Luca Martini Leaves Level 3

Luca Martini has left Level 3 and some suspect he's headed for Cisco

October 7, 2003

4 Min Read
Luca Martini Leaves Level 3

Light Reading has confirmed that Luca Martini, an engineer best known for his role in important routing standards work, has left his job as senior architect at Level 3 Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: LVLT). Sources say the Italian-born, Colorado-living Martini is joining the Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) team.

Neither Martini nor a Level 3 spokesperson returned phone calls or email, but Martini's voicemail at Level 3 indicates that he has left the company.

As of Friday afternoon, Cisco denied that Martini is an employee. While he may not be officially on the payroll just yet, friends close to Martini say that’s where he is headed.

Martini supposedly accepted the role at Cisco so that he can focus more on his standards work. While at Level 3, Martini worked on a number of Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards dealing mostly with Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS). He is best known for “Draft Martini," an Internet draft he authored that has become the basis of the Pseudo Wire Emulation Edge to Edge (PWE3) work in the IETF. This work is focussed on enabling an MPLS core network to transport a range of point to point and switched VPN services such as private lines, ATM, Ethernet and Frame Relay. Level 3 has implemented the technology in its IP backbone, proving that the concept actually works.

During a Light Reading interview earlier this year, Martini lamented about not having enough time to work on standards.

“Everybody is very busy,” he said referring to his colleagues at other service providers. “We all have less staff, and people have less time to pay attention to these things. Hopefully, that will improve in the future.”

For years, Cisco has recruited some of the best and brightest minds in the networking industry to help it develop technology and work within the standards community to lobby for its interests. Often it’s given these individuals titles like Cisco Fellow, Distinguished Engineer, or Technical Leader.

These individuals have contributed a great deal to the IETF and to the industry in general. A long list of industry notables fall into these ranks. Fred Baker, the former chairman of the IETF, is a Cisco Fellow, as is MPLS guru Bruce Davie; VOIP expert David Oran; and IPv6 maven Steve Deering. George Swallow, who was one of the original developers of MPLS, is a Distinguished Engineer at Cisco. Yakov Rekhter, who helped develop the routing protocol Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), was once a Cisco Fellow. He’s now a Distinguished Engineer at Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) (see Dr. Yakov Rekhter).

For these reasons, Martini's move to Cisco would likely raise eyebrows, because his standards work has been influential and his move from a service provider to an equipment vendor could raise questions about his employer's agenda.

IETF opponents complain that Cisco has too much control over emerging standards. Unlike other standards bodies, the IETF is an organization made up of individuals. In theory, specific companies are not represented by specific engineers. The idea is that these very engineers will put corporate loyalty and politics aside to develop standards that promote the best technical approach to serve the greater good of the industry.

It’s a nice concept in theory. But the reality is quite different, say critics. They say that Cisco, with all its resources, is able to flood the standards process with dozens of engineers and therefore garner more votes and support for particular technologies.

What’s more, Cisco also has the resources to employ engineers to do nothing else but work on standards documents. As a result, most of the standards that come out of the IETF are closely aligned with technology developed and used by Cisco.

“Cisco controls the IETF,” says one IETF member, who works at a startup, but didn’t want his named used. “In general, you have to pick your battles very carefully. You don’t want to go against Cisco, because you won’t win.”

Indeed, this is a problem companies like Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) have faced for several years. In Juniper’s case, it had developed a Draft Martini competitor.

The document known as “Draft Kompella”, named after its author Kireeti Kompella, used BGP as the primary signaling protocol for Layer 2 MPLS VPNs, allowing VPN connections to be deployed in a meshed configuration (see Juniper/Cisco Duke It Out Over MPLS). Early in the process, Cisco sided with Martini. Eventually, this became the method adopted by most vendors. While technical differences certainly played a role in the overwhelming adoption of Draft Martini, Cisco’s support for it has been an important endorsement.

In fairness to Cisco, its dominance in the IETF makes some sense and may actually serve an important purpose in the industry. The reality is that Cisco has the largest installed base of IP routers and switches in the world. An argument can be made that protecting Cisco’s interests often means protecting customers’ interests.

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.

You May Also Like