Snapshot from a few years ago: Lucent Technologies Inc. CEO Rich McGinn had just wrapped up a keynote address when a show attendee stepped up to ask a question. McGinn's speech had focused on changes in carrier networks, so the attendee - a network manager at a financial institution - asked McGinn what data products Lucent could offer him.
The premise of the question was obvious. In light of the Lucent buzz after it fled AT&T Corp., what did it really have to offer against the then-reigning corporate internetworking quartet of Cisco Systems Inc., Bay Networks, 3Com Corp. and Cabletron?
McGinn didn't seem to understand the question and went back to describing a carrier-infrastructure makeover. As the questioner slunk back to his seat, I could see he was more confused than ever as to why he should care about Lucent.
You'd think Lucent would have a chance to fix its tin ear with its spinoff of Avaya, which fashions itself as "the former enterprise networking group of Lucent Technologies." Initial indications aren't promising.
Avaya's CEO is former Lucent Chief Financial Officer Donald Peterson, whom I'm sure is a fine person with an accomplished career. But after two phone conversations, a face-to-face interview and a press conference with him at NetWorld+Interop, I'm left with the unmistakable impression that the man isn't conversant with data networks.
Every time Peterson is asked about Avaya's data business - a set of Gigabit Ethernet and ATM products that Lucent obtained via acquisitions - he hands the question to an aide or returns the conversation to the voice side of the house.
An example was at Avaya's Interop meeting, when Network World Editorial Director John Gallant asked Peterson a question about where Avaya's data products fit in, given that he'd practically ignored them in his slide show. Peterson begged off, claiming the question involved "a certain technical component" (as if he'd been asked to explain Avaya's stance on Ethernet 802.1p class-of-service priority bits or something) and turned over the podium to Technology Vice President Karyn Mashima.
When one of Network World's reporters later followed up the same line of questioning, Peterson called over a sales executive. When I asked Peterson for more examples of Avaya's OEM strategy following reports of Marconi licensing Avaya's Ethernet gear, he said "there may come a time where somebody wants to OEM our PBX software."
On the phone I've asked Peterson how Avaya will push its Cajun Ethernet switches. In response I get the old Lucent line that the Cajun family is "voice-ready on day one," then a segue about its use in Web-enabled call centers and so on back to the telephony world.
This wouldn't matter if Avaya would just admit it's basically a big (and very good) PBX company. But Avaya insists it's one of the new, pure players in "enterprise networking."
That's setting itself up for more user disillusionment unless this new CEO changes his focus . . . and fast.
Rohde is managing editor of The Edge section of Network World. He can be reached at email@example.com.