Valley diary: clarity and creativity

Being based on the East Coast, I don’t get out to Silicon Valley as often as I should. At the moment, though, I’m nearing the end of a 10-day trip out here. Working and meeting with established IT vendors along with new startups – and old startups – has provided me with a good look at post-bubble San Jose.

It is clearly not the same place, even from the outward signs, and hasn’t been for some time now. But in all my varied meetings and interactions, I saw nothing but positive signs: clarity, creativity and confidence.

Clarity. Gone is the babble of years past and market-trend presentations that could win “best fiction” awards. Today’s marketing executives have studied their markets and have a strong basis for why their product set will win. They’ve had no choice but to take this route given how hard it is to pry money out of the pockets of venture capitalists and corporate finance departments.

Creativity. What I’m seeing isn’t just recycled ideas. From the wireless enterprise edge and consumer-class broadband routers to next-generation 10G Ethernet backbone switches, these devices offer functionality, performance and total-cost-of-ownership benefits that go far beyond what could be had even 18 months ago.

After years of companies building “me-too” LAN infrastructure (which, at least, made it easy to understand what one was looking at), we are seeing an explosion of ideas.

With wireless, we see vendors with vision – imagining, for example, how your mobile phone, not too far in the future, also will have 802.11 support. And, how they will build you a network today that can support those phones tomorrow.

Could you imagine getting the Fast Ethernet firewall/VPN performance of a US$10,000 enterprise firewall in your roughly US$100 home-broadband router? That technology exists and is being built into products as I write.

Maybe the downturn has made you put off upgrading your enterprise network core. Well, when you start looking now, you’ll get a pleasant surprise. The type of power and high-availability affordable only to service providers in the past is now part of the enterprise product portfolio of many companies.

Your challenge, of course, will be choosing what works best for your company from a lot of superior offerings.

Confidence. There is something to be said for the saying “that which does not kill you, makes you stronger.” The valley got hit harder than anywhere else. The people you talk to have, by definition, gotten through it. They see enterprise network shops re-engaging and are anxious to get their offerings out into the world. They are confident because they know what they’ve put into their products.

Is it nothing but a rosy picture? Far from it. There are still plenty of “for lease” signs around and many good people out of work. Offshoring and “productivity” gains also have had an impact on this part of the country. But things are going in the right direction and that is all any of us can ask for at this point.

Tolly is president of The Tolly Group, a strategic consulting and independent testing company in Boca Raton, Fla. He can be reached at

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