Dr. Lawrence Roberts
Light Reading: Larry, how are you doing?
Larry Roberts: Doing well. Very well.
Light Reading: When we last talked Caspian was called PacketCom.
Roberts: Yes, it was called PacketCom, but then they decided they needed something a little more broad. Something that they could trademark.
Light Reading: Who’s “they”?
Roberts: I brought in a whole team: Graham [Graham Rance, Caspian’s CEO] and marketing people. Marketing started working on how we could get a real name we could handle. With PacketCom, I knew I could get it [as a URL] on the Internet, and that’s the only check we made.
Light Reading: Did somebody else have a trademark for PacketCom?
Roberts: No, it’s just that “packet” is generic. There was a 50/50 chance that we would have a problem with it because of its generic nature.
Light Reading: What does Caspian mean?
Roberts: Nothing. It’s a sea.
Light Reading: Yeah?
Roberts: Yes. We just wanted something like Exxon that’s totally neutral.
Light Reading: Obviously, you’re not yet talking about your products. But we’ve poked around and written a couple articles about what sort of product we think you’re working on. How close to the mark have we been?
Roberts: You’ve actually been pretty good.
Light Reading: So what are you up to, eh? Making switches with some sort of very fast signaling for ATM [asynchronous transfer mode] and IP [Internet protocol]?
Roberts: We’re not going to talk about what we are doing with IP calls yet. And we’re not using ATM signaling. It’s more like we’re changing the IP switch to do something new, and different. What we’re really trying to do is change the switch, and not the protocol.
The challenge is to take all this traffic that is coming into the switch -- which could be made up of different protocols, or just IP -- and send it out over the network with QOS [quality of service] and load-balancing. And to do this reliably. So the switch just has to be more intelligent. It has to have more knowledge of what’s going on [on the network]. Thirty years ago, we told everybody to make the switch dumb. We tried to get it so the core was dumb and the edge was smart. But now that’s not the way to go -- we can make the switch more intelligent.
Light Reading: So people who say the core should be dumb with an intelligent edge are wrong?
Roberts: I think in the short term they’re wrong, yes. The core is going to have to be more intelligent [to do all the things it needs to do]. In the long run things may shift again. Once the edge is doing exactly the right things it may be possible to make the core less sophisticated.
Remember that IP is the network protocol in the core. We can’t change it overnight. That means all of the nodes in the network have to be intelligent. If you can start changing the protocol later, then you can start thinking about making [those nodes] less smart. But not right away.
Light Reading: OK, so you’re talking about a very intelligent switch, and one that handles IP in the core and multiple protocols at the edge of the network. Isn’t there a danger that you are trying to do too much, old chap? Is there a risk that you’ll fall into the trap of putting too much functionality in one device?
Roberts: I don’t see that. Multiprotocol isn’t very painful to install. The simple way to handle it is to translate everything into IP. You don’t want to fool around with multiple protocols inside the switch. The point is, if you make IP capable of handling all the QOS and so on, now the network can do what you need to do and the translation becomes trivial, because it’s only happening at the edge of the network.
Light Reading: You’ve got some edge switches translating multiple protocols into IP.
Roberts: I’m not sure we’d call our product an edge switch. When it’s installed at the edge of the network, there are multiprotocol interfaces. But the switch certainly serves in the core, as well. It’s definitely a core switch.
Light Reading: So it sounds like you’re not making two different hardware platforms [edge and core], you’re making two different layers of functionality you can enable in the same product.
Roberts: That’s a better way of talking about it.