Steve McCanne's job at Riverbed Technology is about three things: strategy, strategy, strategy.
"I know there are different types of CTO, and I'm much more of an inventor," he explains. "I view my job here as to come up with what's possible from a technology perspective and how it would fit in the market, and try to inspire the engineering team here to go build these things. I don't run engineering, I don't run marketing; it's all about creating intellectual property around new products."
Those new products and strategies are at the heart of Riverbed's success as it enters its fifth year of business. Riverbed's products optimize WAN performance to address the networking, application, file transfer, and storage issues that bog down distributed networks. Since co-founding the company in 2002, McCanne has been the chief architect behind Riverbed's WAN enhancement technology, garnering patents and accolades (including being named one of the MIT Technology Review's Top 100 Innovators in 2002) along the way.
The effort has paid off: Riverbed grew 110 percent over the course of 2006, added the ability to optimize SSL traffic for accelerating Web-based applications, and launched an IPO in September.
McCanne remains focused on the road ahead. His team operates as "sort of a startup inside of the startup, figuring out the next set of products." In fact, it's the growing complexity of the WAN world's protocols and applications that McCanne feels presents a great challenge -- and opportunity.
"We've built a culture here where we really bridged the gap between networking expertise and application and storage expertise," he says. "Going to the future, I think of us going up the stack to be more strategic, closer to the applications and storage protocols as compared to integrating all the nuts and bolts of networking and VPNs and security and all the other stuff -- which we're also doing, of course, but I think there's this strategic opportunity for us in harnessing the complexity of the higher layers."