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Dr. Lawrence Roberts

Light Reading
Interview
Light Reading
1/25/2001
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Dr. Lawrence Roberts The Light Reading Interview

In The Spotlight: Dr. Lawrence Roberts

This was a big week for Light Reading. Dr Lawrence Roberts, one of the founding fathers of the Internet, was “in the house” at our Tribeca trophy office in Manhattan.

We did the right thing, of course. Lined up the staff. Scattered the rose petals. Chanted “Larry! Larry!” And, naturally, made sure to snap a photo with the Great One in front of our new salt-water aquarium. (We’ve just named our newest fish “Dr.Huber,” incidentally, on account of the fact that it doesn’t say much).

Doctor Roberts with “Doctor Huber” (Larry’s the one on the left) Larry hasn’t been saying much recently, either -- an unusual state of affairs, for him. But at least he has an excuse: Caspian Networks (née “Packetcom”), his latest venture, is still officially in stealth mode.

Fortunately, we found Larry in ebullient form, and he was generous enough to drop some new and exclusive details about Caspian’s product. (His decision to make said revelations appeared to come as a surprise to his marketing handlers, who are about to discover that retroactively saying “that was off the record!” after the company founder has just said something really interesting doesn’t actually stop journalists from writing it down, attributing it, and publishing it.)

Caspian is building a box targeted right at the meat of the core Internet router market and, by extension, at the current router duopoly of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR).

Clearly then, a nervy move on Larry’s part. And with terabit router companies like Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), Charlotte’s Web Networks, and Pluris Inc. already vying for the number three spot in the router game, why is it even worth giving serious consideration to Caspian (let alone give it the number five spot on our list of the Top Ten Private Companies? -- see Caspian Networks).

A few reasons: First, Larry doesn’t want to be number three in routing -- he wants to be number one. Second, Caspian isn’t building an IP router –- it’s building a mondo switch with some snazzy signaling smarts that could really set it apart from the hoi polloi.

Third, Larry’s interviews are always of value. For journalists, interviewing Roberts is like a refreshing day at the spa: Warnings are issued. ("Service providers have to make IP profitable within a year or they are going to go under.") Entire swathes of competitors can be dismissed with a wise smile and a two-word epithet ("too edge"). And, of course, answers -- definitive ones -- are delivered with an air of absolute authority. ("There’s got to be a shakeout.")

It’s all choice stuff. And Roberts's pitch has already gone over big with a number of venture capital firms and banks, which have bankrolled Caspian to the tune of $140 million in three rounds of funding (see Caspian Prepares for an IPO and Internet Pioneer Plots IP Revolution).

Not everyone’s a fan, of course. Witness this missive from a partner at a venture capital firm in California, who cravenly requested anonymity:

“Larry Roberts may be an Internet pioneer, but he has a long history of cooking up 'technology religious' ideas that are not commercially viable. As a result, he shopped Caspian (then Packetcom) in the valley for 12 months or so before he got someone to bite. As times have changed he's added some optical themes to the punch for effect. Larry Roberts is no Dave Huber and Caspian is no Corvis.” (Begging the question: Is this a bad thing?)

Make up your own mind about Doc Roberts’s new gig by reading the following interview, in which he also talks about:

Edge vs. Core
The Business Case
The Competition
OOO versus OEO
The Future of Caspian
We're not worthy! Larry, kickin' it with the Light Reading crew

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mahadeva
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mahadeva,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 8:59:05 PM
re: Dr. Lawrence Roberts
Is that a misprint??? Who in the industry is working on petabit switches? I thought there were only a few companies working in the 1 to 10 terabit range.
pablo
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pablo,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 8:59:04 PM
re: Dr. Lawrence Roberts
" .. I thought there were only a few companies working in the 1 to 10 terabit range .."

Which, of course, is 0.01 petabits... :-) That is yesterday's news, zettabits is where it's at... :-)
bryan_gregory
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bryan_gregory,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 8:59:02 PM
re: Dr. Lawrence Roberts
Mahadeva,

Check out Hyperchip's web site for PetaBit Switch information. I guess Terabit's will be old-hat in a couple of years :-)

WWW.HYPERCHIP.COM

Regards,
Bryan-
gea
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gea,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 8:58:56 PM
re: Dr. Lawrence Roberts
I'd place any amount of money I know exactly what Caspian is doing, and remember you heard it from "gea" first. Note that Daniel Blumenthal from UCSB has taken a leave to join Caspian.

What Caspian is going to try to do with optics is bascially the same thing that Ipsilon did with an ATM switch (converting a switch into a router by identifying switchable flows). With the Caspian switch, any time a flow is big enough to merit siwtching in the optical domain (ie, MEMs), then the electronic matrix will tag the flow and dump it down into the optical matrix.

In that sense, it is easy to scale to petabits, because once you have a wavelength flow, you've got 10Gb/s. Enough wavelength flows, and you're switching Petabits.

chechaco
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chechaco,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 8:58:53 PM
re: Dr. Lawrence Roberts
Do you remember what happened to Ipsilon? Dynamic identification of flows does not scale well. That's why people use CR-LDP/RSVP-TE to set up connections in IP environment.
redface
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redface,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 8:58:40 PM
re: Dr. Lawrence Roberts
Hi Gea, Daniel Blumenthal joined Calient, not Caspian.

What you say about Calient is interesting, please feed us more. Are they doing any dynamic wavelength conversion?
netskeptic
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netskeptic,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 8:58:39 PM
re: Dr. Lawrence Roberts
"Do you remember what happened to Ipsilon? Dynamic identification of flows does not scale well. That's why people use CR-LDP/RSVP-TE to set up connections in IP environment."

I would rather say that people have a hope that MPLS and RSVP would work one day. In many respects it vividly reminds me the hopes pinned on ATM in its early days.
bobilll
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bobilll,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 8:58:22 PM
re: Dr. Lawrence Roberts
What do people think of this statement?

"Roberts: I have a similar problem with it. And I have another problem. Once you successfully do photonic switching, itGÇÖs so cheap, where will [photonic switch manufacturers] get the revenue? LetGÇÖs just count the ports and how many there are going to be and what the market size is going to be. ItGÇÖs actually in the hundreds of millions at the best. "

The photonic switching companies carry hefty valuations based in large measure on perceived potential for exceptional revenue growth. Is the perception incorrect?-- will the revenue dry up because the market is smaller than thought?

Big A
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Big A,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 8:57:42 PM
re: Dr. Lawrence Roberts
I agree with Roberts: There is little value add with core transport. There will be little intelligence in these boxes. Making the optical device to switch might be better, but actually moving the photons won't be a huge market.
Genuine
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Genuine,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 8:56:50 PM
re: Dr. Lawrence Roberts
When I set out to read this interview, like other articles I am spending time with, what I was hoping for is what will make IP profitable? What keeps business owners up at night? The Internet? Does business find themselves lacking in bandwidth to accomplish their revenue goals with the internet? How much business is coming from the Internet anyway? What are the goals beside moving data and e-mail? Do they think they will be left out of the "New Economy" if they do not get a three demensional/fully interactive Web site? Isn't that what sales people are? What is the "New Economy"-Cisco thinks it is voice over IP. But then again, isn't that taking way the only considerable profitablility (economy) of a telecommunications/ISP? I guess the question boils down to, What markets are you creating with your products? Please do not tell me the "New Economy". Tell me your vision.
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