The story of Juniper, Sycamore and other network companies that are as lovely as trees

If not for the kids, Juniper could have been IPCom.

Sometimes it seems like network companies grow on trees. Maybe that’s because so many are named after them.

The best known these days in the enterprise network market is Juniper Networks, whose founder and CTO -- Pradeep Sindhu – came up with the name.

His first requirement was that the company have the letters “IP”, as in Internet Protocol, in the name. Sindhu inched closer to choosing Juniper by deciding to make some reference to the “tree data structures” so important to some of the algorithms at the heart of the company’s initial products.

“Pradeep had to narrow down the list from five names to one in a hurry when one day the Wilson Sonsini lawyers called to file the incorporation papers for the company" back around the start of 1996, a company spokesperson says.

“Since he had to make the decision fast, he took the list home to ask his two children, who were then 10 years and 8 years old, for their opinions. They both were very enthusiastic about Juniper and not very enthusiastic at all about IPCom and IPSwitch and some of the other names. This made it real easy, and the name Juniper was born.”

Juniper picked the color blue for its logo just because it looked good and embossed an image of the tree on top of a silicon wafer to give it a techie feel.

Branding experts say trees make for popular names because they conjure up images of protection and durability, and for network companies, trees’ branches and roots have natural applicability.

One of the first tree companies in the network industry was Banyan Systems, which formed in the early 1980s and was pretty much petering out around the time Juniper emerged. Banyan made a name for itself with the VINES operating system. Novell and Microsoft -- and Banyan itself -- got the better of the company in the network operating system market, and by 1999 Banyan was renamed the very un-treelike ePresence. Unisys scraped up the remains a few years later.

The network industry arboretum now or in the past also has included:

•  Acacia Networks, a 1990s switch maker

•  Mangrove Systems, a provider of multi-service access, aggregation and switching for wireless and wireline networks.

•  Mapletree Networks, a vendor of multiservice network access products that was snapped up by Performance Technologies in 2004.

•  Sycamore Networks, a maker of telecom service provider equipment that started in 1998 and went public a year and a half later. The story out of Sycamore is that a company executive came up with the company name after viewing a tree outside her window, only to learn later it was a maple, not a sycamore.

Then of course, there’s the Spanning Tree Protocol used by bridges and switches.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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