Extreme CEO Understands Cisco’s Competitive Threat

Named president and CEO of Extreme Networks Inc. this summer, former Sun Microsystems executive Mark Canepa is grappling with an internal investigation into past stock-option granting practices at the company, which also is facing NASDAQ delisting for delaying its year-end financial filings.

In an interview with Computerworld, however, Canepa doesn’t seem concerned about the outcome of the stock-option probe or about the threat of delisting. He believes both matters will be addressed satisfactorily, and he says customers’ buying decisions are unaffected by them.

As a primarily enterprise-oriented data-networking company that competes regularly against networking powerhouse Cisco Systems, Extreme has gained useful insight into how open systems, technology partnerships and alliances can function as a bulwark and as essential differentiation when you’re fighting against an industry behemoth.

Says Canepa:

We all operate in the shadow of a Cisco. It means you have to differentiate and be nimble. Cisco may be large, but they have lots of different product lines that may be incompatible with one another. We’ve built our company around a single system that’s open. We have a very sophisticated XMLinterface and a set of APIs that make it very easy for a partner like Avaya to closely build in an application environment. That’s key when you’re a $400million company like us. The trick is to apply what you are really good at into markets where you can make a difference, and get there before Cisco.

That’s a good recipe for success against Cisco as I’ve seen. It’s one that F5 Networks used to good effect as it built itself into the market leader in application-traffic management, and it’s an approach that Extreme will attempt to execute in its ongoing battle with Cisco in secure, high-speed, converged enterprise networks.

Extreme needn’t become a market leader to survive and prosper; it just needs to become a credible converged-network alternative to the top dog.

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