Light Reading

Cyan Hires Video Game Developers for POW! BANG! ZOOM!

Mitch Wagner

Managing networks will never be as much fun as blowing the heads off zombies, but Cyan is looking to make it as visually interesting. The company has developers with backgrounds in gaming contributing to its network visualization software.

"We have five guys that we've been able to find over time that have a backgrounding in gaming directly involved in visualization," Cyan Inc. president Mike Hatfield tells Light Reading. "What happens is that the best of that technology is applied to a closed environment in telecom."

The drive to make network visualization tools more rich comes from the changing nature of service provider networking, Hatfield says. Service providers previously relied on a few telecommunications tools. But now service provider network managers are required to deal with technologies that came in from the enterprise, including Ethernet, software administration, and operations.

"As these networks began to emerge, you have an opportunity to grab a lot of data -- how do you visualize that?" Hatfield says. Cyan turned to developers in the gaming industry to put their talents to use creating richer user interfaces for Cyan's Blue Planet management tools.

For example, Blue Planet provides multilayer network management, analyzing fiber, wavelengths OTM error correction and management, and Ethernet on top. "All of those have traditionally been run by separate organizations, and information from one has not been correlated," Hatfield says. "We felt that having visual correlation between those would be beneficial." If something breaks, a network manager using visualization tools can easily see if the problem is in their layer or a layer below.

Visualizing network layers.
Visualizing network layers.

"If you're at Layer 4, and it's just a straightforward fiber cut, you can waste a lot of time finding out what happened," Hatfield said. "When something goes bad everything turns red and it's easy to see that everything above it will go wrong."

Joe Cumello, Cyan chief marketing officer, says, "Traditionally, network management technology that vendors force network managers to use view data in a tabular way, as a flat file. It was very difficult to correlate in two dimensions what was happening in those layers."

Cyan also relies on gaming-like fly-throughs to allow network managers to move through an environment, turn the network on its side, and zoom in and out to individual cables. "You can see the layers and actual movement that you might not get with screen capture or two-dimensional implementation," Cumello says.

Visualizing activity on an optical link.
Visualizing activity on an optical link.

A small salting of game developers does the job for Cyan. The company has five developers with gaming background, out of a total 120.

The developers also helped with Cyan's transition to a loose corporate culture based on the agile development methodology. "The key in gaming technology is try something, see if it works, if it doesn't, adjust it," Hatfield says. "We’ve taken some of that fail-fast approach, which is very much a gaming approach."

Cyan also tries to bring a gaming approach to managers learning to use its tools. "With the older video games, you had to read the manual to play the game," Hatfield says. "Then later you could just turn on the game and learn as you go," he says. Inspired by games, Cyan tries to make its software as intuitive as it can.

Cyan's developers with gaming background also brought storyboarding, a gaming technique, into the development process. Cyan now maps out scenarios of what typical operators will do when attempting to diagnose problems.

Does the use of gaming techniques runs Cyan into trademark collision with the other Cyan, which made the wildly popular games Myst and Riven? No, says Hatfield. "Although they do have the domain, so we're envious of that," he says. The networking company is at

Cyan put together a demo video of its visualization tools.

More about Cyan:

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to

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User Rank: Moderator
3/27/2014 | 9:26:30 PM
Is this new?
Everything here looks exactly the same as their promo video from a year and a half ago ( What's new here?
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/27/2014 | 6:30:29 PM
Re: Great Idea
A networking vendor needs to walk the line between being so agile that they break customer networks, and so rigid that they are incapable of innovating. That line is more conservate than for, say, a game developer. 
sam masud
sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/27/2014 | 2:38:23 PM
DevOps+gamers=great network visualization. But it does sound cool!
User Rank: Lightning
3/27/2014 | 12:25:21 PM
Re: Great Idea
Was said partly in jest but I just thought it was an odd thing for a networking company CEO to say.   
Liz Greenberg
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/27/2014 | 12:06:44 PM
Re: Great Idea
@derac7020...I think that he means tweaking based on user feedback as opposed to releasing pre-alpha software with a lot of I know a lot of their software team and they are way too anal to let that happen!
Liz Greenberg
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/27/2014 | 12:05:37 PM
Re: Great Idea
@brookseven,  the folks that I know at Cyan don't seem concerned, granted they are just engineers but they usually sense things.  I think that this move is really intelligent.  Adding "transparency" to the layers so that faults can be found quickly is super important.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/27/2014 | 11:06:48 AM
Re: Great Idea
I think the more interesting thing is that the Q4 Cyan call stated that (without a layoff that they have not talked about) that Q1 OPEX would exceed Q1 Revenue.  Now they didn't state it that directly....but if you flatline their OPEX and use the guided to Revenue, that is what you get.


Anybody else think that this is a major sign of trouble?


User Rank: Lightning
3/27/2014 | 10:35:28 AM
Re: Great Idea
It does sound cool and its needed but..  ""The key in gaming technology is try something, see if it works, if it doesn't, adjust it"..   I'm sure that very reassuring to network operators.
User Rank: Lightning
3/27/2014 | 8:55:05 AM
Great Idea
Nice move by Cyan.  Network Management has been an oversight by vendors for decades.  I can imaging the cool displays in the NOC with their solution.  
User Rank: Blogger
3/27/2014 | 7:59:38 AM
Let me be the first to disagree
You say:

"Managing networks will never be as much fun as blowing the heads off zombies..."


I say --depends on the network and the zombies!! Never say never..... (kaboom...)
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