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Extreme CEO looks to converge networking with computing in data centers

Ex-Sun storage exec Mark Canepa says he brings 'computer guy' perspective to the Layer 3/10 Gigabit switch vendor.

By Phil Hochmuth,
October 18, 2006 09:14 AM ET
Mark Canepa, CEO of Extreme - When a former server/storage executive takes over a networking company, you can expect things to change. This process is happening at Extreme Networks, where Mark Canepa began working as CEO in August after a stint as the executive vice president of Sun's data management group. He spoke with Network World Senior Editor Phil Hochmuth about his plans for Extreme, how the company will compete with Cisco, and the convergence of data center technologies. The following is an edited transcript.

What are your priorities as CEO, after a little more than a month on the job?

What I'm going to focus on at least for the first few quarters are operational kinds of things. The company is focused on doing a lot of different things for its size. So the first order of business is really to do some market segmentation. It's a $55 billion Ethernet IP market. We're a $400 million revenue [company]. Let's go find the market segments that make sense and then let's really throw the whole company behind them.

We have the luxury, being our size, to pick some spots. When you're this kind of size, whatever you choose to do, you'd better be the best at it. You have to punch through whatever the big guys are trying to do. That's going to be the game plan over the next couple of quarters. Get the revenue stream headed in the right direction; get that stuff headed in the right direction and then take it from there.

Was Extreme heading in the wrong direction prior to you coming in?

I don’t bring any preconceived notions either from being inside this company, or from the network industry [itself]. I'm not a networking guy per se, I'm a computer guy; I've been plugging things into the network most of my life. I've been building products into the network, so to me, the network is always something that's sitting right next to you. But I don’t really come to this with a lot of preconceived notions. So it's going to be a pretty pragmatic approach to figure out what are our core competencies, and what is the differentiation we are trying to create. And what is the true value of that differentiation? That's the pretty basic question I'm asking [everyone at Extreme].

So the challenge is really that. Let's take the wishes away from this. Let's just be pragmatic and if it makes sense, it makes sense. But let's not delude ourselves about what makes sense.

The CEO you are replacing was one of the company's founders; how do you take over that kind of role from someone, and what has been the reaction by Extreme employees?

The good news is that my past 10 years at Sun, the company was run by the founder. So there are actually a lot of similarities between Scott [McNealy] at Sun and Gordon [Stitt] at Extreme. So from that perspective, I've been in a company that's run by a founder … I learned. And in 10 years at Sun, when it was run by a non-founder, I saw how [it was run so] that's a pretty good perspective [for this job].

It's surprising, when you're in the storage business, how close you are to the networking business. [In storage] we had to deal with applications, with security, with system management. So 90% of the issues are similar. Then there is a big chunk of the storage business that is file-based. In other words, it sits on the file side … That's all IP-based storage, so you are very much into the IP-network problems — latencies and bandwidth and VLANs, and attaching channels, and assurance of service … I would get together with Gordon, and we would start to draw on the board, saying here are the network problems. And as being a user of the network, I understood them all very quickly. So from the technology point of view, aside from all the four-letter acronyms … it's pretty straight forward. Plus I grew up as a technologist. I started out as an engineer. So technology is rarely what is a problem.

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