& cplSiteName &

Tony Li

Light Reading
Interview
Light Reading
5/27/2004
50%
50%

Tony Li has had an uncannily successful career path: Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), and then Procket Networks Inc. OK, so, the jury’s still out on Procket (see Procket Processes a Dream Team and New Kid on the Cisco/Juniper Block). But the fact that Li helped build two of the leading companies in the router market is more likely a reflection of his skill and intensity in crafting router code, rather than luck.

Li hopped on board Cisco systems in January 1991, a short time after Cisco’s IPO. There he stayed for five years, becoming one of the company's most accomplished and senior coders. When Li joined Cisco, there were 275 employees and $69 million in revenue (in fiscal 1990). By the time Li left, there were 11,000 employees and $10 billion in revenue.

Next stop? Juniper, where Tony helped the founding team put together the first legitimate challenge to Cisco’s routing leadership since Wellfleet systems, which was ultimately gobbled up by Bay Networks and later Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT).

Adding to his reputation as somebody who marches to the beat of his own drum, Li left Juniper just prior to its IPO, in 1999, when it seemed to be firing on all cylinders. He left to move on to another startup, Procket, where he logged another five-year stint, weathering some pretty serious melodrama before quitting earlier this year (see Procket, Procket Bulks Up, Procket Gets Unstealthy, Procket CEO Resigns, Procket Plows On, Procket Gets Cisco Exec, and Li Finally Quits Procket). Well, we’re still waiting for the Procket IPO. Maybe Li's departure has cleared the way.

We interviewed Li at the Peninsula Creamery, located in sunny Palo Alto, Calif. Unfortunately, both Light Reading editors were late. We were worried that Li might flash some of the mercurial temper he’s rumored to possess, but there was just this calm, relaxed man sitting greeting us with a boyish, slightly nervous grin.

As the inquisitors, we attempted to pry back the protective layers and draw out the inner flame of the “Li-ster,” as he’s known in certain circles (well, okay, we just made that up). No such luck. Li seemed protective and ultra-wary of the Light Reading pen. And he really just wanted to talk about the Internet. Even then, his words were measured. Leisure and idle conversation do not appear to be high on Li’s list of priorities.

That’s our way of saying, this is a short interview. [Ed. note: But we're making up for it with this long-ass introduction.]

In the end, Li’s own description of himself as “workaholic” seems most apt. He’s a guy that would rather be designing, implementing, and writing routing code. Just take a gander at his voluminous posts on the Light Reading Message Boards, and you get a pretty good idea that he lives and breathes what he does. How’d he get there? It’s an interesting story.

Li went to Harvey Mudd College, in Claremont, Calif. He proceeded thence to USC to earn his PhD. At USC he started fooling around with these new-fangled networking boxes called routers. At the time, he was working in a computer lab, and he got involved configuring routers made by a company called Cisco Systems Inc. The rest, as they say, is history.

Li was mum on the behind-the-scenes drama at Procket, though he did drop a few hints. He’s currently in “semi-retirement,” although its clear that doesn’t mean time on the Links.

Read on, to find out what Li thinks about Cisco, the Internet, telecom, and startup life:

— R. Scott Raynovich, US Editor, and Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

(169)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Page 1 / 17   >   >>
lite-brite
50%
50%
lite-brite,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:44:12 PM
re: Tony Li
Well, I have one ex-colleague visiting Shenzen for the first time, and he LOVES it (also one that hates it); I have no desire to go, but am starting to enjoy working with the Chinese guys at Huawei! They impress me a lot more than I anticipated!

I imagine Tony would like the overwhelming culture-clash, tbh! Makes it that much more interesting:-)
Tony Li
50%
50%
Tony Li,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:42:09 AM
re: Tony Li

By the way... I just checked and craigmatsumo.to is still available. Surf over to tonic.to.

;-)

Tony
PO
50%
50%
PO,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:42:02 AM
re: Tony Li
Nice interview; thanks, Tony, for sharing some of your story with us. (And for sharing your perspective on various issues over the years.)

But now there's two stories out there: the article talks about "quitting [Procket] earlier this year." But Tony has also said that, well, his departure was not his choice.

http://www.lightreading.com/bo...

In an ideal world this wouldn't matter, and probably isn't any of our business. And it's often an area where one doesn't want to run afoul of any legal agreements. But now that the conflicting statements are out there, there's an opportunity for clarification.

Would any of the principals care to comment?
Mezo
50%
50%
Mezo,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:42:00 AM
re: Tony Li
Tony Li for President...representing the Silicon Valley Party!

Long live the Internet...the Internet RULES!!!
phonon99
50%
50%
phonon99,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:41:40 AM
re: Tony Li
Li: The real question is whether an independent ISP can compete with RBOCs and the monopoly of the last mile. If there are technical solutions that allow us a new last mile, there are possibilities. Cable, for example, has had significant penetration. ThereG«÷s other players. IG«÷m hopeful that weG«÷ll see a wireless last mile.
----------------------------------

Tony,

Wireless will never have the capacity to deliver videos (TV, VOD) in a large scale. It is also lack of solutions for the return path.

Optical wireless, free space optics (FSO), may have the bandwidth. But it was born as a supportive solution (building-to-building, disaster recoveryG«™), and is not suitable for the last mile.

The only possible solution is left to wireline --- no surprise! I believe FTTP based on economical PON architectures.


-Phonon99

optoslob
50%
50%
optoslob,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:41:39 AM
re: Tony Li
Tony,
I've often heard it said that the greatest advantage for very high speed FTTP (2Gbps to 10Gbps) is that it removes the need for storage in the network and therefore truly complements an OOO core routing system. Any comments?

Phonon99, Wireless last mile is coming and will deliver 2 to 10 Mbps per user. This can easily/cheaply be done today with Mesh WiFi plus FSO or UWB links to reduce the maximum number of hops in the Mesh. The problem is that this is only useful for Internet and Voice (very limited Video). If I can deploy this type of Mesh WiFi system for 1/10 the cost of FTTP why would I bother with FTTP? (Is video revenue really worth 9/10's of the system cost?)

optoslob
lr_monger
50%
50%
lr_monger,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:41:38 AM
re: Tony Li
This article is disappointing in that it does not hit on the real interesting things about what Tony believes such as that MPLS places too much state information in the network, and GRE is good, among other things.

A little more technical depth on things like this would have made it better.

lr monger
Tony Li
50%
50%
Tony Li,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:41:37 AM
re: Tony Li
Wireless will never have the capacity to deliver videos (TV, VOD) in a large scale. It is also lack of solutions for the return path.

Long ago, I tried to stop using the word 'never', because I usually ended up eating my words.

We shall see what we shall see. I appreciate your skepticism, but if physics allows, technology will find a way.

BTW, there's a clear counter-example to your hypothesis. One major carrier already has deployed a wireless last mile solution that has the necessary bandwidth and return channel. It has other issues that prevent if from being feasible, but that just means that there is one other possible way to skin this particular cat.

Tony
Tony Li
50%
50%
Tony Li,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:41:35 AM
re: Tony Li
Monger,

This article is disappointing in that it does not hit on the real interesting things about what Tony believes such as that MPLS places too much state information in the network, and GRE is good, among other things.

a) You're putting words in my mouth and they certainly don't belong there. b) Why don't you just ask your question(s)?

Tony
Tony Li
50%
50%
Tony Li,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:41:35 AM
re: Tony Li
I've often heard it said that the greatest advantage for very high speed FTTP (2Gbps to 10Gbps) is that it removes the need for storage in the network and therefore truly complements an OOO core routing system. Any comments?

Hmm... well, without the complete argument, it's difficult to judge. If the theory is that it eliminates the need for buffering at switching locations where we continue to do stat muxing, then that's a complete lark. If the theory is that we're all gonna do DWDM with enough frequencies that you can always get a lambda to yourself, well, that's a lark for a different reason. Of course, there's probably some other interpretation that I'm missing.

Tony
Page 1 / 17   >   >>
Featured Video
Flash Poll
Upcoming Live Events
December 4-6, 2018, Lisbon, Portugal
March 12-14, 2019, Denver, Colorado
April 2, 2019, New York, New York
April 8, 2019, Las Vegas, Nevada
May 6-8, 2019, Denver, Colorado
All Upcoming Live Events