It sounds more reality show than reality, but Bigfoot Networks Inc. got its start by winning a competition. Today, about 30,000 of the company’s NIC (News - Alert) cards, list priced at $129, are in use to help address latency, mostly for game-related applications. INTERNET TELEPHONY recently spoke to Wayne Dunlap, vice president of engineering at the Austin, Texas-based outfit, about the company’s beginnings as well as its future, which includes bringing latency control to VoIP and video.
Give us a history lesson on Bigfoot. What was the impetus?
Dunlap: The company got started in 2005. The founders participated in a Moot Corp Competition at University of Texas at Austin where people pitched different business ideas. The Bigfoot founders won, and they got a $100,000 check, and with that they started Bigfoot Networks.
Who are the founders that won the competition, and are they still at Bigfoot today?
Dunlap: Mike Cubbage was one of those people, and he is still at Bigfoot. There [also] was Harlan Beverly and another guy [Bob Grim]. Mike is a finance guy; he actually used to work for Dell. And Harlan used to be at Intel (News - Alert) for a very long time.
What was their winning entry in the competition?
Dunlap: Their idea there was basically an intelligent card with a processor on it to accelerate various applications. The first application they went after was a gaming application.
What about your finances?
Dunlap: We’re venture backed. Northbridge Venture Partners is our lead investor.
We’re funded through the end of this year and into part of next year, and we are starting fund raising in the fall for our next round.
When and how did you join Bigfoot?
Dunlap: I joined Bigfoot at the end of October in 2009. I was the CTO for the video division at Polycom (News - Alert), and somebody I used to work for was contacted by one of the venture capitalists saying they were looking for a vice president of engineering and [asked] if I would be willing to talk to them.
What exactly does Bigfoot sell and to whom?
Dunlap: Right now we have two products. We have the Killer Zeno and Killer 2100, and both of those are network cards that go in your PC and dramatically lower your latency. We sell mostly to gamers.
What’s your go-to-market for these products?
Dunlap: We sell through partners, and they put them into their own boxes and then they sell to retail channels.
Who are your partners?
Dunlap: VisionTek and EVGA are probably our two biggest partners; they sell mostly graphics cards today. We also sell through OEMs, so we have the Alienware brand of Dell (News - Alert). If you go buy an Alienware system you can upgrade your NIC card to a Killer 2100.
So many companies – including service providers, network equipment outfits and businesses like yours – talk about the need to provide guarantees around delay/latency, bandwidth and the like. How does Bigfoot do it, and why do it at the desktop level?
Dunlap: What people don’t realize is how often packets get held up from being sent out on your machine because your machine is busy doing something else. For instance, we see latency of up to 30 milliseconds before a packet actually leaves a machine. If you’re doing voice or video that’s crucial – that’ll kill you. If you’re doing nothing, the standard delay is about 150 microseconds, .15 milliseconds. But what we see is 10 percent of packets on most machines; if you’re doing anything at all – if you’re having a videoconference, if you’re running PowerPoint while you’re talking on the phone, if you’re surfing the Web, or anything like that – 10 percent of your packets will take more than 10 milliseconds to leave your machine.
So how does Bigfoot address that?
Dunlap: What we do is the minute an application sends a packet, we put it on our card so it doesn’t run through the Windows. It does what we call Windows stack bypass. Our card, all it does is look at packets and send them out and prioritize packets. It gets packets out of your machine very consistently, no matter what your machine is doing. So what you’ll see is you’ll see jitter on a normal network card; you’ll see jitter of 10 to 15 milliseconds. With us you’ll see our jitter will be on the order of 200 microseconds, .2 milliseconds.
Does the Bigfoot solution only work on Windows platforms?
Dunlap: Currently our solution is only offered on Windows boxes, yes. We are in the process of expanding our offer in the future.
Which turnkey consumer electronics devices use Bigfoot cards today?
Dunlap: It’s mostly PCs.
What about connected gaming systems like the Xbox?
Dunlap: Currently we don’t have an offer for them, although we are always looking at that. You can image that would make sense for us. Where we’re more likely to go is toward VoIP and video because that also is a place where latency is a huge problem.
Can you give us a sense of what VoIP- and video-related gear in which we might see the Bigfoot cards in the future?
Dunlap: Most likely it would sit in a multimedia-type PC.
Any last words?
Dunlap: You mentioned earlier: How much can you do about latency in the endpoint? Latency in the endpoint is a common problem that everybody underestimates…. What we’re looking at is how can you make it so that when you’re in a Skype call or when you’re using WebEx or Polycom or Tandberg (News - Alert)/Cisco software on your PC or on whatever your handheld is, how can you make it so that the latency there is under the 150-milliseconds barrier. That is a focus of ours moving forward.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi