Some, such as Robert Morris, who gained notoriety for unleashing the first Internet worm, are keeping low profiles. Others, such as Ascend Communications Inc. founder Robert Ryan and Cabletron Systems Inc. co-founder Bob Levine, were unavailable for interviews because they were off enjoying the fruits of their labor. And still others, such as Cisco Systems Inc. co-founder turned cosmetics entrepreneur Sandy Lerner, are just tired of talking about networks. But we did catch up with a handful of the movers and shakers and got a chance to ask them what they' re up to now and to share some reflections on how the network industry has evolved.
Talk to Laurie Bride, senior enterprise architect for Boeing, and you' ll find that she has a passion for networking that hasn' t abated over the past 15 years.
Today, Bride takes a high-level look at networks, working to design network applications. In 1985, however, Bride had her hands buried deep in the network protocol stack, forming methods for different computers to talk to each other. She authored the Technical Office Protocol (TOP), a companion to the Manufacturing Automation Protocol (MAP), worked on the Open Systems Interconnection model and TCP/IP, and was active in early interoperability demonstrations.
"We accomplished our goals, whether it was MAP/TOP or what has developed into the Internet," she says. "Our objective was to get users knowledgeable about the problem and to communicate to the vendors that we wanted a solution."
In 1988, Bride participated in the Enterprise Networking Event (ENE), a demonstration she rates as the most important network event of the past 15 years.
"The ENE established that there were solutions to the information-sharing and communications problems among different vendors," Bride says. For the first time, 131 different computing systems were linked and simulated an enterprise network.
Bride' s work paid off for Boeing.
"We move 95 percent of our information across one network using IP, whereas in 1985 we had 23 different networks," she says.
Today, Rod Canion, co-founder of Compaq, is investing in companies that have good teams and come up with different ideas.
An advocate of wireless technology, 56-year-old Canion is investing in companies that speed content to users, such as MessageASAP and Surgient. He' s also put his money down on a diverse set of companies such as Questia Media and Tricord Systems. Questia is an online research service that will give students access to over 50,000 books. At Tricord, Canion served as co-CEO until shortly before the company introduced its first server and storage appliances.
In 1981, after Sevin Rosen Funds rejected funding a plug-in disk drive for the IBM PC, Canion and cohorts Bill Mutro and Jim Harris met with a designer at the House of Pies. It was there that the designer sketched a portable PC on a dinner napkin. That sketch would be the origin of Compaq, a company Sevin Rosen and other investors funded with $1.5 million - back then a big investment.
Ask him how he would have handled the mergers of Tandem and Digital with Compaq, and he suggests a different scenario. "If Compaq had actually merged with Gateway, as was rumored in the press, you' d have seen a much stronger industry leader," he says. "The combination of Gateway' s direct capability and Compaq' s business brand would have allowed Compaq to more successfully compete with Dell and stunted a lot of its growth."
Former Bay Networks CEO David House, who lives on the edge by helicopter skiing and racing fast cars, is now focusing on the edge of carrier networks as the leader of newcomer Allegro Networks.
House says the San Jose start-up is readying products aimed at helping carriers break through the latest "network choke-point" so they can deliver broadband services over wider geographic areas. The company is trying to exploit the shift from circuit to packet switching in carrier networks, which House says is the most important network change over the past 15 years.
"The tremendous advances the industry has made in optical technology, in the number of bits we can put down an optical fiber, is doubling every eight months, far beyond what Moore' s Law provided in semiconductors," House says. "The long-distance business is rapidly becoming a zero-margin business. That has created an unbelievable capacity in trunking and put all the pressure on the edge of the network."
Before joining Bay, House enjoyed a 14-year career at Intel, where he transformed the advertising slogan Intel used in Japan, "Intel In It," to "Intel Inside" and spurred Intel' s most successful marketing campaign. He also oversaw Intel' s server group.
"I moved from Intel to Bay Networks when I saw that the limiting factor in the use of the computer network was not the speed of the processor but the performance of the network," says House, who spends time out of the office working with the Computer History Museum in Mountain View and with disadvantaged kids at the Palo Alto Boys and Girls Center. "The choke-point was there."
Former Hughes Aircraft network planner Bud Huber has been collecting evidence of one kind or another for years.
Today, you might find him photographing evidence for insurance companies, lawyers and police organizations - an activity he undertakes as a sideline to his job at IT consulting firm Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC).
In the past, Hughes made it his business to collect evidence on behalf of enterprise net managers that could be used to get network product and service vendors more in line with customer needs.
Huber was among the most visible enterprise network advocates of the 1980s and 1990s, serving as the founding chairman of both the Enterprise Networking Roundtable and the User Alliance for Open Systems, a group that later became the voice of customers within the ATM Forum.
Huber says that although ATM never reached its potential in enterprise networks because of its complexity, he doesn' t consider the technology a failure.
"Technologies such as ATM, wireless or ISDN haven' t been failures," he says. "It' s been a failure of the internetworking [product and service companies] to achieve elegant simplicity in implementing them."
He points to the Ethernet connector and the URL as the most significant networking technologies of the past 15 years because they were easy to implement and use.
Huber retired from Hughes in 1999, thought he might settle down in Fort Worth, Texas, but then joined IT consulting firm CSC. He describes himself as CSC' s "chief parachutist" - as a member of the company' s executive staff he travels to customer locations, and jumps in to evaluate and solve their IT problems.
Ray Noorda rescued Novell back in 1982, when he joined the then-struggling network hardware and software company and helped turn it into the dominant player in the network operating system market.
In leading Novell until he retired in 1994, Noorda fought the good fight vs. Microsoft, which stumbled more than once in the NOS business before eventually leapfrogging Novell in market share a few years back. Noorda fought Microsoft on several other fronts, too, including the desktop software market, where Novell attempted to compete with Microsoft through its acquisitions of WordPerfect, Borland' s QuattroPro spreadsheet and Digital Research' s DR-DOS.
Not all Noorda' s moves worked, for sure. But that hasn' t stopped the man who is still Novell' s largest individual shareholder from battling Microsoft to this day.
The press-shy Noorda, who declined to be interviewed for this article, now oversees The Canopy Group, which was originally formed to invest in things that Noorda thought Novell should be doing.
Canopy Group dropped its Novell focus in 1996 and now concentrates on open source and network infrastructure offerings. Canopy, a venture fund valued at between US$1 billion and $2 billion, invests in companies such as Caldera, Intl., Lineo and Linux Networx, all of which offer Linux products designed to give companies a choice beyond Windows.
"Anything that would be viewed as a monopoly or controlling the industry, Ray does a pretty good job of creating something to cause some pain for that entity," says Ralph Yarro, CEO of Canopy Group, which is part of the larger Noorda Family Trust. That trust also includes cash holdings in a string of car dealerships valued at $50 million, investments in a couple of network storage companies and funding for several charitable groups.
According to those who work with the peripatetic 76-year-old Noorda, he still operates in much the same fashion he did while at Novell. He does a lot of management by walking around and has even arranged the offices of the companies funded by the Linden, Utah, Canopy Group in such a fashion that he can walk among them. He also is said to graciously let anyone make a mistake - as long as they get it right the second time.