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Q&A: Gainspeed's New CEO Rides IP Wave

Light Reading interviews new Gainspeed CEO Krishnan Padmanabhan on the company's success to date and where it's headed next.

Mari Silbey

September 8, 2014

6 Min Read
Q&A: Gainspeed's New CEO Rides IP Wave

Gainspeed has a new CEO at the helm, and he's been given the task of helping cable companies attack a problem he defines as "huge and painful."

Co-founder and former CEO Drew Perkins has announced he is shifting into an advisory role at the network infrastructure company and handing the leadership position over to "seasoned Silicon Valley technology executive" Krishnan Padmanabhan. Padmanabhan was most recently at Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), where he held the title of senior vice president for more than two years. Prior to Harmonic, the technology veteran served as vice president and general manager at NetApp Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP).

Gainspeed has made waves with new technology that distributes many functions that traditionally reside in a cable headend down into a network node. Since the company arrived on the scene in 2013, several other cable vendors have followed Gainspeed’s lead and have begun introducing their own strategies for moving toward more distributed cable architectures.

While news of Padmanabhan's appointment was officially shared this morning, Light Reading sat down for an interview with the new CEO last week to talk about Gainspeed 's success and where the company is headed next (and how it's tackling that aforementioned huge, painful problem). (See Gainspeed, Avegant Share CableLabs Top Honors, Salinger Draws Comcast CCAP Roadmap and Gainspeed Gains Fresh Funding.)

Figure 1: Gainspeed CEO Krishnan Padmanabhan

For more on the cable infrastructure market, check out our dedicated CCAP content channel here on Light Reading.

Excerpts from the interview are included below, with edits made for brevity and clarity.

Light Reading: What made you interested in joining a company focused on cable access architectures?

Padmanabhan: Cable companies are running up against a wall, and they need to do something dramatically different if they're going to take the next wave of IP coming into people's homes. I think what attracted me was that the problem is huge, and painful, and something that the MSOs are going to have to act on. Gainspeed had a really innovative way to tackle that problem that I believe is genuinely groundbreaking.

Light Reading: Gainspeed has gained a lot of apparent traction very quickly and quietly over the last year. What do you attribute that success to, and how do you plan to build on it?

Padmanabhan: When a business problem is challenging enough, as is the explosive growth in IP bandwidth requirements for MSOs, you are open to new ideas. I think fundamentally the reason Gainspeed is getting attention is because the founders of the company re-imagined what the access part of the network could look like in a very different way and saw that the kind of technology that could miniaturize and distribute intelligence -- which was not possible until recently -- is now becoming possible, and that the benefits of that are just huge.

A lot of the feedback, it's gone from "you guys are crazy people re-imagining that networks are going to distribute intelligence that was in the headend out to the node"… it's gone from "you are the rebel to now your ideas are mainstream," and the question is how and when will this get implemented and in what way. And I think that's a real credit to how much, with a small team, we have communicated across the key thought leaders in the MSOs.

Next page: Challenges, strategy and more Light Reading: What are the challenges you face?

Padmanabhan: I think the first one is the approach we're proposing, which moves the MAC and the PHY out to the node and turns the headend into a standard data center type infrastructure with an edge router, is a radical change from the current architecture that [cable operators] have.

The challenge to Gainspeed is going to be convincing our customers to take on that dramatic a change for the very demonstrable benefits that they'll get. And what it really boils down to is we have to earn their trust.

I think that another [challenge] is that most of the MSOs are large organizations full of very talented people, but the decision making, depending on the company, is distributed in different ways, and we're a small company and we have to map across that decision making -- technical people, the field people, the headquarters people, the various constituencies -- and align them so that we can go move past testing and get in to field trials and deployments, and that takes some skill and focus across such complex organizations to align people to drive to decisions.

A third one is obviously we have to continuously innovate very rapidly. We believe we've got a couple years of an advantage, but in our industry there's no comfort… you've got to keep moving on the innovation, and we've a superb product execution team so I'm positive we will, but that challenge has to remain in front of us at all times.

Light Reading: What are some of the tenets of your strategy going forward?

Padmanabhan: One thing that is undoubtedly a core tenet of the strategy is continuing to work with the technical teams at the MSOs. That partnership and their advice and guidance to us on how to proceed is hugely valuable to us… they're visiting us weekly. People are coming here and giving us their views and technically diving deep with us. That has been huge, and it's going to continue to be huge.

In terms of other people in the ecosystem, obviously we need to partner very closely with the people that make the routers and other technology components, and we intend to do so.

Light Reading: On the technology agenda for the MSOs, how do you see fitting distributed architectures in with some of your customers' other priorities such as DOCSIS 3.1?

Padmanabhan: DOCSIS 3.1 and the virtualized distributed approach that we're taking are entirely compatible. We would say that even with DOCSIS 3.0, moving to a distributed approach, Those benefits are there with DOCSIS 3.0 or 3.1. But we know that 3.1 is important on the agenda of our customers, so it's obviously incumbent on us to make sure that whatever solutions we deploy are ready for 3.1 when the MSOs are ready to deploy 3.1. Even before 3.1, we think we give huge benefits with DOCSIS 3.0.

Light Reading: Can you talk about what you bring to the Gainspeed team personally, and why you think you were asked to be the next CEO?

Padmanabhan: The company is moving from a stage where for the last two years it's really been a product innovation stage. And the next stage the company needs to get to at our point is: How do we make this real?

What I humbly hope I bring is a lot of knowledge and experience of how do you make all that stuff work together and get a successful outcome. I think there was a whole lot of capability here [at Gainspeed] already -- it was a pretty darn amazing team already, so hopefully I'm going to help them, but I'm very proud to be a member of the team.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Mari Silbey

Senior Editor, Cable/Video

Mari Silbey is a senior editor covering broadband infrastructure, video delivery, smart cities and all things cable. Previously, she worked independently for nearly a decade, contributing to trade publications, authoring custom research reports and consulting for a variety of corporate and association clients. Among her storied (and sometimes dubious) achievements, Mari launched the corporate blog for Motorola's Home division way back in 2007, ran a content development program for Limelight Networks and did her best to entertain the video nerd masses as a long-time columnist for the media blog Zatz Not Funny. She is based in Washington, D.C.

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