CTO: Reading the times

Sam Negahbani says that as a young man, he switched from electrical engineering to network design after seeing how infrastructure can deeply affect people’s lives. He first concentrated on designing and building networks for major corporations before he founded and became CTO and CEO of his own systems and network services provider, Exenet Technologies Inc., in 1997. Now, his passion lies in impacting customers through providing network management services in a utility model.

“There was never a ‘Eureka!’ moment for me, but I found that networks and communications technologies were some things I really liked,” Negahbani says. “You have to understand the customer’s business needs and the technology needs so you can have an immediate impact on people’s lives.”

Since then, he has grown the New York company to where it has more than 100 clients as well as partnerships with Cisco Systems Inc., Computer Associates International Inc., and others.

Negahbani has always looked to overcome challenges to the deployment of network infrastructure, and these days, he says, the challenge is to provision resilient networks that act like a utility, offering customers an always-on service. Negahbani says Exenet attempts to take care of the complex network problems of monitoring, storage, and management so that customers can worry about their own business problems.

“Many customers look at a project without considering it under an umbrella that would give it resilience,” Negahbani says. “We ask customers to take one step back and think of how the project would work as an overall concept of resiliency and how it affects them.”

Negahbani says he uses his status as CEO and CTO to his company’s advantage. “CTOs and CEOs don’t always speak the same language, so [the double responsibility] can make my life a little easier and keep me maybe a step ahead,” he says. He has guided his managed network service provider through dangerous waters that have claimed many other providers by sensing and meeting his customers’ needs, industry analysts say.

Exenet has evolved from a small systems network integration company to a hosted IT infrastructure provider, receiving more than US$45 million in investment capital. The company now offers managed systems and networks to Fortune 2000 corporations, using a suite of integrated managed service offerings, including network/system monitoring and management, data availability services such as remote storage and business continuity, and managed enterprisewide directory technology.

Colin Tyler, a partner at the Boston.-based research and consulting firm, The McKenna Group, says Negahbani has focused on offering services that enterprise CTOs don’t want to manage themselves.

“Some CTOs are starting to ask, ‘What are the parts of my IT infrastructure that will never differentiate my business?’ ” Tyler says. “And for these, they want to outsource and take the issue off their plate.

“Sam has embraced a view that says there are pieces of IT functionality that can be taken off the CTO’s plate,” Tyler adds. “Exenet has probably done a good job of refocusing around what things a utility is going to be able to sell in the new IT environment.”

Fewer major hardware purchases by corporations are forcing CTOs to ask more from their network infrastructure, Negahbani says. “Two years ago, if a new type of technology came out, people would have to have it.

“Now, [customers] need to have more ROI,” Negahbani says. “Now a lot of corporations are looking at network maintenance and monitoring instead of having to buy new software.”


Sam Negahbani, Exenet Technologies

— Title: CEO, CTO

— Reports to: Board of directors

— Mission: To provide the best solutions for customers by offering them resilient enterprise technology and to help them implement new technology

— Education: BS in electrical engineering from the New York Institute of Technology; MS in information science from New York Polytechnic University

— Mentor: Everyone from the receptionist to the CTO

— Biggest challenge: Succeeding in the post-bubble economy

— Favorite Web site: Cisco Systems

— Favorite escape: Playing soccer