Extreme fights customer

If, as the saying goes, there really is no such thing as bad publicity, then Santa Clara, Calif.’s Extreme Networks must be feeling relatively pleased with the name they’ve made for themselves the past three months.

The young enterprise network vendor became guilty by association this past spring after 3Com Corp. announced it would be discontinuing its LAN/WAN operations and then recommended that its customers transition their switching gear to Extreme. 3Com’s decision was ill-received, to say the least, by its Corebuilder switch customers, many of whom transferred their anger to Extreme.

“There’s some bitterness,” Extreme’s Steve Flowers, the country manager for Canada, told Network WorldCanada at the recent Networld & Interop show in Toronto. “Customers reluctantly meet with us. We’re battling a lot of misinformation, because many think we’re a spinoff from 3Com.”

In fact, Extreme has been a vendor since 1996. 3Com’s recommendation of Extreme to its customers was due to the fact the two companies shared technology in the past. Nick Tidd, 3Com Canada’s managing director, said also the company simply considered Extreme’s Black Diamond switch to be better than its own Corebuilder series.

But that’s small consolation to many of 3Com’s customers, said analyst Dan McLean of IDC Canada Ltd. In Toronto.

“The general consensus is that there’s a lot of dissatisfaction on the part of existing 3Com Corebuilder customers, for instance, who are being transitioned to the Extreme product line,” McLean said.

He said the problem is not with Extreme’s switches, but rather the youthfulness of the company.

“There’s always some concern with a young company in terms of what the future holds for them,” McLean said. “Will they continue as the company they are or will a bigger company come along and purchase that company?

“The history in terms of purchasing networking equipment has been to go with companies that are fairly entrenched. I think that explains why Cisco does as well as it does. It’s kind of perceived as sort of a safe buy.”

Extreme’s competitors are eager to exploit this notion, Flowers admitted. “A lot of competitors try to trivialize us. They say, ‘Oh, they’re small. They won’t be around in four months.”

Despite this, Flowers said Extreme has managed to build its customer base in Canada with some major contracts, including one with Shaw Cable in the West and one with a hospital and university in the Greater Toronto Area.

Extreme now has four offices in Canada, and all things considered, Flowers said 3Com’s recommendation has paid off.

“It did two things for us,” Flowers outlined. “It introduced us to some accounts. And it brought our name to the forefront in the Canadian marketplace.

“Before when we called businesses, they thought we were a reseller.”

As for customers who fear that Extreme will eventually give up the fight to be part of the enterprise network space, as 3Com did, Flowers noted: “There’s one big difference: we do one thing, and one thing only –