The network industry's most colourful story ever

Big Blue, Red Hat, Bluesocket, Orange, Black Hat... it certainly is a colourful industry

A quick study of the network industry could be enough to give you the blues.

To start, there's IBM, otherwise known as Big Blue. Then there's Windows' dreaded blue screen of death and Microsoft's annual BlueHat security briefings. And who can forget the Code Blue virus that struck in 2001?

The industry's extended blue period saw the emergence of wireless security company Bluesocket, plus other outfits of past and present, such as BlueCat Networks, Blue Ridge, Blue Titan and BlueWave Networks. North Bridge Venture Partners alone counts BlueNote Networks, BlueShift and Bluespec among its investments. The Bluetooth wireless technology has created a spectrum of colourful companies from BlueAnt to Bluetrek.

Not that the industry's color palette is limited to blue and its association with loyalty and trustworthiness. There's also France Telecom's Orange mobile business, Google's yellow enterprise search boxes, a rainbow of wiring colour standards and Apple Computer products, and everything from the Black Hat Briefings for security experts to such new companies such as Code Green Networks.

Red's popular, too. Novell has been called Small Red and Big Red for its Pantone 485-shaded logo and the boxes in which it shipped NetWare (not for its financial results in recent years). Ray Noorda, the company's late CEO, used to tell a story about walking into a computer store and asking the clerk what colour box stood out the best on the shelf. The clerk said red, so Noorda went with that. The official story out of Novell today is that the company did a Christmastime launch in the mid-1980s and decided on red, which stuck.

Novell competitor Red Hat has made a name for itself in Linux, thanks in part to co-founder Bob Young hamming it up for the cameras wearing a red fedora. Young has said one reason the company is called Red Hat is that red symbolizes revolution and liberation. More specifically, the name came from co-founder Marc Ewing's penchant for wearing a red lacrosse cap when he was at Carnegie Mellon University, as well as his habit of naming his software projects "Red Hat 1," "Red Hat 2" and so on. While the company originally used a clip-art top hat as its symbol, today it boasts a red fedora that has a great deal of meaning for the company, says Chris Grams, director of brand communications and design. "The fedora has become a symbolic gift that Red Hat gives to employees and others who have done great honour to or service for the company," Grams says. "We all wear our fedoras with pride."

Thanks to Red Hat's strong brand recognition, it hasn't had problems with customers confusing it with other "red" companies, such as telecom equipment maker Redback. From time to time, however, it does get mixed up with the Red Hat Society, an organization for women 50 and older, who wear red hats when they get together. "We do occasionally get the opportunity to talk to nice older women about why they should consider using Linux and open source technology," Grams says.

Purple power

Extreme Networks is a company of a different colour: purple.

Chairman Gordon Stitt, who co-founded Extreme in 1996, proudly pleads guilty to choosing for his company the colour of Teletubby Tinky-Winky and singer Donny Osmond. The choice (made in conjunction with an outside designer) grew out of Extreme's logo colour, which stemmed from the then-start-up's desire to create a distinctive personality in a switch market where the same few companies had been around for years.

"The colour was a pretty big part of our story," Stitt says. "People at trade shows would look at our products and ask why they were purple. It gave us an opportunity to tell our story about a new class of products called Layer 3 switches that give you 10 times the performance of a router at a tenth the price and give you quality of service."

Stitt says the company's loyal followers refer to themselves as "painting their data centres purple" or "bleeding purple." New-employee orientations stress "purple power," the internal name for a product launch is "Purple Reign" and Extreme's partners work with it through the "Go Purple" program. Microsoft, a big customer, once sent the company a Barney the Dinosaur doll after receiving an order of Extreme switches, Stitt says. "It's embedded in the culture," he says.

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More about AppleApple ComputerBig BlueBlueAntBlueCat NetworksBlue Coat SystemsBluesocketCarnegie Mellon University AustraliaCreativeExtreme NetworksFrance TelecomGoogleHISIBM AustraliaMellonMicrosoftNovellPantonePLUSRed HatVIA

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