SNMP Research International, Inc.

Secure Your Network

About SNMP Research

High Tech Goes Low Key

BY: Kathy Brister Knoxville News-Sentinel
December 31, 1998

SNMP Research Inc. started 10 years ago with a sleepless night and a pile of index cards.

Today, it's an international company nestled in the hills of South Knox County -- a pastoral setting that belies SNMP's international reputation and the technology at its core.

But in March 1987, Jeff Case, an SNMP founder, was just trying to get some shut-eye.

Case, then network manager and computer science instructor for the University of Tennessee, couldn't stop thinking about an idea for creating software tools to manage computer networks.

Every 20 minutes he'd turn on the light and scribble notes on index cards stacked by the bed. "He was driving me crazy," said his wife, Mary Case, who now oversees the company's sales and marketing force through an associated company, SNMP Research International.

Jeff Case and Ken Key, a computer-science graduate student who became Case's business partner, used those index-card notes, software industry contacts, high-tech research and Case's experience building computer networks to create a "simple network management protocol."

Case and Key developed the software-based management protocol while Case was at UT. Case was able to get intellectual property rights to his creation through UT's technology-transfer program in March 1988, and SNMP Research Inc. was formed.

By October 1988, the company had 10 customers, major high-tech players eager to use SNMP's software-based management tools that can detect problems in network systems small enough to serve a local hospital or large enough to serve IBM.

In fact, Big Blue was first in line when SNMP set up shop. Xerox and Sun Microsystems weren't far behind.

SNMP's technology now is used in networks connecting automatic-teller machines, telephone systems, even electronic gambling terminals. It was used by the U.S. military during the Gulf War and by engineers planning construction of the space station.

Despite big-name customers and prestigious jobs, Case took his time moving the company that started with late-night inspiration away from his bedside.

"The first couple of years it was a post office box, a lawyer and a bedroom," he said. SNMP was 3 years old before it had an employee other than Jeff and Mary Case and Key, who sold his portion of the partnership to Case in April 1989.

Case continued to work for UT, sleeping only four nights a week from 1988 until he became an adjunct faculty member in 1993.

While SNMP expanded, so did computer networks. When the World Wide Web went online, it enabled the Internet to become a large-scale, global, consumer version of the local- and wide-area networks that made up most of SNMP's business.

"It used to be that the Internet was for the few, and for a while, our customer base was for the few," Case said. "Today, one-third of our customers are not OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), they're end users."

That has changed the way SNMP does business, he said. The company has simplified the use of its products and adjusted technical support to reach out to lower tech customers.

SNMP now evaluates software upgrades and new product creations according to a different set of criteria.

"If an end user has a problem, they don't care whether it's in the network or wherever, so our new products address other network areas that could be creating problems," he said.

In 1997, SNMP's customer base increased 25 percent over 1996. In 1998, the company increased its revenues but did not equal the previous year's customer expansion, in part because of the economic woes of targeted Asian customers, Case said.

Despite SNMP's decade of growth -- which included the addition of a European office, two Asian sales representatives and 25 local employees -- the company keeps overhead costs in check.

"We have not borrowed money. Funding for all of our growth has come through taking a portion of profits and plowing it back into the company," Case said.

The brick-and-mortar part of SNMP actually is aluminum. The company exists in an assemblage of manufactured buildings next to the Cases' home on 75 acres of farmland along the French Broad River.

Case said SNMP's country home has everything the company needs. "We have phone lines, fax lines, interconnectivity and good people."

And Case is willing to spend money on the latter.

Case said he "shamelessly" uses his adjunct faculty position at UT to shop for talented students who could make stellar employees. He said UT's computer science department and its graduates are among East Tennessee's "unheralded" assets. Good workers are essential to SNMP's success, Case said.

"We're in an industry that's experiencing phenomenal change, and just keeping up is a major challenge," he said. "In many cases, we have to do things that didn't exist when we and our employees were in school. That's why we recruit bright people who have shown their ability to learn."

The company doesn't cut corners at trade shows either, Mary Case said. "We staff our booth with engineers, not salespeople who don't know all the technology. People respect that."

Yet she knew nothing about computers when SNMP started, picking up her technical know-how along the way.

But Mary Case, who formerly worked as a nurse, said from the beginning she knew how to treat people -- personal communication mixed with down-home manners. "We started out so small that we built some good relationships by treating customers as friends. At trade shows, customers come by our booth just to talk."

Jeff Case said the 22-year, 24-hour-a-day relationship with his wife is a good fit for their business. "She and I can make a decision faster than many companies can decide who needs to make the decision."