You can’t deny it: The cloud is everywhere. Thanks to tech titans like Google, Amazon and Apple, the idea of data storage has shifted from bulky, blinking units in an enclosed place to the more abstract concept of data stored in open, virtual space.
It’s easy to see the appeal of virtualization. The cloud is accessible from anywhere, which means it can be managed remotely. This eliminates the need for an onsite network engineer and lowers costs. But Bill Johnson, president of Tallac Networks, saw something missing in this mass migration to the cloud.
“The only thing that hasn’t gone to the cloud is the network itself,” he says.
From that starting point, Rocklin-based Tallac Networks created a Networking-as-a-Service (NaaS) solution for customers who want web access on their own terms. Basically, Tallac provides a cloud-managed platform for managed service providers (MSPs), who configure customer networks for specific purposes.
Think Starbucks. Many businesses have Wi-Fi, but with a Tallac virtualized network, a business owner can build brand loyalty by securely extending their Wi-Fi to guests. Similarly, a teacher can use this solution to restrict online access in a classroom to sites only related to the current lesson. A parent can set up a network that prevents children from clicking their way onto adult sites.
“Think about it like this: We’re providing electricity,” says Andrew Wilkinson, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. “But you decide what you plug in, and how you want to use the heater and stove.”
The startup is run by Hewlett-Packard and Cisco veterans with more than 150 years of combined enterprise networking experience. In terms of funding, Johnson calls Tallac a “slightly assisted bootstrap startup.” Bolstered by a seed round of private funding, Tallac now has contracts with dozens of MSPs, including Comcast. Johnson measures returns by the number of devices an MSP sells to various customers, which he estimates to be worth more than $500 million a year.
Generally, users of Tallac’s networks include schools, banks, retail establishments and hotels. He avoids naming specific customers because technically Tallac only serves as the bridge, and he doesn’t want to undermine any MSPs.
“If an MSP is using our services and sells it to a bank, that bank is not really our customer,” he says, but Tallac has worked directly with businesses in some cases.
For example, Tallac reached out to Hacker Lab in Sacramento, where reliable Wi-Fi is a top priority for the various startups based there. “We basically can’t have the internet go down,” says Eric Ullrich, co-founder of Hacker Lab. “If it does, it needs to go back up really fast.”
Hacker Lab agreed to partner with Tallac and has been using its virtualized network solution for about a year. The decision was a matter of security but also proximity because, as Ullrich says, “How often do you get to work with a local provider?”
For the second year in a row, Tallac also provided a customizable network for the California CareForce free health clinic in the Coachella Valley. The annual event offers free medical, dental and vision services, and organizers needed three distinct networks: a password-protected one for staff to verify volunteer medical professional certificates; a patient registration network to allow volunteers to browse on their downtime without hogging bandwidth; and a guest network for patients waiting to get their teeth cleaned or eyes checked, which needed to be isolated to protect the privacy of medical information.
Despite the growth of Tallac, marketing remains a challenge. This isn’t a quick-pitch type of service that a layperson would understand in 60 seconds. For that reason, the startup’s team has created a curriculum to educate and train workforces, partners and customers on how Tallac is making the mass migration to the cloud one that won’t leave anyone behind.
“We could’ve said we’re going to become the next Comcast, build a system, build a channel, but that was was just too much,” Johnson says. “Now we bring services to them, as well as bring people onto the network.”
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