Cisco's Ullal Talks Optical Future



ANAHEIM, Calif. -- OFC 2002 -- It's a tough job and she's going to do it.

That's the impression one gets from speaking to Jayshree Ullal, Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) group VP of optical networking. Ullal took the post in August 2001 after Cisco restructured its management team and when her predecessor, Carl Russo, took on a more strategic role (see Reorg Rips Through Cisco's Ranks).

Ullal came to Cisco after it acquired Crescendo Communications in 1993. She eventually took on the role of VP and general manager of Cisco's enterprise business, where the LAN switching business grew from $0 in 1993 to a $7 billion annual run rate in 2000.

In 2000, Ullal went on a nine-month sabbatical. She returned to Cisco in 2001 to work on a stealth project until the company restructured. Since she's taken on her new role, Ullal says she's resigned from the several startup company board positions that she had held.

So why did Cisco give the job of getting its optical products to carriers to someone who used to sell LAN gear to enterprises? Ullal says she sees optical networking as a new market and her forte is taking advantage of new markets. "In 1993, it wasn't obvious that Cisco would be the enterprise [switching] leader. It took about four years of heavy lifting for that to happen. It's the same situation here.

"I've gained a reputation within Cisco as someone who can't hit her forecasts. Whenever I'd put out a forecast [in LAN switching business], we always exceeded it. I'd like to have that problem here."

Ullal also came to Cisco with an acquisition and has helped it acquire other companies. Hmmm, let's see... What might that mean?

On the subject of expansion, Ullal says Cisco is committed to the metro core space, though it doesn't currently have a product offering there to compete with Ciena Corp.'s (Nasdaq: CIEN) CoreDirector. "There's a whole evolution going on in that space to multiservice switching and grooming capabilities. We look forward to participating in that evolution either through internal development, externally [via acquisitions], or through a combination of both." (See Cisco's Appetite for Startups Shifts.)

Of course, the subject of carrier spending came up. Ullal's take is in line with the rest of the industry's constant temperature taking. "I can't define for you how short term [the carrier spending drought] is. For optical networking and for Cisco, 2002 is a rebuilding year."

Ullal says Ciena's pending merger with ONI Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ONIS) makes "textbook sense... Ciena has a great presence in the core and ONI has a good presence in metro DWDM. But time will tell whether the textbook sense translates into textbook execution... Ciena's and ONI's emphasis is on transport. But the carriers are emphasizing delivery of multiple services."

Cisco CEO John Chambers has said Cisco aspires to be number one or number two in all the markets in which it competes. Ullal draws a distinction between those areas where Cisco aims to be number one and those where it still needs to complete its portfolio. "Do we want to be number one or number two in the metro, next-generation Sonet space? Absolutely. We think we're already there. Do we want to be number one or two in the metro DWDM space? Absolutely. There the definition is changing from pure point products to multiservice DWDM products.

"Do I think we can be number one in the long-haul anytime soon? No. Given the condition of the market right now, we'd rather be number one or two in the hot new markets, such as the metro product areas. In the long haul, it is less about being number one or two and more about completing our portfolio. Our product may be number one or two, but we're pragmatic about being the top one in market share, unless we start building line cards for Lucent and Ciena."

Ullal took on a couple of rumors that had been circulating about Cisco. She says the company has no investment in Calix Networks, an optical access company where Cisco's Russo is chairman of the board.

She also confirmed that many of Cisco's metro products are indeed named after car engines. (The ONS 15454, for instance, was named for Chevy's 454 motor.) "I love it. It shows that [the developers] have a passion that goes beyond technology."

Even many of the product code names have links to the automotive world, Ullal says. The recent four-port Gigabit Ethernet line card for the ONS 15454, for instance, was code-named "Carrera."

"Would I have done that? No. But I'll go with the flow."

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com For more information on OFC 2002, please visit: www.nottheofc.com

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