Thinking Virtual With Larry Dennison

His new startup is focusing on the next big step for service providers: the virtualization of services and management

October 22, 2008

4 Min Read
Thinking Virtual With Larry Dennison

NEW YORK -- Ethernet Expo -- In the midst of a carrier Ethernet community that is still trying to figure out how to reliably and securely connect one network to another, Larry Dennison has his sights set on more abstract, but critical issues.

Dennison landed at Light Reading's Ethernet Expo event Tuesday to hook up with fellow telecom industry professionals and announce, without any fanfare (we had to track him down to his hotel room), his re-emergence into the telecom world after his sudden, recent departure from carrier Ethernet software specialist Soapstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SOAP). (See Larry Dennison: He's Baaaaack! and Soapstone Shocker: Founder Flees.)

He makes it clear he's not prepared to talk about that episode. All questions about his exit from Soapstone, and whether (as a number of industry executives believe) he was frustrated by the direction of, and strategy at, his former employer, are politely rebuffed.

But he is prepared to talk about his view of the broader industry, where he hopes his startup, Lightwolf Technologies, will play some sort of role.

Hungry like a Lightwolf
There's no special significance to the company name. Dennison says he wanted "a lean and hungry feel," and he was restricted in his choice by the shrinking availability of domain names. He says he used to play EverQuest on Playstation with his children and recalled that a key scene in the game involves Castle Lightwolf. He liked that name -- was already taken, but was still available.

The vision
Dennison says he's armed with a vision and some ideas, but he's not prepared to go into any details just yet about precisely what Lightwolf might develop. All the indications are that he has his eyes set on developing telecom software that will help service providers manage and maximize the business potential of their increasing range of potential services.

He's very focused on the business processes that underpin service provider strategies, and he's looking at a world where the innovation and R&D will be in the virtualization and abstraction of service creation, development, and processing. He says the real issues for carriers lie in the management and processing of the business functions that turn day-to-day activities, and carrier strategies, into revenues.

His focus is most certainly not on physical network infrastructure.

"Look at where the world is going," Dennison says. "You have to move lots of information around the world, and there is a lot of technology that moves and processes that information. What is the end state? The commoditization of bit-moving equipment and the commoditization of bit-moving IT hardware. The world is moving more quickly that way than it ever has before -- just look at the emergence of virtualization." (See Afore Aims for Data Centers, Cisco Intros Nexus 1000V, CloudShield Updates OS, Matisse Goes Virtual, Nortel Touts Virtualization, and Juniper Splits Out Its Control Plane.)

The result, believes Dennison, is a future, simplified network where distributed virtual servers and data centers are hooked up to next-generation optical transport networks, with all the intelligence and functionality decoupled from the infrastructure.

The services of the future are going to involve the use of "virtual servers, housed on regular PCs, that are connected to the transport infrastructure, and that's going to require the OSS of the future. It's not about moving bits any more, it's about processing things."

And it's clear that Dennison wants to be involved in sorting out the processing capabilities, and not the transport capabilities. "Soapstone is part of the puzzle that's moving bits around, but there's a lot more to it than just moving bits around. There's a rethinking of the Layer 3 infrastructure, where Layer 3 functionality sits on standard PCs and not routers -- it's the management of virtualization that people are thinking about."

By abstracting and virtualizing the Layer 3 capabilities, service providers would have the flexibility and nimbleness they need in a world where the number of specific services that needs to be offered and managed is growing.

"The carriers all see the problems," but they don't want to create new in-house teams to work on the issues, he says. "They're looking to outsource the development."

But to whom do they turn for help in tackling the issues associated with the new vision? Not the current crop of major suppliers, it seems. "Everyone in the industry is locked in" to their game-plans and won't break out into something new that could jeopardize the current strategy, Dennison says.

He says there's already some work going on by the service delivery platform players and organizations such as TM Forum , which recently merged with the IPsphere Forum , on the abstraction of intelligent functions, but much more needs to be done, and quickly. (See IPsphere Joins TM Forum.)

So the "carriers are under pressure" to address this grand vision of the virtualized service provider world, and Dennison's role, he feels, is to identify the "next incremental step that can help today -- one that's not a dead end."

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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