Interview: Cabletron comeback?

Trapped behind far larger competitors and coming off an $US85 million loss in its most recent quarter, Cabletron Systems, based in Rochester, New Hampshire, is trying to reinvent itself by going from box vendor to network management kingpin. Cabletron chief technology officer Mike Skubisz last week discussed the No. 4 networking vendor's strategy with Computerworld US senior editor Bob Wallace.

Q: What technology are you betting the future of Cabletron on, and why?

A: Management software is the first, as it allows enterprises to unlock the value of the underlying hardware technology to support their business. Management software has changed from a "nice to have" to a "need to have", and Cabletron is investing in our Spectrum [network management] platform [and] also allowing Spectrum's value to be gained through derivative applications that run on top of [Hewlett-Packard, Computer Associates] and Tivoli platforms.

And directory, policy and accounting services fundamentally change how you manage the network ... allowing for user- or application-based decision-making.

Q: Given your position as the No. 4 networking vendor and the fact that you have been struggling, why should large enterprise users buy from you?

A: Management expertise is one reason. More and more, network managers are being asked to align the technology of the network with the business processes of the organisation that they work for.

One of the most valuable tools to reduce operational cost and complexity is management software.

If we support [our customers] well and allow them to manage their multivendor environment and continue to offer feature-rich networking products - that's a recipe for success.

Q: What technologies would improve the tools users would need to manage such things as network design, simulation and planning?

A: It's sad that there are not tools to predict the operation of a network before you build it. In every other industry, there are three steps - planning, implementation and measurement - associated with any project.

Network professionals I talk to never have the time to plan. ... [They] execute, then execute, then execute again until it works ... then never have the time to measure the effectiveness. Cabletron is investing heavily in "what-if" analysis, capacity planning and behavioural analysis/modelling software.

Working in conjunction with partners such as Optimal Networks, we hope to answer questions like, "What's required if we add 300 more enterprise resource planning users to the network?" or "How do we allow the electronic-commerce site to support 10,000 more customers?".

Q: What are the key emerging technologies for the enterprise?

A: Watch the wireless space closely. Now that standards exist for wireless LANs, the prices are dropping and the ease of deployment and interoperability is improving. You'll also see broadband wireless technologies for the WAN that will allow users to deploy high-speed links in the hundreds of megabits for large campuses and metropolitan-area networks.