EXCLUSIVE: Canada rises as Extreme Networks priority as part of new strategic initiative

While Extreme has always had a significant enterprise business to go along with their mid-market presence, their flurry of recent acquisitions, complemented by internal changes to optimize them, has created a much stronger enterprise focus.

Ed Meyercord, Extreme’s CEO

THORNHILL ON – Historically, Canada has been an area of relatively low focus for Extreme Networks. That has all changed this year. Following last year’s acquisition of the former Motorola Wireless LAN assets from Zebra Technologies, July’s closing of the acquisition of the Avaya Networking business, and the pending closing of the deal for Brocade’s data centre assets, their presence in Canada has shifted. The acquisitions massively increased Extreme’s business in Canada, and accordingly, they are doubling down on their investment in this country to leverage that. Ed Meyercord, Extreme’s CEO, and Norman Rice, Extreme’s Chief Marketing, Development and Product Operations Officer, sat down with ChannelBuzz on Tuesday in Extreme’s Canadian offices in Thornhill, one of the myriads of suburbs of metro Toronto, to talk about the shift.

Meyercord, who was in Toronto for both meetings with Toronto-based industry analysts and a board meeting, which Extreme rotates in location to get in front of customers, noted an irony of Extreme’s Canadian presence. The company has quite a large staff in Canada. There are over 100 people in a newly-renovated office that once belonged to Enterasys Networks, which Extreme acquired in 2013, and which had originally come to Enterasys from Siemens Enterprise Communications. Some of the employees have been there since early in the century. However, this physical presence in Canada had not been matched by strategic importance.

“A year ago, we had little presence in Canada,” Meyercord said. “We had an office, but not a strong presence. In January this year, we made the decision to realign. We pulled resources from around the world to strengthen the Canadian team. We have invested a lot on the marketing side. Canada is now a Tier One market for us, which it was not before.”

On the heels of the three most recent acquisitions, Extreme has not been shy about its strategic intent. The deals have made them the number three player in the market – a distant third, behind Cisco and HPE. Their objective is to pass HPE and position themselves as a logical alternative to Cisco, with a more customer-centric and end-to-end solution focus on the enterprise. To that end, they have changed their focus from the mid-tier, to address a larger TAM, which is $16 billion rather than $11 billion.

“Nobody has focused on serving the enterprise network,” Meyercord said. “Cisco certainly has a massive presence in the space, but we don’t think they concentrate on the enterprise network in the same strategic sense that we do, with the focus on solutions and not boxes. We are tightly focused on end-to-end wired and wireless software-driven solutions. These days, it’s all about software. That’s where we are investing our dollars.”

Norman Rice, Chief Marketing, Development and Product Operations Officer at Extreme

“This whole segment is in a unique transformation, creating a new value around the enterprise as it transitions to the cloud,” Rice said. “The customer creates the demand, as was the case with BYOD, and the consumerization that is driving the Internet of Things now, and which will drive the next segment of wireless and channel demand. 11ax is the next big thing, and we will be ready to support it with analytics and broader machine learning capabilities.

“Our value proposition is around customer intimacy and alignment, and being an alternative to Cisco,” Rice continued. “We can be the Arista of the enterprise, and take share from Cisco by sticking to our principles – being customer-first and delivering on our promises.”

Meyercord said that Extreme has transitioned itself to be able to make that happen.

“If you go back two years, we were not the easiest company to do business with,” he said. “It wasn’t that easy to position Extreme. We’ve made it a lot easier because we have that complete solution today We became very focused on our software, and its ability to control the enterprise network, making it easy to deploy and use. The acquisitions will help as well. Buying the Zebra assets expanded our enterprise customer base in transportation and logistics. Brocade will do that in large enterprise data centres. Avaya is strong in some enterprise areas including hospitality.”

“We can compete effectively on these larger customers,” Rice said. “We have a customer, one of the big German automarkers, with whom the four companies as separate entities have done over $100 million over the last five years collectively. This customer had independently selected each of our technologies as best of breed – Brocade for the data centre, Extreme for campus, Avaya for the core and Zebra for the access layer. The head of networking there likes our vision, and likes dealing with one company instead of four. It gives us a competitive alternative to Cisco that has true end-to-end software driven networking.”

Rice also acknowledged that Extreme had been very fortunate in being able to acquire the assets which strengthen their new positioning. In Canada specifically, their impact will be massive. He estimated that they increase Extreme’s Canadian business by 4x.

“We would never have had an opportunity to take the Brocade data centre networking business if Broadcom hadn’t come out of left field to take the networked storage that was the main part of the company,” he said. “Avaya wasn’t bad technology. They just had a capital transition issue, and as a result their networking business is now here with us, and we will capitalize on that.”

While Extreme’s partner conference coming up in October in Florida, with over 1000 people scheduled to attend, will give a fuller picture of partner views on the new company, Rice said the feedback so far has been very good.

“The Avaya networking partners’ feedback has been very positive,” he said. “They are happy that the asset is going to a company that is focused on networking, and many are relieved that their inventories aren’t going to get jammed. I initially underestimated the importance of that, the importance of these companies and their partners being willing to rally around a home that is part of a networking company.”

Meyercord noted that he had just talked with one of the newcomers from Avaya in Canada who reinforced this point.

“He said that they would have a networking meeting at Avaya and there would be five people there. He is excited to be at a truly networking-focused company. Avaya and the others also just brought out new product, so we are getting the latest and greatest refreshed technologies from these companies, which will make us much more competitive and easier to position.”

At the same time, Meyercord and Rice acknowledged that they have a long way to go to realize their vision.

“We are clearly number three,” Meyercord said. “To get to number two, we have to double again. We think we can gain big against HPE though. Aruba has worked out really well for them, but a lot of that core talent has gone. ProCurve continues to decline.”

Rice said that ultimately, he believes that the culture that the new Extreme is implementing as it brings all its assets together will make the difference for them in their journey.

“You can see that we care,” he said. “We care about winning. We care about people. This is a huge opportunity for us as a business.”