Jostling for a central place in the high-end networking arena

Jostling for a central place in the high-end networking arena

Going up against IT gorillas such as Cisco is all in a day's work for IT industry veteran and channel personality, Gary Jackson. Having been around the IT traps since 1973, Jackson's current task is to build up Force10 Networks' Asia-Pacific business. Boasting of past posts as local managing director of Cisco Systems, vice president of EMC Asia-Pacific, and a former managing director of Microsoft Australia, he's no stranger to building up tech businesses. With Force10, he aims to go after the big boys, and mainly Cisco, by offering customers an alternative in the high-end routing and switching market.

With a new office in Sydney, a dedicated channel man, and a wholesale deal with Distribution Central, Jackson said the company was set to make its mark in the local networking arena. He sat down with ARN's JENNIFER O'BRIEN to discuss regional plans and potential market opportunities.

What's in the cards for Force10 in Asia-Pacific this year?
We are gradually expanding the Asia-Pacific business. We have strong operations going already in Japan, Korea and China, which are the big markets. We want to aggressively expand into South Asia, Australia and India. Looking at the A/NZ market, who you partner with is key because the partner space is heavily infl uenced by Cisco.

How does the company plan to go up against Cisco?
The market is at a point where there are a number of people who want an alternative supply. We're trying to be a key alternate supplier in network architecture for both service providers and enterprise customers.

What's Force10's main differentiator?
Our benefit is that it's a very new architecture. We've been designed in the 2000 timeframe, so clearly there are benefits with that. We have extremely high density per port. This is attractive to medium to large customers who worry about how much space is being taken up in their data centre and how much power they need.

There are lots of issues now about space, and we do that better than Cisco in terms of what you can get, particularly in the 10 Gig market. We also have high reliability, low power, and low latency. There's a large part of the market that will continue to be comfortable with their current supplier, but there's also a substantial amount looking for cost-effective alternatives.

What's it like now sitting on the other side of the fence after being the managing director of Cisco?
It's a company I spent a lot of years at and have a lot of respect for. You just have to pick your mark. The fact of the matter is there's always choices in the market, and people decide on something else for a variety of reasons: otherwise we'd all be driving around in Model T Fords. I think Cisco is a company to be respected, but there are plenty of people who feel, for a variety of reasons - either reliability or performance or ease of use of the software - that there needs to be more choice.

What are Force10's main product categories?
We have three sets of products. The low-end starts at $4000 and it ranges up to $1 million-plus for high-end gear. The history of the product line is focused on the high-end core. Substantial companies with core networks, like the Googles and the Yahoos, and large portal companies, are very heavily Force10 networks already. The E-series switch/router ensures predictable application performance, increases network availability and reduces operating costs. With the rollout of the series, which is more at the edge side, we now provide core switching and routing as well as edge switching and routing.

What type of partners are you looking to form relationships with?
We're looking to NetWorld [the networking distribution business under Distribution Central] to be our key access point to market. Resellers who know something about the network space are our prime target.

How big is the switching and router market locally?
If you just focus on switching and routing, there's a substantial network revenue base here in Australia. Cisco would be doing more than $US700 million in this country, so if you then looked at the switching and routing market in Australia, we would see it as at least half a billion US dollars. We already represent about 15 per cent of the 10 Gig market worldwide, so I'd love to get 15 per cent of the 10 Gig space here. That would be what we'd try to get to in the next 1-2 years.

What are some of the trends shaping the market?
There's a lot of concentration going on in the industry: people are building fewer but bigger data centres. They are doing cluster computing. We're almost going back to the old bureau processing days. And the more you concentrate, the more you have to look at how reliable is the kit I'm putting in there. How easy is it to manage, and how upgradeable is it. What can I do to expand?

Are there any hot verticals?
Where we would do well in the Australian market is in any Internet data centre. Research and education have a big interest in us because they like very high performance and 10 Gig density. The service providers, particularly Internet exchange companies and ISPs, are interested, as well as the portal companies and anybody in the gaming business. It makes sense for firms with massive amounts of data that they have to move and store on a daily basis.

What's the next big thing in the industry?
Looking at the next 3-5 years, there's going to be a lot of money spent on cluster computing, storage and networking. There will be greater emphasis on network speed: service provider and large data centre customers are saying, 'Give me better density and make sure the 10 Gig runs on every port'. The industry is now looking in the next 24 months to specify a 100 gigabit standard, and we're leading that drive. Wherever you look, there's going to be mounting pressure on network speed and network management. Just look at the You Tubes of the world: we love them, and hope there's one in every town, because they just blow away network requirements.

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