Gcom Success Story

Illiac IV ComputerWhat does a person do after working on one of the most exciting and successful university-based computer projects ever? That was the question confronting Dave Grothe back in 1979. Dave had been a systems programmer on the immensely successful ILLIAC IV computer project at the University of Illinois.

His answer was to remain in Champaign-Urbana, the home of the University of Illinois, to launch his own company, Gcom, Inc. (short for Grothe Communications). In 1979, as the only employee, Dave opened Gcom® out of his home. Gcom’s primary focus was to build software products for the growing telecommunications industry. At the outset, the company’s sole product was designed around an IBM Series/1 communication board and the X.25 communication protocol software stack.

Gcom's first customer, another small company located in Santa Barbara, CA, built a Z80-based protocol processor card for the IBM Series/1 minicomputer. Gcom provided an X.25 protocol stack for this board. IBM liked this product so much that it adopted it and put it into its catalog. IBM's first customer for the X.25 adapter was MasterCard.

MasterCard used Series/1 minicomputers as access machines to its X.25 network backbone. Some years later MasterCard replaced all of the Series/1 machines with PCs using Emulex protocol processing boards. Again, Gcom's X.25 ran on the Emulex boards and continued to provide MasterCard with interfacing to their X.25 backbone. Building from the X.25 solution success, Gcom, the little giant, expanded its product line. Low maintenance and minimal aftersale support requirements allowed the company to focus on other high profile accounts like VISA International. Based on their solid reputation, via word-of-mouth, Gcom found its way to VISA’s short list of vendor companies.

VISA was contemplating an upgrade to the stacks in their primary member access computer called the VISA Access Point (VAP). They had relied on the IBM micro-channel PS/2 for years, a mainstay in the industry. (IBM finally threw in the towel on making the PS/2 after three generations and seven years of manufacturing, something never to be seen again in the industry.) If VISA were to move the VAP to a new platform, they would want to take advantage of rapid PC industry advancements for hardware speed and ease of use. Ultimately, they wanted to be as independent as possible from the platform in any subsequent migrations.

Gcom continued to leverage its board and software strategy and upgrade its products to run on new communications board sets. Along the way, Gcom added the SNA protocol to their repertoire. When VISA came calling, Gcom was ready. After VISA selected Gcom to be its new SNA and X.25 board and stack provider, the Gcom software was integrated with the VAP application software. Fortunately, VISA had rewritten its VAP software to accommodate the layered architecture. As a result, they found it relatively easy to remove the older SNA stack running on the micro-channel PS/2 VAP and replace it with Gcom’s new ISA based board and software solution for SNA and X.25.