Not Your Fathers Network General

Venture capital exec sketches strategy behind investment.

Network General, after coming out of a self-described seven-year hiatus under Network Associates, was spun out of the renamed McAfee and taken private by a pair of venture capital companies two years ago. The aim was to take a still-loyal customer base and solid technology out of the trenches and build a business that would reap a nice return beyond the $235 million that Silver Lake Partners and Texas Pacific Group put into it.

Two years later, with its second CEO at the helm, Network General launched a new suite of network intelligence tools. Jim Davidson, co-founder and managing director of Silver Lake Partners, in Menlo Park, Calif., spoke with eWeek Senior Editor Paula Musich about the ventures prospects for success.

Why did Silver Lake Partners invest in Network General?

If you had a problem on your network and you needed to know for sure what the problem was, Sniffer was the Kleenex of protocol analysis. As more business applications run on the network, understanding the truth on your network will become an even more interesting value proposition. The historical business is a valuable business, but we looked at the potential of moving the company into real-time and predictive analysis. We felt there was an opportunity for Network General to improve its value proposition if we were willing to improve and expand the product set.

How can the company grow in a mature market?

Weve made a lot of investments in sustaining what weve always done well and moving up the value chain. Network General has all of the data—every packet that gets sent across the network. If youre able to look at everything, you have an advantage over people doing modeling to approximate the performance of the network. If you want to truly optimize the performance of your network and understand where the bottlenecks are and whats causing them, I think we have an advantage. Thats a compelling opportunity. There is no tool that addresses that with that level of data in existence today, and theres no software with any level of data that does it very easily. We want to build on our competitive advantage to provide more information about whats going on in the network in as easily accessible a format as possible. This is not your fathers Network General.

How can Network General transition to appeal to more of the IT executives who control the budgets?

I think first you have to have a value proposition that appeals to the guys higher up in the organization. When youre looking at predicting the performance of the network or have a tool that can optimize the performance of a mission-critical application on the network, youre valuable to anybody in the organization that relies on IT.

If you deploy voice on the network, there are not good tools today that can guarantee the deployment of a VOIP [voice over IP] system on a network. Even though networks are more reliable, the predictability of overlaying such an application thats intolerant of any [kind of latency] raises your visibility. There is a fair amount of interest in the direction were moving in and a fair [number] of people hoping the product road map can be realized as quickly as possible.

Network General has already had some upheaval since its spinout from Network Associates, with two CEOs in its short life. Is it now on a steady path?

Companies go through phases. Carving a business out of another business is not an easy job. You need to attract people back to the company and populate it with talented people. You need to go through a time to stabilize the business, set up financial and reporting systems and get the culture set to execute, and then you have to go through the next phase—where were going to place our bets [on] what technology we will take to customers. Once you get that, then you have to execute.