Rock stars, Mr. T add zing to N+I flavour

Five years ago, four companies dominated the corporate infrastructure market and had some of the biggest booths at Networld+Interop: Cisco Systems Inc., 3Com Corp., Bay Networks Inc. and Cabletron Systems. Cisco was the only one here at the Fall 2000 Interop in Atlanta last week.

Nortel Networks Corp., which acquired Bay Networks two years ago and had a large booth at Interop in Las Vegas this spring, was not on the floor, nor were 3Com or Cabletron’s Enterasys enterprise subsidiary. Nortel Networks cited economic reasons and said the company will be back at Interop next spring. The company said it remains committed to the enterprise market.

The Linux vendors were out in full force and drawing impressive crowds, but that ubiquitous penguin icon was clearly not the most popular giveaway item among the open source crowd. Countless conventioneers were seen sporting BSDi’s red devil horns as they wandered the Georgia World Congress Centre.

No company created more of a buzz – literally – than did security vendor Recourse Technologies, which hired an airplane to drag an advertising banner around and around . . . and around . . . the convention center on Tuesday. The incessant droning of the plane was audible inside the building, which created a ripple buzz as show-goers commented on the racket.

One of the hottest tickets at Interop was a Sheryl Crow miniconcert that was put on during Avaya Inc.’s party at the Tabernacle Wednesday night. The company, which will officially spin off from Lucent late last month, gave away tickets to the show to Interop attendees at their booth. Crow played hits from her last three albums and did a two-song encore. And to her credit, she even pronounced Avaya correctly when she welcomed the crowd of more than 2,000 fans.

You’ve got to pity the fool who looks up from an Interop show-floor demo of 21st century technology to catch a glimpse of 1980s TV icon Mr. T. Same trademark haircut, same hulking presence. While shaking a hand, “T” could be heard saying, “I know, you can’t believe it, can you?”

Novell Inc. CEO Eric Schmidt may be tempted to turn to Mr. T’s “A-Team” if his company’s misfortunes do not abate. Whatever the future holds, no one can accuse Schmidt of failing to put himself in front of the right audiences, as he is to the trade show keynote address what Federal Express Corp. is to package delivery. Overexposure may be a risk, however, because Schmidt’s talk Wednesday filled only two-thirds of a hall that was standing room only for Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina 24 hours earlier. . . .

Speaking of Schmidt and the future, there’s a rumor circulating that Novell’s top guy may be in line for a “technology czar” role if U.S. Vice-President Al Gore wins the presidency and Schmidt’s current day job becomes untenable.