Computer makers found success in Carson City

In 1978, Don Lehr and Al Fiegehen were facing the realities of business for their 3-year-old Orange County, Calif., enterprise that made memory boards for computers.

Well-heeled defense contractors like Rockwell could out-bid them for employees, expensive housing made it hard to recruit workers into the area and overcrowded streets and roads slowed both inbound and outbound deliveries.

"California was extremely hostile to business," Lehr said recently, recalling the partners' decision to relocate their company.

Mainly it was the taxes, all kinds of taxes. Only a few years ago the state stopped trying to tax the pensions of Californians who had moved to other states.

Two decades later, Feigehen's and Lehr's Cubix Corp. successfully makes and sells network server computers to a worldwide market burgeoned by the growth of the Internet - all from a two-building plant and headquarters on Lockheed Way, just north of the Carson City Airport.

Thursday and Friday. Cubix will be one of the success stories on display at the Governor's Economic Development Conference at the Reno Hilton. Cubix is one of 55 companies participating in the Made In Nevada exhibit at the conference.

"We did look at a number of locations - Phoenix, Las Vegas, even San Diego," Feigehen said. "We hadn't even been to Carson City before."

Even 22 years ago, though, Carson City had an active program to recruit new players in the local economy.

"Carson City had a land program for the property the city owned around the airport and was offering long-term leases at very attractive rates," Lehr said. "And they had a very good city manager, Hank Etchemendy.

"Of course, none of the other places had anywhere you could go skiing so close," Lehr added.

The pair had worked together at General Electric and other companies that today would be called technology firms before they struck out on their own in 1975.

Their first project as Industrial Micro Systems was to develop controller boards for the machines that connected the microscopic wires in integrated circuits. That was soon to change.

"Everybody was asking us why we didn't make memory boards, saying there weren't any good ones on the market," Lehr said. They designed and began making memory boards for S100 computers, a standard type in which the main processor, the memory, the communications interfaces and the disk drive controllers were all on separate boards that plugged into a box with a power supply and a number of slots to hold all the components.

Their Carson City facility was completed in 1979 and they moved the company to town. They also began building and selling their own S100 computers.

"Because everything was all connected through the main board in the S100 box, we used to call them networks in a box," Feigehen said. "That's really what we're still doing today."

But the product is a far cry from the days when 16,000 bytes of memory, 8-inch floppy drives and a 4 megahertz processor were the state of the art.

Cubix's flagship product, the Density System, holds as many as eight complete Pentium III computers, each with a billion bytes of memory and a hard drive as large as 36 gigabytes in a single rack-mountable chassis.

Each computer is on a single board, can be a network host and is served by redundant power supplies. And the computer boards, hard drives and power supplies can each be removed and replaced if there is a malfunction without requiring any other component to be shut down.

All maintenance of the system's software and operation can be done remotely. And each density system is set up to share a keyboard, floppy drive, mouse, monitor, and CD-ROM between all of its computer boards.

All of those make the Cubix products attractive to any operation that provides uninterrupted services, from Internet service providers to telephone companies to the Hilton Hotel chain.

Cubix refers to the use of its servers as "lights out operation," meaning the systems can be installed in a computer room or a closet, then the lights can be turned off and the door closed - no need to constantly monitor the servers. If anything does go wrong - one of the computers crashes, a power supply or fan fails or the system begins to run too hot - monitors within the Density System send a message over the network.

Density systems start at about $8,000 a pop and nobody orders just one. Customers typically fill racks with six systems, up to 48 computers in less than 5 square feet of floor space.

"Everything we do is based on standardization, on the 'Wintel' - Windows software and Intel processor - platform, because that's what everybody is using," Feigehen said. Windows NT, Windows 2000, Unix and Linux are all being run as operating systems on Cubix systems.

Since coming to Carson, Cubix has expanded several times. The original property was purchased when the city decided to get out of the land leasing business. The first building was expanded and a second built on the other side of Arrowhead Drive.

Cubix employs about 160, most in Carson City but some at other sales offices, including one in Scotland.

WHAT: Governor's Economic Development Conference

WHEN: Thursday, Friday

WHERE: Reno Hilton


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