Celebrate Technology: Front Range Innovation

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LeftHand Networks creates, innovates storage solutions

There are three reasons that CEO Bill Chambers tells people that his company is named LeftHand Networks Inc.

Chambers is a southpaw.

The office of LeftHand Networks sits in the shadow of Boulder Valley, which is kind of like the left hand of infamous Silicon Valley.

But the true story behind the name is that co-founders Chambers and John Spiers often met at the Left Hand and Tabernash Brewing Co., a pub and brewery in Longmont to discuss ideas for the company they wanted to start.

Founded in 1999, LeftHand Networks is a software company for the data storage marketplace, and in particular helps mid-level companies realize the benefits of shared network storage. Its particular software product, SAN/iQ, allows client companies to move their data from local servers to a Storage Area Network.

LeftHand Networks is the winner of the Front Range Innovation Award for Celebrate Technology 2004, an award granted to recognize entrepreneurial spirit in a Colorado company.

“It’s our team, plain and simple,” Chambers said. “We have been very fortunate; we have a very strong team that I am very proud of-in marketing, sales, administrative, technology.”

LeftHand Networks is the fourth company Chambers has founded, or started growing. Mostly notably, he ran Adatek, a company bought by General Electric. He began working for GE after the acquisition, running a business unit in Asia that spanned from India in the west to China in the east, to Australia and New Zealand in the south.

After finishing his obligations with GE, he and his wife, Tricia, spent the better part of a year deciding where to go next.

“We settled on Colorado for the opportunity it provided to start and build a new business, as well as the quality of life it offered, with all the outdoor activities,” Chambers said.

Spiers, the chief technology officer, runs the technical side of things. Chambers-whose work for various companies has required marketing and business leadership skills-is the salesman.

“We had some very bold goals when we started the business, and we have been on track with every key milestone in our business plan. Our team has done a tremendous job.”

Chambers, 44, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from University of Idaho in Moscow, and completed an accelerated master’s program at Stanford University. He started right out of Stanford with Texas Instruments, and has more than 20 years of experience in the high-tech industry.

It wasn’t long before he had to create something of his own. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart,” Chambers said. “I just love to start and build companies. The challenges, the chess game-like nature of figuring out and pioneering a market category, mapping the course for the company to go forward.”

SAN/iQ, LeftHand’s software product, gives clients “enterprise-class features” without the associated complexity. The patented, distributed block-level clustering technology allows a client to start with one storage server-and be up and running in 30 minutes. Using standard Ethernet technologies and infrastructure, SAN/iQ distributes “virtualization intelligence” on storage modules across the network, according to the company’s Web site.

Because no single device controls either management or data traffic, there’s no performance bottleneck, no single point of failure and no strain on server resources.

LeftHand Networks teams up with various companies to put SAN/iQ software on standard Intel-based storage platforms, which allows the storage to appear as a local disk drive to any server, anywhere. He compares his market niche to Lego’s.

“As you need to add more capacity and storage, we cluster and virtualize that together like snapping Lego blocks together,” Chambers said. “As you scale on capacity, performance scales linearly, which is unlike any storage system out there today.”

So, the bigger the project, the better LeftHand’s data storage solutions work. “We have proven to this marketplace that we can execute,” Chambers said. “We have created a new category of storage.”

The motto of LeftHand Networks? “Storage as it should be.”

There are a lot of people that Chambers said he admires. But of all the people in the high-tech field, it’s the chief at General Electric who had the most profound impact.

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of the global, multifaceted corporation, has been the subject of numerous books about his insightful, fanatical leadership principles-keep it simple, face reality, embrace change, fight bureaucracy.

“There is a very forward-looking business leader,” Chambers said. “I was able to work with him. What he was able to do with GE was tremendous. In my book, he fits in that technology category.”