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General Datacomm resurfaces

Oct 20, 20034 mins
Network SwitchesNetworkingRemote Access

Company shuns carrier banner, set to offer line of enterprise routers and switches.

General Datacomm, once a leading WAN equipment supplier to carriers, recently launched a new line of enterprise WAN gear as part of its comeback bid from its 2001 bankruptcy.

The vendor, which invented the T-1 multiplexer, is at least leaner, if not meaner, after its time in Chapter 11 purgatory. And the company says its new line of access routers and remote-access concentrators could help businesses looking for an alternative to the industry standard in WAN gear – Cisco. The company also is developing new technologies in industrial Ethernet and what it calls “T-1 emulation.”

GDC started selling products to AT&T in 1969 and has sold hardware to carriers around the world. The company, which sold the first T-1 multiplexer, made heavy investments in ATM in the mid-1990s, while its competitors, such as Cisco, Nortel and Lucent, focused on Ethernet and optical networks.

“We made a big bet on ATM, and we bet wrong,” says George Best, vice president of marketing for GDC. He adds that the telecom crash in 2001 was the final knockout blow for the firm.

In October 2001, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Since then, according to Best, the company has repaid its debts through restructuring and plant closures, while slimming down from about 2,000 employees in 2001 to a little more than 100 now.

GDC this month released its InnovoX line of enterprise routers, remote-access and LAN switch gear. The InnovoX platform is based on a utility chassis that can accept modules such as SurePath T-1 and T-3 WAN routing ports, V.34 modem aggregation, LAN switch blades and FastRoute LAN extension modules.

The InnovoX FastRoute modules let a company connect two remote sites with a point-to-point WAN link (such as frame relay or ATM) and set up a flat LAN between both locations without IP routing between the two sites.

FastSwitch modules also can be added to the chassis. The nine- and 18-port blades provide 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet with features such as SNMP support for managing the device, and media access control filtering for blocking access to certain resources from specific ports.

Because GDC’s enterprise routers are based on its widely used carrier products, the vendor says its gear is more reliable than competing business routers. GDC says its routers will cost 30% less than comparable products from vendors such as Adtran, Cisco and Nortel. The FastRoute starts at $1,000 and the FastSwitch costs $800 for a nine-port blade.

While GDC’s initial products are of the bread-and-butter variety, the firm – which has 1,250 patents – has plans to branch out, according to Best.

Location: Naugatuck, Conn.
Business:Formerly a DSU/CSU and T-1 multiplexer vendor for carriers, GDC is shifting to enterprise products after emerging from Chapter 11 in September.
Key personnel:Howard Modlin, chairman of the board; William Henry, vice president and CFO.
Fun fact:Naugatuck, Conn., is not only GDC’s world headquarters; it is also where naugahyde was invented.

Industrial Ethernet is one area in which GDC plans to launch a new product over the next few quarters. The firm plans to roll out Ethernet switch products that can bridge protocol gaps between factory and industrial automation equipment and IP.

Similar to broadband or DSL, T-1 emulation technology involves putting the equivalent of a 64-channel T-1 over a pair of plain old telephone service (POTS) copper wires. Best says this technology could let a company cut costs by crunching more data over less-expensive POTS lines instead of leasing expensive T-1 links.

While GDC might have grand plans, one analyst says, breaking into a market dominated by one well-known player will be tough – but not impossible.

“[GDC’s] biggest challenge is that they did not have an enterprise focus before,” says Lawrence Orans, principal analyst at Gartner.

The most important factor when a company moves from a carrier-focus to the enterprise is to establish its sales and distribution channels, he says.

“The problem they face is how to get their products into the sales channels, when all the distributors are selling is Cisco,” Orans says.

The other big challenge, he says, is talking enterprise IT executives out of buying Cisco.

“There’s a perceived risk in not going with Cisco, at least for WAN infrastructure,” Orans says. While some firms integrate multiple vendor’s gear in a WAN, he adds, “it’s just not commonly done.”