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Extreme Networks CEO touts innovation, bashes foes

In a keynote address at this year's Networld+Interop conference in Las Vegas, Extreme Networks Inc. CEO Gordon Stitt spoke at length about the need for technology companies to focus on innovation, despite the slow economy. While others in the networking business -- particularly Cisco Systems Inc. CEO John Chambers -- have stressed the idea of listening to customers and delivering what businesses need today, Stitt rejects that common wisdom.

Stitt recently told why he's aiming for something more ambitious, and perhaps more risky.

At N+I, you spoke about the importance of innovation. What did you mean?
There is a view in the industry that everything has been invented, that it is all about speeds and feeds, and that the technology market will become like the PC market. I don't believe that is the case. At N+I, Mr. Chambers spoke about delivering whatever the customer wants. That is a fundamentally backward-looking model.

We [at Extreme Networks] look at things differently. We take what we know our customers need and spend a lot of time with customers we consider to be visionary, and blend that [with] what we think can be done with technology, creativity and innovation. For example, every customer says they want their wireless network to be secure, so some companies build a VPN into their offering. There is not much innovation in that. But our visionary customers say they want their wireless network to be like their wired networks. They need to have every port and every switch handle wired and wireless devices, without creating a special overlay network. That is the innovative approach. What will drive the need for these new technologies?
I think wireless [technology] will enable the proliferation of devices. With voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phones, there are non-computing devices connected to the network. There is video as well. You've got enough CPU performance on the desktop to do video processing. With bandwidth increasing and price per port coming down, where does Extreme go next?
Software and services. There are certainly a lot of low-end layer-three chipsets. You can build a layer-three switch easily and cheaply. The magic is in the software, in the Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) integration, quality of service and working with voice over Internet protocol. It's in the software and the services. Vendors seem to talk about video quite a bit, but no one seems to be using it. Is this really going to be important?
Today it is too complicated. Setting up a webcast is too hard. But I think that companies do want this; we're just not there yet. It will take 12 to 24 months to get over that hurdle. Isn't that kind of innovation counterproductive in an industry that is as mature as this one is? High-bandwidth technologies, like 10 Gigabit Ethernet, are not selling well.
I don't view 10 Gigabit Ethernet as innovation. It was obvious it would go from Ethernet to 10 to 100 to Gigabit. What's important is understanding what that means and how we innovate on top of that trend. We decided [to build out] layer-three switching and quality of service. Both are commonplace today.

Now we are looking at the proliferation of devices. In the future, networks will need to handle millions of devices: employees, environmental controls, all of this stuff. There will be different network problems with authentication at the edge. What are some important emerging technologies for companies to keep an eye on?
From an enterprise perspective, 10 Gig is an obvious one. Things that are going to drive down the total cost of ownership are important, as are 10 Gig in the core and increased bandwidth at the desktop. I clearly believe that wireless [connectivity] is important, and implementing better wireless security will be very important.


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Foundry Networks Inc. has the high end of the market, and 3Com Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. have the low end. The market is being squeezed from the bottom and the top. Where does Extreme go?
We have higher scalability, higher functionality and a broader solution than Foundry. We have a business vision, not just speeds and feeds. And 3Com, they are just box movers. When budgets loosen up, what will your customers buy?
Right now, companies are in survival mode, and in that mode they look at optimizing what they already have, driving down their total cost of ownership, reducing maintenance cost, basically reducing spending. When they do spend, they are spending on applications. When budgets loosen up, they will be concerned with scaling rapidly.

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