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One-On-One Interview With Kevin St. Cyr

CNS: The 50th anniversary is a major milestone for any organization. How has the company evolved since its initial launch as Berkshire Technical Products in May, 1961?


July 1, 2011  


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CNS: The 50th anniversary is a major milestone for any organization. How has the company evolved since its initial launch as Berkshire Technical Products in May, 1961?

St. Cyr: The company has been through several changes in its business makeup over the years. It started off as a manufacturer of specialty products for the U.S. Defense Department through the Cold War, which got Berk-Tek well positioned into the extrusion of high temperature plastics. That focus eventually lead the way to the evolution of plenum cable products for the North American market thanks to the work that took place in the early days with some of the fluoropolymers used in the defense industry.

It has been a multi-pronged evolution that has gotten the business to where it is today and in fact, Berk-Tek currently has three factories supporting the LAN and telecommunications market producing copper and fiber optic cables.

CNS: What role does the Data Communications Competence Centre play within Berk-Tek?

St. Cyr: Today we are part of Nexans, a global manufacturer, and the competence centre supports all of our data communications efforts around the world for LAN products. Companywide, it helps in the area of product harmonization and longer term product development.

The centre also provides a lot of guidance towards global industry standards development such as 40-Gig and 100-Gig over copper and fiber. Locally, for Berk-Tek, it brings an applications and materials lab that provides a great deal in the area of customer support.

We can create a customer’s environment in our lab. We can design the cabling system to the exact nature the customer has it designed in his or her network, and then stress that system under live conditions. For example, running 10 Gigabit data traffic, we can determine in a stressed mode what the bit error rate would be, if any, in that network.

We can run all types of installation tests and other things that people involved in the physical layer of a network would be interested to know.

It’s a lab that an IT manager cares about the most because it is taking finished cabling and connectivity, installing it correctly or sometimes incorrectly to see what the effects are on the network, and giving them a best estimate how their own network might perform under similar conditions. That can be really eye-opening.

We also have a materials lab in the centre that does a lot of plastics’ analysis and computer aided tooling design. We are constantly looking to find new solutions for insulating or jacketing our products that could allow higher data transmission rates, improve the cross-talk or various other electrical parameters. If we are not constantly evaluating then analyzing, we will be treading water.

As you know in this market, if you stand still you are dead. The materials lab does a lot of front end work on what will be tomorrow’s products.

CNS: Berk-Tek manufacturers both fiber and copper. Is there room for both in the foreseeable future or is a shift to fiber imminent?

St. Cyr: Oh yes. I have been around this industry for 20-plus years and it’s always been a question of when is fiber going to get bigger. We are at the point where fiber is starting to make a stronger impact in the market, particularly in the data centre.

In the traditional enterprise LAN, it is still copper-based in the horizontal, fiber in the backbone. But in the data centre, fiber is becoming a more dominant play, depending, of course, on the type of centre, the end-user and the consultant, all of whom have a significance influence.

We’re at the point where it’s moving towards 60-40 in my estimation. If you look at the traditional enterprise LAN, it’s probably more or less 75-25 copper to fiber.

We are positioning both because we think there is a fit for both. Globally speaking, we have Category 6A UTP and FTP and Category 7A shielded solutions.

Copper is making a strong play at 40-Gig and 100-Gig. I am skeptical about fiber taking over completely because it’s going to be a question of total cost of ownership.

CNS: How much of a concern is the rising cost of copper to you?

St. Cyr: It is a concern, although in recent months we have had concerns about both copper and plastics. The fluoropolymers have gone up, the PVCs have gone up.

In the next six to 12 months, it seems like copper prices will remain stable, but the other raw materials are under pressure for both price and availability.

We could see some tightness in supply of fluoropolymers in the next six to 12 months that could make things interesting from a supply-demand perspective.

CNS: Some projections out there reveal 40GBASE-T will become a significant part of the server network market by 2017. Given that 10GBASE-T is only now coming into its own in this space is that a realistic date?

St. Cyr: If we are talking about servers as they pertain to data centres, I agree by 2015 there is going to be some uptake, some adoption, but definitely by 2017. The data centre is the early adopter of the next generation network cabling systems.

My question is, “Is 2017 too far out and will it be pulled in sooner because of the need for bandwidth?” I have been around enough data centres and end users to know that they do not have enough bandwidth and they forecast their needs to explode in terms of bandwidth in the next several years.

In terms of picking a date, I would say 2016 or 2017, but if you need to bring it in, 40-Gig may start showing up in 2014.

As far as the enterprise LAN, who really knows? When will 10-Gig be 20% of the market? I don’t think it will reach the 50% mark until maybe 2015 or 2016. It could parallel when 40-Gig becomes a major play in the data centre.  

CNS: You were the first chairman of the Communications Cable & Connectivity Association or CCCA. Why was it formed?

St. Cyr: There was a concern that the industry, that manufacturers, distributors and raw material suppliers did not have a collective voice.

We developed a charter for this group that was really geared to be the voice of the cabling systems industry.

One of the key drivers was that the association of steel pipe manufacturers was trying to discredit plenum cables, that they were not robust enough to withstand the environment in a plenum air space. They thought they should be installed inside a steel pipe, which would obviously benefit their members.

CNS: The issue of non-compliant cable entering the North American market came up at a presentation by the CCCA in January at the BICSI Winter Conference in Orlando. How concerned are you about it?

St. Cyr: The members of this association speak with one voice, which has been a positive outcome of the CCCA. One of the things we have discovered is how much non-conforming product is being imported into North America, unbeknownst to buyers who thought they were just getting a good price.

But when you dissect it and either test it electrically or burn it or do some other physical test, you realize this is junk.

Everyone in the CCCA is committed to a level playing field and wants to compete fairly, but when there are fraudulent activities taking place with offshore products coming in, we thought that as an association that this would be one of the key industry issues on which we would take a stand. So, we have said ‘enough is enough, things have to stop.’

We have created a lot of awareness out there and my hope is that offshore companies have noticed this and are making the effort to meet the fire safety and electrical specifications. If they do not, they are probably going to be caught because the CCCA activities haven’t stopped, they have increased.

At the end of the day, this is going to make for a better industry.

Our cover story this issue revolves around video as an emerging application. Does this represent a game-changer for Berk-Tek and other manufacturers?

St. Cyr: We hope it does. I think it has great potential for a couple of basic reasons. One is the continued drive of “Ethernet everywhere,” which is applying migrating into the IP camera and IP security segments that are developing as we speak. We have had some examples of end users that have adopted it including the Jet Blue terminal facility in New York.

We are hopeful that it is going to have significant penetration in the market. There is definitely a lot of excitement, which is certainly better than the alternative.

 

My final question has to do with the Canadian market. How important is it to you personally and Berk-Tek as a company?

 

St. Cyr: To me personally it is. My ancestors came from France through Quebec and into New Hampshire. I have personal roots – I once lived in Northern Vermont and was running up to Montreal almost monthly.

For Berk-Tek it is obviously a very important market. We have a dedicated sales and marketing team in Canada, and we spend a lot of time developing the market and have enjoyed a solid business across the Canadian market for many years.

                                               

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