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Xylan: an overnight success three years in the making

Xylan: an overnight success three years in the making

IT has produced no end of overnight success stories. While many are short lived, there are but a handful that have gone on to become the mainstays of the industry.

One company many analysts believe will fall into the second category is Xylan. The California-based company is making a name for itself after successfully switching implementations at a host of organisations, including what it says is the world's largest switched network at UCLA.

The company has been experiencing tremendous growth, being rated as the fastest growing startup company on NASDEQ in the year following its 1993 listing. Its last fiscal quarter yielded revenues greater than its first year.

But rapid growth is not a sign of immaturity, says Xylan's recently appointed local managing director Laurie Wong. "We may be a young company but certainly we spent a lot of time understanding the market requirements, and where the next wave of networking technology would be."

From this basis Wong is able to make statements such as: "We are the leaders of virtual switched networking," and back them up with US studies quoting 29 per cent market penetration. The company recently shot to local prominence with a successful implementation at Wollongong University, considered to be the largest ATM installation in Australia.

According to sales and marketing director David Ramsay, much of Xylan's success is due to its focus on one area - switching. "One hundred per cent of our research and development goes into switching. This is why we can develop fast-to-market and performance- leading products."

Realising there is little point being fast to market without support infrastructure, Xylan recently expanded its local presence with the creation of a full management team. In addition to Ramsay, who established Xylan locally in May 1995, former Digital stalwart Wong joined as managing director, with Charles Spooner appointed national channels manager.

Xylan's totally indirect sales mechanism makes choosing the right channel partners crucial to its success, says Wong. "It's a sophisticated and complex product, and we have a very rigorous vetting process to pick our partners, to make sure they understand networking and have the desire to invest in the technology and training. We rely very heavily on our partners, and so we have this belief that our destinies are linked. If they are successful we're successful, so our prime focus is to make them successful."

Xylan's sales channel includes both OEMs and VARs/integrators. Its partners now include Digital's Network Services division, HDS, StorageTek, Alcatel and IBM.

It has not focused exclusively on the multinationals though, with the appointment of Queensland-based LAN Link. Ramsay says LAN Link was chosen as a regional VAR based on its reputation and support offerings.

Xylan is looking to build similar arrangements with other VARs, says Ramsay, but all decisions will be made with care.

The technology argument

But a strong channel is only part of the battle if Xylan is to win mindshare in Australia. Ultimately technology will be the decider, and it is here that Ramsay believes Xylan's focus on switching will differentiate it. While there have been undoubted leaders in any new technology, no one company has ever lead in two eras of technology. Ramsay believes the era now being entered into is virtual networking, where Xylan is already leading. "And I don't just mean switches - switches are hardware only and really nothing more than a fancy bridge. What really starts to differentiate them is the virtual networking software - the glue that hangs this whole new era of hardware together. And that's the place where we differentiate ourselves."

Virtual LANs allow users to relocate within an organisation and stay attached to their workgroup LAN, without having to alter the physical network infrastructure. "It's giving users the capability to increase their mobility, while decreasing their administration and management overheads. And it's the first time probably ever that users can set up their workgroups according to business function.

"A virtual LAN is nothing more than a broadcast domain as it is today on a physical network - you just take away the geographic limitations."

Ramsay points to Xylan's AutoTracker virtual LAN software as the key. "While most VLANs are created by port or MAC address, Xylan is able to create virtual LANs by a number of methods, including protocol, subnet, rule, or multicast address. "By being able to create a virtual LAN and have it policy based from a central management station we don't have to configure every switch in the network. We configure nothing. We define the rules centrally, we download the information to the switches, then as users plug into the network they will be automatically configured into the appropriate broadcast domain. So there's very little administration and management overhead."

And thanks to an agreement signed with CheckPoint technology to integrate its Firewall product into AutoTracker early next year, VLANs will also be defined by user variables such as authentication and ID. Xylan will also soon be rolling out solutions, allowing the extension of VLAN functionality over wide area networks. "You can move from Sydney to Melbourne, log onto a workstation in Melbourne, and you're on the same workgroup as you are in the Sydney office automatically," says Ramsay.

Xylan's focus on switching has also allowed it to come up with innovative hardware solutions, especially with regard to technical flexibility. Its switches are capable of supporting both Ethernet and ATM modules within the unit, which Ramsay says can cut the heartache out of upgrades. "When you talk about migration from a legacy LAN-based network to an ATM network, our migration path is to slide out a LAN module, then slide into an ATM switching module and you've migrated to ATM." Ramsay says this approach will also allow Xylan to accommodate Gigabit Ethernet modules within the switch in the same way, with Xylan planning on rolling out its first products in 1997. For the user this means flexibility in the purchase, and future proofing the investment.

Xylan Tel: (02) 9957 6561 Fax: (02) 9957 6590


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