Startup Bedouin seeks customers for virtual network services

A former IT director nails down the technology, but runs into a marketing hurdle

One company you won't see if you're at Network World's DEMO conference this week is Bedouin Networks. The company was accepted as an exhibitor, but finances are too tight, says Rick Parker, a former IT director and the founder of Bedouin.

There's not much to see, anyway, because Bedouin's business is all about virtualization.

In a nutshell, Bedouin provides outsourced servers, storage, back-up and nearly all other aspects of small-business networks except for application and desktop support.

The company supplies tools to optimize an Internet link to Bedouin's data center, where customers' e-mail, applications and other network resources are maintained on virtual servers. The service also includes VPN, storage arrays, tape libraries and access routers.

Bedouin also supplies 24-hour support and maintenance for a monthly fee of US$3,000 to US$4,000, and customers can access the servers remotely to make changes, updates and routine maintenance of their applications.

Bedouin and its virtual-network service is the brainchild of Parker, former IT director at Vendari Media, a firm with 200 employees and about 500 servers.

He came up with the idea for Bedouin while driving home from a job interview about a year ago. The company he was interviewing with mentioned it was using Riverbed WAN optimization gear, which speeds up the response time between pairs of its appliances placed at each end of WAN connections.

In his mind he linked WAN acceleration with VMware, virtualization software he had experimented with and was impressed by. "It's one thing to hear about it; it's another thing to see it running," Parker says. "It's damned near magic."

His idea was to pre-configure a Riverbed box and a Juniper firewall/VPN box and ship them to customers, who would plug them into their Internet connections. The devices would sync up with Riverbed and Juniper gear at Bedouin's network operations center and provide security and acceleration for connections between customer sites and their virtual servers.

Customers get a fast, secure, reliable network without having to buy, deploy and maintain it. "Sure you can virtualize servers, but I thought what if you can virtualize everything?" he says.

Bedouin would maintain the hardware and make sure data was backed up. "It drives the costs down by an order of magnitude," Parker says. Bedouin set up its NOC using standard gear from Juniper, Riverbed, VMware, Dell, Foundry, EMC, Microsoft and HP.

Small businesses with 4 to 50 servers seemed ideal Bedouin customers because they have a need for networks but may lack the staff to run things properly. He discovered this at job interviews with several small companies where he found servers kept in rooms without air conditioning. He says one such firm pulled the cases off their servers and pointed fans at the bare chassis during a heat wave so they wouldn't fry and crash.

"The IT infrastructure in these businesses was frightening -- no or little backup, no UPS, no air conditioning," he says.

He also believes the theory he read about in a Network World review of the Nicholas Carr book, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google, which suggests that IT departments are on their way out, to be replaced within five years by outsourced services.

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