The VAR Guy

June 13, 2008

2 Min Read
The Dead Tech Company I Miss Most

The VAR Guy’s heart has a soft spot for dead companies. During the 1990s, he covered dozens of high-tech firms that died and/or had their organs donated to other needy tech companies. But here’s the one former company he misses most.

The name: Cabletron Systems Inc. The New Hampshire-based company was colorful, controversial, and always looking to trade blows with rivals. Co-founders S. Robert Levine and Craig Benson were the bad boys of the 1990s networking industry. And The VAR Guy loved writing about the duo.

Levine pumped iron in his office, gutted a rival’s networking hub (from SynOptics Communications) and transformed it into a fish tank, and dressed as Rambo to rally Cabletron’s direct sales force.

Benson played the straight man, though he whipped up controversy, too. When a bank decided to purchase networking gear from a Cabletron rival, Benson had the bank’s ATM machines ripped out of Cabletron’s headquarters — or so the urband legend goes.

The Ultimate Vow

In the early 1990s, The VAR Guy asked Benson if Cabletron would ever introduce a channel partner program. Benson’s reply was something like: “Selling direct and indirect at the same time is like dating when you have a wife. I don’t believe in that.”

Benson later had a change of heart (at least when it came to channel sales) and introduced a partner program at Cabletron.

When you walked around Cabletron’s offices, great story hooks lurked around every corner. Much of Cabletron’s office furniture, for instance, was purchased for pennies on the dollar. How? The furniture was used equipment purchased from deceased or downsizing New England technology companies.

Alas, those money-saving moves didn’t save Cabletron from Cisco’s competitive onslaught (and Cabletron’s own internal management struggles). The company had 6,600 employees by the mid-1990s, but ultimately imploded.

In fact, Cabletron may have the most confusing corporate obituary The VAR Guy has ever read. Here it is, as posted on WikiPedia:

In 2000 [Cabletron] reorganized as a holding company for networking firms: Enterasys Networks of Andover, Massachusetts (which went public in 2001 and was taken private in 2006 by The Gores Group, owned by Alec Gores); Riverstone Networks of Santa Clara, California (acquired by Lucent Technologies, which was subsequently merged with Alcatel Networks, resulting in the wind-down and Chapter 11 liquidation of Riverstone assets); Aprisma Management Technologies of Durham, New Hampshire (subsequently acquired by Concord Communications which in turn was acquired for $350M by Computer Associates, now renamed CA, Inc.); and Global Network Technology Services (also known as GNTS) of The Woodlands, Texas (this company no longer exists).

Rest in peace, Cabletron. You’ve been gone for eight years, but The VAR Guy still misses you, and the corporate personalities who walked your halls.

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