Silicon Valley Exec Right at Home in NWA

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 302 views 

It’s a long way from Arkansas to Silicon Valley.

Located in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley is the idiom used to describe the area that’s home to many of the world’s largest technology corporations, as well as thousands of small startups. It is derived, according to SiliconValley.com, from the Santa Clara Valley where it’s centered, and originally referred to the region’s large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers.

Daniel Blasingame dismisses the obvious distance. He sees only the obvious opportunity.

“You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to be involved in what’s going on in Silicon Valley,” he said. “Especially in today’s day and age. I’m working and living in Fayetteville, but working for a very innovative, forward-thinking, venture [capital]-funded startup in California. A lot of people wouldn’t think that.”

In Blasingame’s case, he splits his time working in Silicon Valley and from his home in Johnson, spending about two weeks of every month in Northern California away from his wife and three children.

“That, really, is the hard part; that’s the sacrifice,” he said. “That’s why I wouldn’t say it’s easy to live here and work there, but it is possible.”

Blasingame, an Arkansas native and University of Arkansas graduate, is vice president and general manager for embedded solutions business at Nominum Inc. He is responsible for developing strategies to bring Nominum’s products and services to market.

The privately held company was founded in 1999, according to its website, and is a pioneering provider of IP address infrastructure software.

Nominum, with headquarters in Redwood City overlooking San Francisco Bay, is recognized as the world’s leading provider of integrated subscriber, network and security solutions for network operators, Blasingame said, noting the firm’s technology is used to serve 500 million households worldwide, an install base that generates 1.1 trillion queries every day.

The company’s chief scientist and chairman of the board is Paul Mockapetris, an inductee last year into the inaugural class of the Internet Society’s Internet Hall of Fame.

He received the distinction largely for inventing the Domain Networking System in 1983. The DNS helps users navigate the Internet by automating the management of Internet names and addresses.

“It maps host names and addresses together based on protocols about how things talk to one another; that’s what DNS really is,” Blasingame said. “Nominum has its background in writing the protocols that make things talk to one another.”

Pressed for further simplification, Blasingame described DNS as the method of translating a URL — such as www.nwabusinessjournal.com — to an individual device IP address.

Customers who buy proprietary software from Nominum include 150 of the largest carriers in the United States — worldwide players with massive networks such as Comcast, Verizon and Virgin Media. The client roster also includes large mobile companies and telecoms in China and Japan, and Nominum has a global footprint that encompasses five of the world’s seven continents.

Empirically, Blasingame said Nominum has more foreign customers than domestic, but its larger customers primarily are in the United States, thus most of the revenue comes from the United States.

Without divulging specific figures, other than to say there were “between 60 and 80” employees when he accepted a job with the company in January 2008, Blasingame said Nominum has “more than doubled” in both revenue and employees in the last five years.

“The company has actually been profitable since 2005,” he said. “We haven’t had a round of [venture capital] funding since 2005. People ask me about an exit strategy, or if there is an IPO coming. We just want to keep growing — remain profitable, but accelerate our growth.”

According to CrunchBase.com, an online directory of tech companies, Nominum’s fourth and final round of venture funding — $16 million in March 2005 — pushed its total to $41 million. Other rounds were received in May 2000 ($5 million), May 2002 ($10 million) and February 2003 ($10 million).

 

‘Whipping Boy’

If there’s a great distance separating Arkansas from the myriad of high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, it’s magnified from Glen Rose, a small community just off the interstate between Malvern and Benton in south Arkansas. Blasingame graduated from high school there in 1988, and said his upbringing, like most in that area, didn’t yield much exposure to the world of high tech.

“At Glen Rose in the late ’80s, there wasn’t a lot of technology; I didn’t know a whole lot about it,” he said. “I didn’t know much about professional careers, frankly. It was a very blue-collar town.”

But Blasingame did show an aptitude for math, and took advanced courses. There also was an offering for a computer programming class, taught by Bob Morrison — still a faculty member at GRHS — that piqued his interest.

“We learned some very simple things about basic programming on a Commodore PET computer,” he said. “And I really started to like that.”

When Blasingame arrived on the UA campus, he knew he liked computers. He also had a friend from Glen Rose who was studying a new area of engineering — computer systems engineering.

“It was the newest discipline of engineering, and it wasn’t even accredited at that time,” Blasingame said. “Frankly, it was the whipping boy of all the other engineering majors at the UA.”

Blasingame decided to major in the field, a choice he said was arbitrary, but his instincts told him that technology was beginning to evolve.

He eventually worked for IBM through a co-operative education program while an undergrad. That helped jumpstart a post-college career from 1994 to 2008, spanning roles at large tech companies like Lexmark International Inc. — a spin-off from IBM — and Cisco Systems Inc.

“Cisco, to me, was the big leagues,” Blasingame said. “As an infrastructure company, that’s where you want to go. But I knew [computer] networking was the direction I wanted to go.”

That was a critical reason why, when a headhunter contacted Blasingame on behalf of Nominum, he listened.

 

Security Threats

Blasingame is passionate when he speaks about the technology being developed by his company and, in particular, its security offerings.

Security, he said, is a predominantly important focus for both Nominum and its clients, adding the need to secure DNS infrastructures has never been greater.

“There’s a lot of bad stuff going on right now that is becoming pretty sophisticated,” Blasingame said.

Nominum’s network security solutions offer network-based protections against botnets — a collection of infected computers controlled by an attacker — to prevent them from sending spam, launching malware attacks and stealing valuable personal data from subscribers.

If compromised, Blasingame said, DNS could open an organization up to attack and subversion via the redirection of users to malicious content. For example, criminals seeking login credentials of online banking customers could hijack the DNS of an ISP and redirect customers to a fraudulent site.

A prominent victory in the high-tech world was earned in September when Nominum and Microsoft teamed up for an anti-malware effort against Chinese Web-hosting firm 3322.org.

According to a ComputerWorld.com article, Microsoft had uncovered vulnerability in the PC supply chain allowing cybercriminals to pre-install malware-infected copies of Windows onto new machines. The company later received approval from a federal court in Virginia to eliminate the botnet  — known as Nitol — that was uncovered during the investigation.

With technical assistance from Nominum, Microsoft diverted traffic from the 3322.org domain to its own DNS servers, selectively blocking communications from PCs infected with the botnet. Blasingame said Microsoft also blocked access to approximately 70,000 malware-plagued subdomains of 3322.org, a tactic called “sinkholing.”

All DNS traffic between users and the 3322.org domain and its subdomains now flows through Nominum servers installed at Microsoft’s data centers, Blasingame said.

“Microsoft said, ‘We’re going to fix this because it is directly impacting Windows customers.’ And they chose [to use] our software because of our ability to answer all these queries and do a policy-based response,” Blasingame said.

Nominum also had a milestone day in December with the announcement of its proprietary Security Intelligence application. The technology will guard against threats by using continuously updated data to provide up-to-the-minute in-network protection and reporting for an organization’s network and customers against the latest Internet threats.

Another high-profile partnership for Nominum last year was announced in January when the company sold its technology to Fortinet, a worldwide provider of high-performance network security. Fortinet is using the software in its own appliances to prevent malicious attacks against its DNS infrastructure.

Blasingame said Nominum would make further announcements about that particular partnership in the first quarter of 2013, focusing on additional security enhancements.