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Chapter 10 - Networking: Market Competition 1981-1983

10.17 Excelan

By the end of 1981, Kanwal Rekhi had seen enough of the chaos at Zilog. First hired to plug some of the hole left by those defecting to start Bridge Communications, by the time they had working products in middle of 1981, Rekhi remembers:

Zilog was falling apart as a company. Our CEO, Manny Fernandez, left to start his own company, and there was a person under him, Rolando Eschevera, he left to start his own company, and the person under him, Doug Schwartz, he left to start his own company. I was with a couple of people doing all these machines with all the problems of management above us missing. So there was nobody there above us.

And there was nobody to sell the products: a Z-80 personal computer, the Z-Net LAN and a file server – essentially an early EtherSeries. By year-end, Rekhi too had had enough. In January 1982, Rekhi, Navindra Jain and Inder Singh founded Excelan to develop an Ethernet controller board that would be much faster than the ones being sold by 3Com and Interlan. Rekhi remembers:

So we came up with a design for all the buses – Unibus, QBus, VME Bus, Multibus, even went to the IBM PC bus and Macintosh. Our idea was a bunch of protocols on board that could go into any of those environments without having to redo the protocols, and so we were the first ones to do the intelligent Ethernet boards.

Intelligent boards because they had a microprocessor fast enough to process the Ethernet protocol on the board itself; network processing did not have to be handed off to the computer. It made the board much more expensive than those of 3Com and Interlan, but for those OEMs that wanted speed and performance, Excelan carved out a new niche.