From Sonic Systems to SonicWall: 30 Years of Cybersecurity Evolution

This month marks 30 years since SonicWall’s founding in 1991. To celebrate, we’ll be spending the month of August spotlighting the history, people, products, partners and customers that have helped shape SonicWall over the past three decades and will continue to inspire us in the years ahead.

The SonicWall of today is internationally recognized as a leading cybersecurity company. But even among those in the industry, many aren’t aware that before there was SonicWall, there was a SonicWALL. But our story starts before even that — with two brothers in the Ethernet card business.

The Sonic Systems Years (1991-1995)

In the early 1990s, Sreekanth Ravi, who had previously owned a company that produced graphic expansion cards for Apple, saw an opportunity. The networking technology built into the Apple Macintosh product line at the time, LocalTalk, was very limited — and the Ethernet cards then available to expand these capabilities were prohibitively expensive.

Along with his brother, Sudhakar Ravi, he formed Sonic Systems (later to be called SonicWall) in 1991. The name Sonic Systems was chosen to evoke ideas of speed: the company was originally in the business of producing Ethernet cards to help transition the Apple Macintosh market from LocalTalk to the faster and more versatile Ethernet.

The new company’s first product, an Ethernet card for the NuBus and SE expansion slots, made its debut in the fall of 1991, and was so successful that by the following year, Apple OEMs were relying on Sonic Systems’ software to connect LocalTalk to Ethernet.

Building on these early wins, Sonic Systems soon expanded its product catalog to include Ethernet bridges, hubs, switches and more. But as Apple increasingly absorbed the functionality of these products into its systems, the market for aftermarket peripherals started to dry up. Sonic Systems diversified once again, shifting from peripherals to external appliances.

The Democratization of the Firewall (1996-1998)

But it wasn’t until 1996 that Sonic Systems began to consider branching out into firewalls. As the company grew, Sreehanth Ravi began looking for a firewall to safeguard Sonic Systems’ own internet connection. But to his dismay, he soon found that the firewalls available at the time, even the software-based ones, cost nearly $20,000. This was an enormous expense for a company that, at the time, had fewer than 40 employees and only minimal internet connectivity needs.

Once again sensing an opportunity, Sreekanth asked his brother to explore the feasibility of producing affordable NAT (Network Access Translation)/firewall appliances. That same year, the company released its final dedicated Macintosh offering, and its new mission became to provide firewall technology that was as affordable as it was effective.

In October 1997, Sonic Systems released the Interpol security appliance, which became a huge hit. But while the company’s focus on firewalls was permanent, the name Interpol was not: The following year, Sonic Systems rebranded the device as the “SonicWALL.”

Growth and Acquisition (1999-2015)

1999 brought many changes for Sonic Systems. Following in the footsteps of its most successful product, the company changed its own name to SonicWALL. That year also brought expansion into Europe and a successful initial public offering (IPO). SonicWALL executed a Secondary Public Offering, which raised additional funds, in March 2000.

This rapid advancement pace paid dividends — by 2002, the company had shipped its 250,000th unit — so SonicWALL kept it up. Recognizing that many SMBs wished to outsource their cybersecurity monitoring and management, SonicWALL introduced its Managed Security Services Provider program in 2005, kicking off a commitment to partnering with MSSPs that continues to this day.

Capping off a decade characterized by acquisitions — including enKoo, Aventail Corporation, Ignyte Technology, SecureCom and RedCreek — SonicWALL itself was acquired by Thoma Bravo in 2010, and again by Dell in 2012.

SonicWall Hits Its Stride (2016-Today)

2016 brought three important developments. That year, SonicWall was acquired by Francisco Partners, who rebranded the company as “SonicWall.” Cybersecurity and networking veteran Bill Conner was named SonicWall president and CEO, a position he has held ever since. And SonicWall’s SecureFirst partner program, designed to support, recognize and provide resources to SonicWall partners, also made its debut that year.

More big announcements would follow as the 2010s wound down, including the unveiling of the SonicWall Capture Cloud Platform, Real-Time Deep Memory Inspection (RTDMI™) technology, and Capture Security Center, all of which would further cement SonicWall as a leader in advanced threat protection.

These developments laid the groundwork for the arrival of SonicWall’s Boundless Cybersecurity platform in 2020. While the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic elevated the need for secure remote work, SonicWall had long anticipated this shift and was ready to meet it head on.

As a result, the Boundless Cybersecurity platform, two years in the making, was primed to help businesses quickly and securely meet their business continuity needs in a work reality where everyone is remote, mobile and unsecure. Designed to close the cybersecurity gap created by an increase in attack surface and a shortage of cybersecurity personnel, the Boundless Cybersecurity model allows businesses to know the unknown, provides real-time visibility and enables breakthrough economics.

Today, SonicWall has brought the vision of Boundless Cybersecurity to more than 500,000 customers in 215 countries, and, on the heels of a two-year refresh of its product portfolio, the company is ideally suited to continue helping businesses of all sizes face the ever-changing threat landscape.

“While the last five years were important chapters in this journey, we have more goals to achieve, milestones to mark and history to be made,” SonicWall President and CEO Bill Conner said. “SonicWall is always forward-looking. And that’s how the company — and its people — have been a mainstay in the industry for more than 30 years.”

Amber Wolff
Senior Digital Copywriter | SonicWall
Amber Wolff is the Senior Digital Copywriter for SonicWall. Prior to joining the SonicWall team, Amber was a cybersecurity blogger and content creator, covering a wide variety of products and topics surrounding enterprise security. She spent the earlier part of her career in advertising, where she wrote and edited for a number of national clients.
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