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What's Motorola Doing With NetPlane?

Earlier this week, Motorola Computer Group announced it is acquiring NetPlane Systems Inc. for an undisclosed amount of cash, in what appears to be a move to beef up its role in building outsourced networking systems (see Motorola Acquires NetPlane).

Here's the deal: NetPlane makes software that simplifies the morass of software contained in routers, crossconnects, and switches used in carrier and enterprise networks (see NetPlane Opens Up IP Routing and NetPlane Aims at Simpler QoS). Motorola Computer Group (MCG) makes network processors, chassis, and cards for use by network equipment vendors. The two have worked together on many projects to combine software and hardware in development kits for vendors, including Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), which is a longstanding MCG/NetPlane customer.

MCG now hopes to use NetPlane's technology to delve deeper into what it thinks is a growing market for OEM'd software/hardware combinations, which can streamline the manufacturing process.

The two companies share other connections as well. Two NetPlane executives, VP and general manager Deepak Shahane and VP of customer engineering Kevin Smith, are former Motorola employees. According to John Fryer, former VP of marketing at NetPlane, the entire management team, including Shahane, is joining MCG. These executives will report to brand-new general manager Wendy Vittori, whose past jobs have included managing the storage components division of Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC).

Fryer says all 62 of NetPlane's current employees also are joining the new parent company.

MCG has made it clear that it hopes to expand NetPlane's expertise beyond telecom applications. In its press release, MCG states that NetPlane software could be used with CompactPCI, Processor PMC, or VMEbus boards for products serving the "industrial automation and defense industries." There's also talk of extending NetPlane expertise to the wireless divisions at MCG's parent, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT).

NetPlane's Fryer says NetPlane was already working on special projects for MCG. For instance, software to support IS-IS routing that had been planned for release earlier this year was developed and released, but kept unannounced until after the acquisition.

NetPlane will also join its wares to other assets that MCG has been collecting, Fryer says, including voice-over-IP software acquired by MCG with its July 2001 acquisition of Blue Wave Systems Inc., a company that made digital signal processors for media gateways.

For NetPlane, MCG looks like a first-class lifeboat. Back in the third quarter of 2002, NetPlane's parent company, Conexant Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CNXT), announced it was looking to jettison NetPlane, which it purchased in October 2000 for an undisclosed sum. NetPlane cut 30 percent of its staff in July 2002, and it was clearly examining its options.

Of course, the challenge now will be effectively integrating it all – and under a brand-new MCG manager, no less.

NetPlane, formerly known as Harris & Jeffries, was founded in 1990 and created protocol software for OEMs that included X.25, ATM, and routing software. In 2000, the company was bought by Conexant, which made it part of Mindspeed Technologies, the company's division devoted to WAN transport and multiservice access gear for Internet use.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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skeptic 12/5/2012 | 12:42:27 AM
re: What's Motorola Doing With NetPlane?
Anything netplane has is going to end up being
more trouble than its worth. All motorola has
bought itself by doing this is a headache.
They could probably do a low-quality MPLS, but
their ability to do commerical grade IP anything
has always been suspect to say the last.

The people who work at places like netplane/
ipinfusion/etc write software in the abstract.
They typically don't understand how to build
real products or how to deliver software that
works in real products.

But that doesn't stop people from purchasing
these companies.

jamesbond 12/5/2012 | 12:42:26 AM
re: What's Motorola Doing With NetPlane? Anything netplane has is going to end up being
more trouble than its worth. All motorola has
bought itself by doing this is a headache.
They could probably do a low-quality MPLS, but
their ability to do commerical grade IP anything
has always been suspect to say the last.

The people who work at places like netplane/
ipinfusion/etc write software in the abstract.
They typically don't understand how to build
real products or how to deliver software that
works in real products.

But that doesn't stop people from purchasing
these companies.

---------------------------

Well Intel tried with Trillium and gave up.
Now its Motorola's turn. Lets see when
they give up.
Pigabit 12/5/2012 | 12:42:20 AM
re: What's Motorola Doing With NetPlane?
Right on, I'm with skeptic & jamesbond. What the hell is going on here? Who pushed this through corporate? Hell, when I worked at Moto from '92-'96, it was a 12-step process to get a box a paperclips!!!!!

I mean maybe I could understand this in the ridiculous 1999-2001 timeframe (anyone remember the phrase "irrational exuberance"?), but these days? Moto is just pissing money away, people at H&J / Netplane / Conexant / Moto / company-du-jour are just happy that someone will pay them to re-work a tired protocol stack.

I don't know... just feeling a little cynical... in times like these, does Moto really need an acquisition like this?

Who will be next to get the hot potato? Sorry, just imagining a handful of engineers slaving away at keyboards, trying to do whatever they can to keep their jobs, meanwhile Deepak & Kevin try to conceal their sh*t eating grin....

OK, maybe that's not fair, I don't have any experience with this company, I just don't understand deals like this anymore, and I am projecting my frustration & dismay onto these guys...

Peace out,
Piggy
BobbyMax 12/5/2012 | 12:42:15 AM
re: What's Motorola Doing With NetPlane? Motorola has a history of acquiring useless companies and promoting incompetent employees from the acquired companies. It has acquired semiconductor companies, protocol companies, and wireless companies. It has failed in every business it undertook. It has billions of dollars in acquisitions.

It tries make every thing under the sun. Its subsidiaries are spread all across the country. There is no effective way to govern these companies.

I would strongly suggerst that Motorola get out of business of buying companies. Netplane makes software which is not of very good quality. Every thing is done in India without any quality control. It is not even clear if it has the correct implementation of MPLS, Frame Relay or any other software that it has implemented.

Motorola one time had acquired UNIX software and it spent a lot of money without any results.
RTP 12/5/2012 | 12:42:14 AM
re: What's Motorola Doing With NetPlane? Having worked with several products from H&J/NetPlane over the years, I have definitely noticed a slip in quality.

I was impressed with their ATM products, but lukewarm about their MPLS and IP routing products. Their infrastructure products (MDS, RMS, etc) are also a bit sketchy.

My hope is that with the support of Motorola, they will get back on track.
a-dude 12/5/2012 | 12:42:13 AM
re: What's Motorola Doing With NetPlane? I have worked with many of netplane products and I must say that I have found them of good quality and "mostly" living up to the standards, etc. I have used their MPLS product and I had found it to be of good quality... MDS was another one that I found was a good product... RMS had issues but they were being resolved.. The thing that I had found remarkable about their products was the amount of QA they did before releasing their products.. My exp. with them was generally good...
Raymand 12/5/2012 | 12:42:11 AM
re: What's Motorola Doing With NetPlane? Who does make good control plane software?

I've read complaints about everyone...Cisco IOS, Juniper Junos, etceteras... In this thread the claim is that Netplane's SW is written too abstractly, without real world insight. Other manufacturers have bought and modified off-the-shelf stacks and have thus have problems from the start.

If someone's goal was to create a best in class, robust and practical control plane for MPLS/GMPLS...where would you start? Would it be best to start from scratch? Would starting from scratch be too abstract?

Any insights anyone?

Thanks in Advance,

Everybody Loves Raymand
a-dude 12/5/2012 | 12:42:09 AM
re: What's Motorola Doing With NetPlane? Raymand,
Most of the time one does not have the luxury of starting from scratch due to time pressures and budget constraints...Also these stacks can be complicated to implement from scratch...
Generally, there are two classes of people-- one trying to implement things very fast with limited resources (i.e. startups) and other being big established players like cisco, juniper, etc.
The big players generally do their own protocol development ...
startups, generally buy the stacks and then modify them to fit their product. Another alternative for them may be to look for free linux implementations but then they have no support for it .. There are risks in both approach ..
The approach that has worked for me (in a startup) is buying the protocol stack and then modifying it to fit into our product... But the critical thing here was selecting the right vendor...
I found a lot of vendors who had half baked products and essentailly when you bought from them you also had to get a lot of support from them to just getting things started... But I found a couple of vendors (netplane and nexthop) who had reasonable solution on top of which I could build and fit it into our product...
If time and money was no constraint then I will be tempted to do the developement inhouse but in all my jobs till date that did not seem practical (smile)..

Hope that gives you some insights...
Raymand 12/5/2012 | 12:42:09 AM
re: What's Motorola Doing With NetPlane? Thanks for the feedback. Some additional questions please:


Since there is a definite lull in the market, it seems that there is no real time crunch. Also, budgets (I think) get big when you are trying to do things fast. Academics often make very great progress with very little money but they take much longer to get things done.

If there is a window, is there a sustainable benefit to doing things from scratch, or are you simply reinventing the wheel? How long and how many people does it take to do this stuff and is this dramatically impacted by the presence of a head-and-shoulders above SW engineer. (Example: Linux was originally authored by a team of one)

Thanks Much,

Raymand
skeptic 12/5/2012 | 12:42:05 AM
re: What's Motorola Doing With NetPlane?
The mistake people make is that routing software
isn't just something you can "buy" and declare
done. If your building a router, building an
organization that can maintain the software
over the life of the company is as important
as getting a complete set of software.

The difficult thing these days is that, with
MPLS, the "bar" for what consititutes a complete
routing protocol solution has been raised
substantially.

Initially, the MPLS software vendors (netplane
was one) tried to deliver just signalling
software. They eventually found out that MPLS
isn't a standalone "object". To have a working
MPLS implementation, you need to have a
compatable/integrated OSPF/ISIS at a minimum.

And now, starting last year, ipv6 raised the bar
even higher.

If you want to start a software company doing
ip routing software, your going to have to hire
lots of good people and be willing to not make
any money for at least three years. If you
have the software ready when the telcom industry
turns around, you could do very well.

But on the downside, your going to find it
difficult to find the right people and get anyone
to invest in a bet as long-term as it would be.

And by right people, I mean people who can design
software (rather than maintain it) and who are
willing to do the hard work involved. And
most importantly, be able to work with other
people. Don't hire anyone who name-drops their
friends from IETF during an interview.
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