup confirmed last week that it had hired Panditi, chairman of the board of Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), as its CEO (see Polaris Picks Panditi as CEO). Today, the startup confirmed that it has cut about 20 percent of its staff, or about 20 people. (No one's ever accused Panditi of being slow on the uptake.) Light Reading spoke with him yesterday about his new job.

Panditi came to Polaris from Convergent Networks Inc., where he was CEO for about a year. Prior to that, he was president and CEO of Avici from June 1997 to mid 2001, presiding over that company's IPO in July 2000.

During his tenure at Convergent, Panditi steered the broadband switch maker toward selling to cable multiple service operators (MSOs). Panditi "is the man who came on board last year and helped us get focused on the cable space," says Carl Baptiste, managing director of marketing at Convergent. "We couldn't afford to be spreading ourselves across multiple markets. [Incumbent carrier] requirements are way different than MSO requirements."

The company began participating in a few trials with cable operators that are trying its ICSX Call Management Server, which offers primary line Class 5 voice services over a packet-based hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) network. Convergent is also getting recurring revenues from the telecom customers, such as Broadwing Inc. (NYSE: BRW), that had bought its earlier switches.

Despite these promising developments, Panditi felt tempted by the chance to head up a young West Coast telecom supplier once more. "I had a very good team at Convergent, so it's not like I was needing to move on to something else," says Panditi. "But the job was certainly back in the world that I was more involved with from my Avici days."

Panditi's start at Polaris is, in a way, a return to his roots. Like his time at Avici, Panditi comes to Polaris at a time when the startup is taking a new product to telecom vendors and trying to score some initial sales.

"Unlike a lot of telecom vendors now, it's a market where you're not trying to push some new technology out there for a yet-to-be-determined service," he says of Polaris's optical transport switch. "It was something that people are looking for right now."

Polaris's switch is meant to replace old digital crossconnects by doing their job in a smaller space while adding the functionality of several Sonet add/drop multiplexers (ADMs). Its capacity starts at 240 Gbit/s and scales to 2 Tbit/s, and it handles circuits in smaller increments than core switches -- VT1.5 (1.7 Mbit/s) chunks vs. STS1 (51.84 Mbit/s) chunks.

The company says it's in trials with several carriers, but it hasn't booked significant revenues yet. It is, however, aiming to convert at least one of those trials into a sale by year's end. Obviously, though, time is of the essence. The company, which has raised $77 million in funding to date without a down round, cited market conditions as the reason for its recent staff cuts.

Despite the layoffs, Panditi says he's not intending to change much at Polaris -- just add some sales and marketing savvy. "[Former CEO] Ray [Kao]'s strength is being the technology leader and architect of the company," he says. "What I bring is more on the side of sales and marketing, so it’s a nice complement." Kao remains as Polaris's chief technology officer.

"Anything in telecom right now is going to be challenging, but I also think that the opportunity [at Polaris] is very promising," Panditi says. "In the traditional telecom space, the best time to start building a business is when things are slow. Then you can focus on what really makes the customer successful with a product."

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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ThouShaltNotJudge 12/5/2012 | 12:52:28 AM
re: Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris What better way to prove that one cannot build a product of this complexity with a staff of 100 than to attempt it with 80? Well, perhaps this downsizing will loosen the purse strings enough to fill Panditi and Phil HarveyGÇÖs pockets for the next few months.

IGÇÖm bewildered why LR would spin this news in such a positive GÇ£lightGÇ¥. The article states GÇ£The company says it's in trials with several carriers, but it hasn't booked significant revenues yet.GÇ¥. Does anyone know what GÇ£insignificantGÇ¥ revenues they may have booked?
dbostan 12/5/2012 | 12:52:28 AM
re: Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris Isn't it nice?
You worked like a mad dog to push the product into trials and, when there, you are laid off to preserve cash.
xyz 12/5/2012 | 12:52:27 AM
re: Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris So.... What kind of re-writing history is this ? Panditi is at Convergent for a lousy year and he is credited with "Bringing them in to the MSO space....yada yada". OHHH what a genius......

Convergent was in that space WAY BEFORE he got there.

And at Polaris - he is going to add marketing and sales savvy ????? I think their sales and marketing guys did a pretty good job in these horrible times.

Question is - in the 20% layoff which marketing and sales guys got wacked ??
opticalguy 12/5/2012 | 12:52:26 AM
re: Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris I hope none of the old BrightLink guys got whacked. Twice in 9 months would suck.

I know one of the BD guys got whacked for sure, based out of the Dallas area.
KeyMoney 12/5/2012 | 12:52:23 AM
re: Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris Good point on being in trials with several carriers with no significant revenues. Which means one thing: the box ain't makin' it, if there is truly a customer-in-waiting for it.
So Panditi is going to make Polaris' switch work, through sales and marketing:-) Talk about C-level B.S!
BobbyMax 12/5/2012 | 12:52:19 AM
re: Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris It is wrong for Polaris to feed this kind of story to the readers of Lightreading. AVici going to public has nothing to do with Panditi or anyone else. Polaris was largely an East Indian company. Panditi became defacto CEO of Avici. Avici became public at a time when even donut vendor could have gone public. So the credit goes to the darkest period in the US history.

As far as Panditi's tenure for a short period at Convergement Networks is concerned it has nothing to do with him as he has no teraing and experience in broadband networks.

There is a lot more competition in the Metro Ethernet than Panditi/Polaris thinks. It is a long road for Polaris
Litewave 12/5/2012 | 12:52:19 AM
re: Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris Polaris was largely an East Indian company. Panditi became defacto CEO of Avici. Avici became public at a time when even donut vendor could have gone public. So the credit goes to the darkest period in the US history.

[email protected]%# Take your head out of your a** before you post messages Harvey, you're making less and less sense in the new year.
fiber_to_toilet 12/5/2012 | 12:52:05 AM
re: Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris Haha...Panditi is on a cul-de-sac. He has no vision, and my point is Avici had a stronger backing from wall street and HAS a stronger product line. He couldnt do much. He did a whole lot for himself, selling his options well.

He will seek another East Indian startup in 1 year. He has his chmmies in Sand Hill road who will always find him a Gig. Trust me.


fiber_to_toilet 12/5/2012 | 12:52:05 AM
re: Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris Yes thas exactly what I said. Panditi is a lucky CEO but not necessarily a smart one. He got his break when IPO bubble was at its peak and since then he has been a gold digger.

Polaris hires a 300k+ CEO and brings him in and he shaves 20% of their staff. His salary + options +perks is probably 6-10% of Polaris burn rate. Is a new CEO worth 20% of the developers ?
If I were the VC, I would have let Kao keep his CEO title and made a healthy 10% cut and streeeeeetched.

Well, what do I know ?
gea 12/5/2012 | 12:51:58 AM
re: Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris Booby wrote...

"Polaris was largely an East Indian company."

Wrong and completely wrong. Polaris was not and is not related to the east Indies (or India, for that matter). The comment itself indicates you need to get Doc to up your meds a bit.




"There is a lot more competition in the Metro Ethernet than Panditi/Polaris thinks. It is a long road for Polaris"

Did you bother reading to the end of the article, Booby? The Polaris box is a super-duper cross connect. It's got almost nothing to do with Metro Ethernet.

As usual, you prove you're a few crayons short of a full box. You should go bak to flinging dung on the walls of your rubber room, rather than posting here.
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