Rick Malone and Rosemary Corcoran

Co-owners, Vertical Systems Group

Ask Rick Malone a question and his partner of 15 years, Rosemary Corcoran, will probably answer it. Or vice versa.

The two, who own and run Vertical Systems Group, one of the most reliable sources of information about the networking market, have been together so long that it doesnt seem to matter which one of them is speaking.

He went to Boston Latin High School ("Its the oldest school in the country," he says). She went to Boston Girls Latin ("It was tougher to get into," she adds).

Their paths crossed at a small computer time-sharing company and they ended up working together in California at Tymnet, the old X.25 network.

The two came back to Boston to do sales and marketing for Network Switching Systems, a T1 (1.5-megabit-per-second) multiplexer start-up. They started Vertical Systems in 1986 with Tim Zerbiec, a network architect. He left Vertical in 1989.

"Dealing with venture capitalists and outside consultants was eye-opening," Corcoran said. "Theyd believe anything you said."

That convinced them of the need for demand-side research on the emerging T1 multiplexing industry. They surveyed users about their networks, what the networks were used for and how they planned to change them. Over the years, the database has grown to include 10,000 organizations. Vendors value the research for insights into customer demands. Users like to compare themselves to peers. Venture capitalists consult about new companies. Bankers call for advice about mergers.

Vertical Systems has never accepted venture capital money because its interests are not necessarily Malones or Corcorans. Acquisition offers have been declined. "This is our lifestyle. This is what we do," Malone says.