Interview: New Cabletron CEO talks about the future

Friday's replacement of Cabletron Systems co-founder, CEO and chairman of the board Craig Benson with technology guru Piyush Patel marked a more aggressive focus on emerging communications technologies that can be developed for both corporate customers and service providers.

Patel, 43, was the brains behind startup Yago Systems's advanced Layer 3 routing switch, which -- since Cabletron bought the company last January -- has become the hottest product in the company's 16-year history. Cabletron went from having no product in that market to being the market leader in that area, according to the Dell'Oro Group, a California-based research firm.

In announcing his departure, Benson acknowledged that Patel, with his deep technology knowledge and his term as Cabletron's senior vice president of worldwide research and development, was better suited to be Cabletron's CEO for the future.

Patel discussed Cabletron's multifaceted technology strategy with US Computerworld senior editor Bob Wallace.

Computerworld (CW): What markets and technologies do you see as poised for the greatest growth?

Patel: We want to focus more and more on products for cable operators, the xDSL market and pushing our routing switch -- which has caching and load balancing -- as a package with servers for Web hosting operations.

CW: Given your stated goal of increasing the company's focus in selling to service providers, what does that mean for corporate users of your enterprise products? Will your commitment to that business decrease, stay the same or increase?

Patel: On the enterprise side, we fully plan on increasing our market presence. Our commitment will increase as we will spend more aggressively in this area. It's our stronghold, and we will protect it.

CW: What can you do with technology to improve enterprise products?

Patel: The two biggest areas where we'll be spending big is to apply technology to increase the number of feeds and speeds on enterprise products, which will translate into lower prices for users.

CW: What are the top enterprise networking areas you're most focusing on?

Patel: The next big areas are quality-of-service and policy-based management. The next big area for users will be supporting guaranteed quality for voice and video applications from the desktop to the (data centre). And the ability to set policies [for network usage] is another key area.

CW: Will Cabletron still be known first as an equipment vendor?

Patel: A lot of work in the past has been on the hardware side, but we're looking to expand in the network management software and professional services areas going forward. We would look for partners to develop applications to sit atop Spectrum (Cabletron's network management package) and are considering either acquiring or taking a large equity stake in a professional services company to gain critical mass.

CW: What can you do to build your presence in the emerging converged voice/data market?

Patel: In the voice area, we would look to partner with large telecomms companies to gain expertise in (traditional) PBXs and their control software, while looking closely at promising startups for innovation.

CW: Cabletron has talked of selling to service providers for at least a few years, even going so far as to name former Nynex exec Don Reed as Cabletron's CEO. Reed left about seven months later, and little has been heard about progress in that area. What's up?

Patel: Don was brought in to do that. Now we have the product base for service providers. We've been building relationships, which entails working with them to make sure the products have all the right features . . . Ten per cent of our revenues come from service providers, a figure we expect to grow at a lot faster clip as confidence in our products builds.

CW: What new developments do you see as being on the horizon?

Patel: We'll probably expand our business (equipment resale) with Compaq by having our professional services people work with theirs to provide better systems integration of our (respective) products.

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