'We’re changing the game': Rockport Networks snags US$48M in fresh capital

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As a tech veteran who’s helped build some of the local industry’s best-known firms, Doug Carwardine can sense a once-in-a-generation business opportunity when he sees one.

So when the man who cut his teeth in communications hardware at Nortel and Newbridge Networks talks up a venture as the city’s potential next big thing, it’s worth listening to him.

Carwardine thinks his latest company, Rockport Networks, could be just that. The Ottawa-based firm that quietly began operating eight years ago has finally emerged from stealth mode with a bang, this week announcing a US$48-million investment from Toronto’s Northern Private Capital.

What has Carwardine and his backers so amped up is Rockport’s groundbreaking software that eliminates the need for hard-wired switchers in high-speed communications networks. The result is less congestion in the flow of data between a source and its destination, meaning Rockport’s software can speed up network traffic and consume less energy while doing so.

“We’re changing the game,” Carwardine says when asked about Rockport’s market potential. “We’re on a good path.”

For a company that’s all about moving data as fast as possible, Rockport took its time getting to where it is today.

The firm’s beginnings can be traced back to 2013, when Carwardine and his team at his previous venture, Iceberg Networks, were brainstorming ways to solve bottlenecks that slowed down traffic in high-speed networks. 

Federal, provincial backing

Looking for inspiration, Carwardine turned to his friend Dan Oprea, a PhD in electrical engineering who’d previously served as CTO of Tropic Networks, a local firm that was acquired by Alcatel-Lucent in 2007.

“His suggestion was why don’t we just simply put the network into the server and get rid of the switch altogether,” Carwardine explains. “The rest is history.” 

With backing from the federal and provincial governments as well as a few well-heeled angels, Carwardine and Oprea assembled a team of engineers that spent the next four years refining the switchless server concept and developing a swath of IP that resulted in more than 100 patents. The company then began putting that lab work into practice, creating software that’s now ready for market.

Marc Sultzbaugh, who this week was officially appointed Rockport’s co-CEO and will serve alongside Carwardine, says the rise of big-data analytics and artificial intelligence is ramping up pressure on data centres to be faster and more efficient. 

He believes Rockport is perfectly positioned to tap into an industry that’s already worth $10 billion and is poised to grow exponentially in the years to come.

'Very big market opportunity'

“It’s a very big market opportunity,” explains Sultzbaugh, who previously served as senior vice-president of sales and marketing at California-based networking equipment provider Mellanox Technologies.

“In this business, you’re always paranoid about not moving fast enough. But I think so far, so good.”   

Rockport has been steadily building up its customer base over the past several months. Its products are now being tested at the University of Texas’ Advanced Computing Center in Austin, home of the world’s largest university supercomputer, as well as at another supercomputer facility in the U.K. 

Here in Canada, meanwhile, the 170-employee company has signed agreements with Carleton and the University of Waterloo as those schools build their own supercomputers.

And Sultzbaugh says that’s only the beginning. Fortified with new funding, Rockport is set to accelerate its marketing efforts as it targets Fortune 1000 companies that are thirsting for faster networks.

“Our job now over the next 12 months is to get those early customers into production and then continue to execute,” he says. “We think we can grow a very large company and a Canadian success story. It’s in our hands.”