N.E.T. To Stage Come-Back

About a week ago, Network Equipment Technologies, Inc. http://www.net.com held rather a strange party – one in which the staff were invited to watch their company sign being smashed up in the corporate car park.

Next week, the reason for the little ceremony will become clear. NET, an old-style telecom equipment vendor, is announcing a new corporate image at the Supercomm trade show in Atlanta. It’s re-styling itself as a sort of startup, with a new company logo – “net.com” – a new product line and a new corporate culture.

The new product line targets a hot area of networking technology – service provisioning platforms – and comes dressed to kill. It’s called “Scream”, for Service Creation Manager, and the boxes are painted bright yellow. “We thought about having blood trickling down them,” says Bert Whyte, net.com’s president and CEO.

The shock tactics are partly aimed at getting noticed – NET has had a very low profile in recent years – and are partly aimed at changing staff attitudes. Whyte says that he's deliberately cultivating a climate of being "on the edge of chaos" in his company to keep everybody on their toes.

So, is there some substance behind the razzmatazz?

The simple answer is yes. Whyte was brought in to rescue the company almost exactly a year ago, and he’s done a pretty good job of discovering hidden jewels in NET and putting them into a new setting.

Let’s start with the new product line. The jewel in this case has turned out to be the latest attempt by NET to build an ATM switch. When Whyte arrived on the scene, development of the switch was way behind schedule and the prototype was “ mediocre” according to Whyte. However, it had a saving grace: it was controlled by software running on a workstation linked to the switch.

This separation of the “control plane” (the switch’s operating system) and “user plane” (the applications furnishing services) has enabled net.com to catch up with the latest thinking in telecom technology.

Specifically, net.com’s switches enable carriers to build a network, and then develop or buy software packages to offer services over it. They can also customize services for individual customers.

That hasn’t been possible in the past, because the services have been implemented in software running on the switch vendor’s proprietary hardware. As a result, carriers have been forced to build different networks to support different services, and they’ve had to pay through the nose for software because they’ve been captive customers of switch vendors.

Now that carriers are striving to separate service development and provisioning from the underlying network, a huge market is opening up for developments such as net.com’s. As a result, net.com is far from alone in developing service provisioning platforms.

Still, net.com has some other strengths that startups would die for. One of them is its URL, which Whyte has exploited in the company’s new logo. Another is net.com’s world-wide service and support network, and its established customer base of carriers.

By Peter Heywood, international editor, Light Reading, http://www.lightreading.com
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