Early this year Fore Systems quietly promoted financial whiz Thomas Gill to the position of president and CEO, replacing the more technical company founder Eric Cooper, who remains as chairman. IDG's Robin Schreier Hohman spoke with Gill about his style and his plans to expand Fore beyond the world of ATMIDG: Fore has always been known as an ATM equipment supplier. Are you branching out a little bit more?
Gill: Yes, we are. Our strategy is to continue to stay focused on ATM in the enterprise, but also to expand our solution on the edge. We've got a terrific edge strategy today and we want to continue to focus on how to expand that product line.
It seems that there has been a shift away from thinking about pure ATM or Ethernet environments to using ATM in the backbone and Ethernet on the desktop. Are you seeing that same evolution?
In the core of the backbone, we are very adamant about ATM as the right backbone infrastructure to support applications and all the scalability capacity requirements over the long term. Long term is three to five years in a planning cycle for a network manager.
On the edge of the network we have a bit of a different philosophy. We will work with customers and understand what applications they're running, what some of the drivers are and what some of the needs are in this business over the next several years.
So what kind of new edge products can we expect to see?
Well, we've got a big focus on two areas in the LAN. One is stackable switches - 10/100 stackable switches that are priced competitively. Today we have a modular product that is very, very solid and sells very well but is under a bit of price pressure on the edge, and we continually adjust the pricing to bring it down.
Can customers easily migrate to ATM from Ethernet, or does the move require a forklift upgrade?
If the customer has a large installation of shared hubs, typically the shared hubs can aggregate onto a high-density closet-type Layer 3 switch that we offer. Our PowerHub product line can do that very well.
When you talk to customers, what are they looking for Fore to build?
A lot of the customers that we're working with today have FDDI backbones. They have a big router infrastructure. It's complex to manage, it's costly, it's at capacity, and it's essentially hitting the wall.
Some of the FDDI backbones are at 99 per cent capacity, and they can't take the organisation forward. So we have the ideal opportunity to come in and, at a very attractive price point, upgrade their backbone. We can bring them a very attractive edge solution that integrates well into the ATM or cell-based backbone infrastructure.
What are you doing with Microsoft?
We are supplying its entire headquarters campus with ATM backbone switches, and we've been a part of its network for almost a year.
Its entire campus?
Its entire campus, yes. It's a fairly large and expensive network. Microsoft is a strategic account, a very important customer of ours.
Do you think one of the barriers to ATM, high pricing, is dropping away?
I think so. Let's start out on the desktop first. We've rolled out very attractive desktop pricing for OC-3. Our OC-3 pricing per port is about $US400, and the adapter card is just about $US500. That is very attractive when compared to Fast Ethernet. And we will continue to bring that pricing down.
There has been lots of speculation in the market about an acquisition. Is Fore for sale?
I would not take the job as CEO and president of the company if I was asked to take the role to just sell the company. I would not accept the position to do that. We're building the company for the long term.