Peter Alfred Adekeye wants to revolutionise network support. His company, Multiven, offers customers access to a handpicked cadre of nearly 1,000 network technology experts, each with a minimum of 15 years’ experience.
When a network switch breaks, or some software malfunctions, Multiven customers log on to its website, search a knowledge-bank of known bugs, and if their problem is not addressed there, they are put through to one of the consultants.
The idea was prompted by Adekeye’s experience as a network engineer, both for Cisco and IBM. He found that when a network fault occurred, suppliers would often pass the buck.
"Customers were buying support contracts for their boxes from different vendors, who would refuse to talk to each other when the network went down," he explains. "All vendors did was point their fingers because nobody wanted to take responsibility for the whole network."
Of course, support and maintenance services are a valuable revenue stream for the likes of Cisco, and Multiven – whose customers include the US Army and MIT, it says – poses a disruptive threat to this business.
So when Adekeye founded the company in 2005, he might have expected some boisterous opposition from his former employer. However, he probably did not expect a protracted legal dispute that has seen him jailed and his character called into question.
In December 2008, Multiven launched an anti-trust complaint against Cisco, arguing that it was blocking third-party service organisations from working on its equipment.
Cisco responded with a counter suit, accusing Adekeye of illegally accessing confidential documents with the help of a Cisco employee.
Multiven says Cisco’s claims against Adekeye were ‘baseless’; Cisco points to a 2010 California court ruling endorsing its claim that “Adekeye used a Cisco employee's password to gain access to Cisco's computer systems and download Cisco's proprietary and copyrighted software”.
Adekeye, who lives in Switzerland, tried to enter the US to fight the case, but he was refused a visa and the trial was moved to Vancouver. There, he was arrested and jailed in connection to the fraud charges.
Multiven says that Cisco “orchestrated” Adekeye’s arrest. Last year, a Canadian supreme court judge released Adekeye, claiming that “it would appear that Cisco representatives were very much complicit with US Justice authorities to utilise the criminal process to put as much pressure on him as possible.”
Cisco strongly rejects this. “This is an absurd claim from Multiven. This case was a matter between US and Canadian authorities.”
Then there is the question of whether Multiven is allowed to provide services to Cisco customers. Multiven says that in July this year, Cisco “dropped its entire fraud charges and claims against Multiven and made software bug fixes available to Multiven customers from this data forward.”
It says Cisco helped one if its customers fix a bug as recently as November 26.
Cisco, meanwhile, says that Multiven “no longer has any lawful access to Cisco services, other than by purchasing the same from Cisco or a Cisco-authorised channel partner.”
Adekeye puts the legal wranglings down to Cisco's unwillingness to adapt to change. “Unfortunately, change is difficult for a lot of companies, especially those that have enjoyed a monopoly in an industry, and it's not just limited to Cisco,” he says. “Think Virgin and British Airways when Virgin started out. Richard Branson was put through hell."
Far be it from Information Age to make a judgment on such a complex and hotly contested legal matter, except to say that neither party comes up smelling of roses, based on the facts available.
Will Multiven succeed in its goal of revolutionising network support? Adekeye says the company has a “humble” but “growing” customer base in the US, and is expanding in Europe.
But Cisco is unlikely to let its services business come under threat without a fight. In December, CEO John Chambers said that it is in services that the company’s future lies: “The days of boxes are over.”