Name: Arun Taneja Age: 47 Place of Birth: Dehra Dun, India Position: Vice President of Marketing Axil Computer, Inc. Santa Clara, CA Time in Current Position: 1 month Years in the Industry: 21 Car He Drives: Mercedes 300SE (black) Favorite Non-work Activity: "My free time is spent mostly with my kids (aged 9, 12, and 14). Whatever they want to do, that's what we do. I let them drive me in that regard. They're growing up quickly and I have a guilt factor there, no question about it." Pet Open Systems Peeve: "Open systems is a double-edged sword in that it takes a lot longer, sometimes, to get the job done. Microsoft doesn't have to deal with those issues. But if I had to pick between one or the other, I'd pick open systems; it's like picking democracy over communism."
Now, as the new vice president of marketing for Axil Computer, a supplier of Sparc-compatible workstations and servers, Taneja is responsible for marketing a product line that is both compatible and competitive with Sun and other Sparc-based UNIX machines.
Taneja knew he would be an engineer from an early age, taking his cue from his father, an electrical engineer in India. He attended private schools and earned his B.S.E.E. from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, India. Then, to pursue his education and career, he left India for New Hampshire. But the culture shock was eased by his English-based education and his weekly reading of Sports Illustrated. "Somewhere deep down in my heart I always knew that because of the way I was brought up, I would come here," Taneja says. "If you wanted to do further education, you had to do it somewhere else, so why wouldn't I pick the best place in the world to be in?"
He earned his M.S.E.E. and M.B.A. from the University of New Hampshire on a scholarship. "It was a wonderful experience," he remembers. "The school said there was no reason for me to go elsewhere, that it was all paid for."
While in graduate school, Taneja made another decision that helped guide his career-he chose to focus on the business of technology. "I wanted to be in the business side rather than in technology for technology's sake," he says.
Taneja began to get some exposure to open systems in his last position with Data General, during the development of a PC-compatible portable laptop. "I saw the revolution starting, and how critical that whole phenomenon was going to be," he says. "Within the company, some of us were also talking about UNIX, because UNIX had just started to take on a life of its own. It had come out of the scientific environment, even though it wasn't truly in the commercial area, and companies like Sun were beginning to demonstrate that it could be brought into the commercial area. Some of us at Data General felt that the company needed to consciously look at getting into the UNIX marketplace. That was such an antithesis to what Data General stood for. It got a very negative response and it was almost considered disloyalty.
"We tested the waters and it was pretty obvious to me that the company wasn't going to direct its energies, as a whole, toward open systems. Clearly they did, later, but in my view they did it very late in the game and may not make much difference in the marketplace."
Taneja looked at the marketplace and made another decision. "It became clear to me that, architecturally, two things were happening at that time. The open systems phenomenon was taking place, and also the architecture was beginning to move away from the classic minicomputer and more toward client/server. I liked what Sun was doing, even though there was a tremendous amount of resistance any time I discussed the situation with anyone on the East Coast. [They thought] Sun was a flaky California company and was doing something that didn't make any sense, because they were essentially taking components available in the marketplace and buying an operating system which was available to anyone. 'Therefore, it can't have any value. They're just putting the pieces together,'" Taneja notes, remembering the attitude in Massachusetts. "I thought differently, and it took awhile to bring my family to a situation where we were ready to make a move."
Taneja started at Sun as marketing manager of high-end workstations and servers, but quickly gained responsibility for a broader range of products. Then, when Sun decided to venture into its own Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) microprocessor architecture, Taneja managed the marketing effort. "Until then, Sun had bought the Motorola product line, the 680x0. Now we were doing an architecture for the first time and we needed to play the architecture in the marketplace." Taneja selected the now-pervasive name Sparc for both the architecture and the product line. The initials originally were to stand for "scalable processor architecture for RISC computing" but that was thought to be too long, so it was shortened to "scalable processor architecture."
Taneja believes the move to Sparc was vital to Sun's growth, although the company has been criticized, both for pursuing its own architecture and for selecting RISC. "There were tons of surrounding issues about a computer company like Sun trying to do a microprocessor architecture. And then the question arose: Was Sun going to become closed? The criticism continues in the general marketplace, and the concept was not validated until 1989, when Sparc became real, the products became real, and the difference between Motorola stuff and the RISC smart processors became very clear. All that took awhile."
Sun essentially changed the rules of open systems, Taneja declares. "Until then it was thought obvious that you got parts from Motorola and got a license for UNIX from AT&T, and modified and adjusted them. It was much easier to play in the open systems game. All of a sudden, here was a company that was doing its own microprocessor architecture. The risk was that it would very quickly become known to be a closed company. And so the whole strategy of licensing the architecture, of having companies like Fujitsu and Cypress come in, was part of the puzzle. There was a method in that madness because that was the way the company could maintain the image and perception of being open. The architecture was not going to be confined only to Sun and the implementations were not going to be done just by one company.
"Intel could have participated if they so desired, but Intel would not. It was pretty obvious that they considered the whole thing to be a big threat. And initially we also had very negative response from companies like Fairchild, because it wasn't clear to them why a company like Sun wanted to participate in their playground. The whole strategy was built around making sure the company's image was not tarnished. It gave me a very good opportunity to build some of that strategy and to implement it. The company thrived because of the fundamental decision that was made to jump into RISC. Most of the other companies came into RISC later. Mips was there before but was never accepted in the market all that well. I think Sun was ahead of the curve in that regard. It was a pioneering step, made with all the risks that come with taking a chance of that type."
Taneja was at Sun a little over three years before being recruited by Convergent Technologies, where he served as vice president of marketing in the distributed systems division, responsible for a $700 million product line of workstations and servers targeted at mission-critical applications. "My primary motivation to go there was a fine opportunity to take something that the company had and bring it into the open systems marketplace," he says. "The original Convergent operating system and product line was based on the Intel chip set. It was connected with the hardware and it had never been presented in the open systems environment. That gave me a different opportunity, one I may not have had at Sun for some period of time, to build a really extensive marketing operation, not just focused on the product marketing side but across the board in terms of channels, in terms of marketing communication, in terms of PR. In hindsight, it offered me more than I had bargained for. Unisys ended up buying Convergent, so my responsibilities actually expanded and covered products flowing through the Unisys channel."
Taneja believes Novell lost the opportunity by not letting Univel be its own company, focused and dedicated to putting UNIX on the desktop. "As a division of Novell, it is now my belief that the opportunity to make UNIX a mass kind of product on the desktop is not feasible," he says. "In a bid to own UNIX from soup to nuts, that opportunity was lost. Novell was very worried about Microsoft, and ownership of UNIX became more important than the issue of making UNIX prevalent under the original premise."
Now at Axil Computer, Taneja finds himself in charge of positioning a product line that is simultaneously dependent on and competitive with Sun. While Axil is a customer of such Sun planets as SunSoft, it must compete head-to-head with the workstations of Sun Microsystems Computer Corp. Sparc compatibles now constitute an estimated 12 percent of the Sparc market. While Axil began as a clone manufacturer, Taneja is careful to distinguish Axil's products as non-clones. "Over the past year, the company has done phenomenal changes away from just being a clone. We have a product that's still 100 percent Sparc-compatible, but has many differentiations." For example, upgrading is simpler because many fewer parts have to be replaced, he says. In addition, "The channel focus is 100 percent indirect, which means that we don't go make a direct sale to any account anywhere in the world." The marketing angles that come out of that are freedom of choice and protection of investment, Taneja says. "We want to stay focused on that segment of the marketplace and make a real company happen on that basis."