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Dr. Lawrence Roberts

Light Reading
Interview
Light Reading
1/25/2001
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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.

 
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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, itGs so cheap, where will [photonic switch manufacturers] get the revenue? LetGs just count the ports and how many there are going to be and what the market size is going to be. ItGs 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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