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Internals about Ascend and Lucent :

Mory Ejabat was taking over Ascend as CEO from a very smart but probably crazy guy named Rob Ryan and building up to a $2.5 billion business and kicked cisco in the you-know-whats in access until the day Ascend was bought from Lucent. Ascend also stole Cascade and with the Cascade line kicked Cisco's Stratacom line in the you-know-whats.

A famous Ascend story:

Product shipped to customer with no working software. He had the installation engineers slow boat the installation for TWO WEEKS while they finished the software. And what a thing of beauty it was.


In the early days, AOL was a huge Ascend shop. The access gear however kept overheating and rebooting which dropped anyone who was on line at the time. The "fault" was sold as a feature since it would keep AOL customers from spending all day online and allow new dial-ups to get in. Only when customers revolted and threatened a suit did the problem get fixed.


I don't think that AOL featurized it. AOL was dumping people because of they were unprepared for the deluge of business associated with flat rate unlimited access.


Although it is correct that there were overheating problems. The TNTs vented left to right, so if you had a bunch of them racked up, the furthest rack on the right tended to get a little warm. They used to overheat all the time. At least until customers were told to stagger them vertically in adjacent racks.


As far as I know, AOL never ran their own substantial modem pools. They always outsourced, especially to ANS, BBN and UUNET. Later they bought ANS which continued to do some of their dialup, but i'd guess less than 20%. See, they always outsourced it.


And therefore, they ran a radius server to authenticate folks, so they couldn't just hang up on folks cuz they wanted to. The fact of the matter is that Ascend did bleeding edge technology that didn't work very well.


Their manufacturing processes were shyte, their RMA rate was huge. Their hardware was notorious for smoking and catching on fire. The company was innovative in getting price points down, but they did it in a low quality manner.

A couple of points:

1) Ascend's "catching fire" - This always cracks me up. It makes it sound like flames shoot out of the box and if not for the efforts of some heroic firefighting an entire building might have been lost. LOL Do you think if it was really like that you could get an Ascend box in a CO anywhere in the US?


2) AX <> Ascend Killer. I liked the AX hardware design compared to the TNT (Except for the Bus) but the reality is that the box had no field testing and certainly didn't have the 3 years worth of oddball features that ISP's wanted. Could it have given Ascend problems - maybe but its success was certainly not assured.


3) buggy software - oh yeah without a doubt. But you need to understand the whole picture. With very few exceptions ascend features came straight from customers often with PO's and deadlines attached. That ment that Ascend was always delivering what customers wanted. You want some oddball feature that say lets you apply a dynamic filter via radius so your customer can't do anything but download new fonts and artwork while they are in the "free zone" hey we'll do that. Ascend would also send engineers on site to fix code so they could work directly with ISP's engineers. That built up alot of trust and good working relationships. Those things gave Ascend some goodwill to use when their software blew up.


The clearest way to put it was that Ascend was not about technology it was about winning. People always say that "if Ascend had not done X they would have been out of business" to which I always say yes but they did do X.


Lucent killed Ascend.

The difference in culture was clear at the first sales quarter meeting to discuss why the numbers were missed. The Lucent folks explained that there had been an issue in manufacturing where they had under esitmated demand and had not been able to get stuff shipped in time. The Lucent management folks went on to discuss process and commitees while the Ascend folks wanted to know who was getting fired.


"Anyone ever notice that people who Love working at Ascend (or Zhone, with Mory) are all sales and marketing not technical? Interesting."


Interesting, and total bunk. The thing is, LightReading is read primarily by sales and marketing types, so the engineers aren't chiming in. But if the technical folks didn't love Ascend, then why did they migrate, en masse, to Zhone, after the Lucent takeover? (This is the Alameda side -- the Westford side all decamped for Sycamore and other places).

Here's my take on the whole Ascend thing.

1 - Employees in ALL areas loved Ascend. Ascend employees would bite through wood for that company. Working there was one of the great experiences of the 1990s. It is one of the formost success stories in the tech world.


2 - Carping about their technology is baloney. Yeah, they had a few clinkers (GRF and some other products). But the brutal facts are this: #1 market share in RAS, #1 market share in Frame Relay (dominating share), #1 market share in ATM. Facts. And don't tell me that all those companies were "fooled" into buying Ascend RAS. Yeah, sure, UUNET, the world's biggest dialup pool? BBN? France Telecom? Deutsch Telecom? (Christ, if you have ever gone through the agony of selling something to those guys, you KNOW the hell they put a product through before buying it.) NTT? Telecom Argentina? PSI, and dozens more? Yeah, sure, ALL these companies were duped into buying millions of RAS ports. And ATM ports. And Frame ports. Gimme a break. Ascend was #1 in all these spaces because it had the best stuff, plain and simple. They kicked Cisco's ass in every space they played in, at a time when Cisco strode the earth like a god.


3 - If the Lucent catastrophe hadn't happened, Ascend would have rolled on to one more extraordinary year, as their DSL line, with the release of the Stinger, took over the world. The Stinger kicked ass, and continues to kick ass. The Westlake group (mostly still all Ascenders) is the one healthy organism at an otherwise sick and dying Lucent. Sadly, due to RBOC deviltry, the DSL market collapsed (SBC alone paid something like $50 million in fines -- cost of doing business -- rather than open their networks to the CLECs). Yet Stinger sales continue strong into non-US markets. The Stinger alone for a time pushed a run rate almost equal to the rest of Ascend. The one year or so post-Lucent would have seen Ascend revenue practically double just from Stinger sales. After that, the industry collapse would have taken Ascend down with everyone else.


4 - Internally, Ascend was growing chaotic, in terms of processes, etc. It was time for Mory to go. But rather than sell out, they should have brought in a new CEO to take them to the next level. Ascend continued to operate like a company with thirty people, when it had thousands of people and brought in billions. At some point it had to give -- I will grant that. But selling to Lucent was the wrong solution -- that much is now obvious.


5 - There has rarely been a collection of sales reps and SEs of the caliber put together by Ascend. These folks were legendary. The sales guys (and gals) -- Straight, Jonusas, Fleming, Robeson, Cocke, Sebahar (holy jeeze), and many more. Every one of these guys was kick ass (and my apologies to those not mentioned -- there wasn't a clinker in the bunch). And let's not leave out the fearless leader, Mike Hendren, the most out-there over-the-top sales leader that ever pushed his guys out the airplane door without parachutes -- cuz you gonna LEARN how to fly, damn it!


The SE core was the finest talent ever mustered into one company: Ray, Hercules, Buck, Toma, King, Z-big, and a bunch of other guys, I wish I could remember all their names right now. I know that anyone there at the time will read these names and remember how talented this team was.


You could equally run long lists of folks in marketing, support (Berenice!!!), trade shows, inside sales, training, product management, whatever, that were top notch, the best of the best.


Those that bash Ascend are obviously those that weren't there. I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone that was there that regretted it, which is why Ascend's employee retention rate was so high, even during those glory days of startups and countless opportunities. Of course, post-Lucent their departure rate was astonishingly high. Literally dozens of people leaving each week. The exodus was incredible, about as fast as Zhone, Cosine, Sycamore, Juniper and others could process the resumes.


Final comment. Was Ascend a perfect company? No, of course not. Was it the best networking company to work for in the 90s? Without any doubt.

"Yeah, sure, ALL these companies were duped into buying millions of RAS ports.... Ascend was #1 in all these spaces because it had the best stuff, plain and simple."


Not true.


No doubt Ascend had first mover advantage with the Max series, but it was never the best stuff (catching fire at UUNET is best stuff??) And when they acquired Cascade, they killed the AX series which was clearly superior and designed for Carrier environments (unlike the Max which was designed for Enterprises and Mom&Pop ISPs).


If it wasn't for them killing Cacade's AX series, there might not have been Aptis Communications, which interestingly enough got acquired by Nortel, who are now actively trying to sell it off (or sold already to Zhone? ... oops spoke too much).

Very true. Mory was the best player out there. He duped Dan and Desh into selling him their company for change, then turned around and sold the company to Lucent less than 18 months later for billions. Had Mory not bought out Cascade, and killed the AX, Ascend very well could have fallen apart and died on the vine, because at that point in time, all they had was the dial up business. Once Mory purchased Cascade, he turned over their spectacular product line, to his world class sales organization. They went out and sold the heck out of those products.


Ascend was always first to market. They pushed broken stuff out the door, and baked it on site, while other competitors waited to iron out the bugs in the lab. Once the product was in, it was up to the sales team to make it stick. That is why they paid their sales guys so much, they needed to sell broken stuff in order to get paid.


In the end, they would have survived just like the others. Sure they were a little red wagon going 60 mph down a hill, but the wagon held up under duress again and again. As someone mentioned below, the Stinger is kicking arse, just like the MAX and the TNT before it. The folks in Westlake(now Lucent employees) are an example of how a product should be developed, both in terms of engineering, and feature delivery.


Final comment.

Was Ascend a perfect company? No, of course not. Was it the best networking company to work for in the 90s? Without any doubt.


One thing is for sure - those of us who were there will never forget it! If we momentarily lapse, we can always check the brand on our backside - uhhh I mean on the piles of Ascend logo gifts and chotchkes we accumulated.

For the engineers, the pain and riches were served up by our VP Jeanette Symons, as we followed the workaholic examples of our Software Directors: Marco Hyman, Tom Willard, and Brian Del Vecchio.


It was a unique event, not to be repeated by Zhone or anyone else. But if anyone would like to improve on it, drop me a line.


The 23.9 million deal

I was there too sport and to say Ascend backed into the market is an understatement... or please are you goint to tell me the TNT is anything but a bad dream gone worse...

The best thing Ascend did was stick Lucent with a 24 billion dollar price tag: 23.9 million which was for Cascade and the remaining change for whatever you wanted to call that goat rodeo that was the remote access group in Alameda, CA.


For the record Cascade was the best networking company of the 90's


The other bottom line is that Ascend was badly mismanaged with no regard for customers, ethics or the future of the company. If Mory had not found someone as stupid as Rich McGinn (from Lucent) to unload Ascend on, the whole thing would have collapsed.


Now you can run con games and get lucky like Ascend did. And leave other people (at Lucent) to suffer at your expense. But just keep in mind that only "luck", the utter criminal stupidity of Lucent's management and a couple months kept ascend from ending

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