May 13, 2015
My ongoing interview tour of the leading minds of the telecom industry recently took me to Richardson, Texas, where I met with Rod Naphan, CTO and SVP, Solutions, Planning and Portfolio Management at Fujitsu Network Communications.
Fujitsu is one of the largest communications players in the world (165,000 employees in 100 countries, $50B in revenue) but sheer size provides zero immunity to the huge changes currently sweeping across the comms industry, and I was interested to learn about how Fujitsu is flexing its organization to meet the needs of its customers in the future.
Figure 1: Fujitsu's Rod Naphan: White boxing clever.
It was a fascinating and productive meeting: Read on to hear Rod's take on white box networking, "telco data center" (and why it might not be the right terminology), virtualization, systems integration and more.
[Editor's note: The following interview is long. If you don't have time to read the whole thing, just take what you need, as they say at AA.]
Page 2: How Fujitsu fits together
Page 3: From Japan to the telco data center
Page 4: Customer conundrums
Page 5: Opening up the white box
Page 6: On optical and IP
Page 7: The future of Fujitsu – and gun chat!
— Stephen Saunders, Founder & CEO, Light Reading
Stephen Saunders, Light Reading: How long have you been CTO for, Rod?
Rod Naphan, Fujitsu: I've been with Fujitsu since '94. I've been a VP in planning since 2005. I was the head of planning in 2011, which is effectively the CTO job. The title came last year.
SS: Must have been exciting.
RN: [Gallic shrug] Well, it's the same job.
SS: Sure, but it's nice to have a C-level title and it's more important the larger the company gets. Here at Light Reading it doesn't mean quite as much. I'm a little fish in a smaller aquarium.
RN: I remember when Light Reading first came online.
SS: Yeah, we were a little bit more aggressive then.
RN: It was an entertaining site. It still is.
SS: We've toned it down a little bit. We've grown up a bit, as has the industry.
RN: We've all gotten a little grayer, haven't we?
SS: The industry we cover is more about money now than adding terabytes of capacity.
RN: Now you've got to make the business case work.
SS: I am impressed by the size of the campus here. A million square feet. How many people work here?
RN: Somewhere in the 1,500 range. Also, we have two other campuses. One campus is in New York -- Pearl River, New York. And the other large campus is in Sunnyvale, California. That campus is also a share between FNC [Fujitsu Network Communications] and Fujitsu America, and Fujitsu labs.
SS: What's the relationship between the different divisions?
RN: Fujitsu America is an IT company. And Fujitsu Network Communications is the networking company.
SS: Do you find yourself working more closely together? I would have thought that that's the way the whole industry is headed, right?
RN: It's one of our key advantages. I call it the IT-ification of networking: the movement of technology into software and network functions virtualization and SDN really means that the way that network services will be built in the future look a lot more like the way that cloud services are built today. Everyone's saying that, but then how do you really do it? You really need a lot of expertise in the IT area. And I don't know if you know Fujitsu Limited that well, but we're a $50 billion ICT company; that's number 3 in the world.
SS: Which bit of the enterprise IT market do you need to move into the telecom service part of the world? Which bit of the DNA needs to be moved?
RN: A lot of the technology that Fujitsu employs and builds in data centers... servers and storage and the way we convert systems inside the data center which can then be used as platforms for NFV. So the whole idea and methodology of standing up infrastructure as a service, which we're number 3 in the world at doing, is effectively what we need to do for carriers for their NFV and SDN platforms. So that whole application delivery model and the IT support to do that, the integration capability to do that, that's the DNA that Fujitsu has.
SS: That's a huge competitive advantage.
RN: It is. And the other side of the coin is that being an IT company doesn't mean that you can do networking well. And there's very few companies in the world that actually have that unique combination of a true IT center of excellence as well as a networking center of excellence. So we've been doing networking here for 30 years… longer in Japan.
SS: Do you think at some point in the distant future they're going to become one company?
RN: There's more and more consolidation of businesses around the world. The Fujitsu Group of Companies is a more consolidated entity than it was, say, five or ten years ago. So that's a trend.
Next page: From Japan to the telco data center
From Japan to the telco data center
SS: When I was first writing about technology, Japan was ring-fenced from the rest of the world because it had very proprietary technology, didn't it? So I'd write about technology in the rest of the world, and there'd be stuff going on in Japan which wasn't really relevant to anybody except the Japanese. So I ignored it. And that seems to have changed, now, with the arrival of virtualization. Today, the opportunity for Japanese technology companies in virtualized, open, white box networking seems extraordinarily large to me. Would you agree?
RN: I would. Our focus from the networking side is certainly on open standards. So whether it's Openstack or OpenDaylight or something else, we’re really working with the industry to bring out open solutions. Because, as you say, for some areas of our business, it's actually a very large opportunity. And overall, that transition is an opportunity for us.
SS: Do you see companies like Sony getting more into communications? Because they have a pedigree around developing technology really well, which would lead you to think they could be an interesting player in this market.
RN: I'd be interested if you have some insight into what Sony's doing with respect to white box.
SS: I'd put Sony in the same category as Samsung. I don't know if you saw Samsung's booth at Mobile World Congress. It was literally a huge, glowing white box the size of a warehouse. The walls actually lit up. And I thought: "Well, that's not a very subtle message about which direction they want to go in." But to be honest with you, the only thing which I'm sure of is that the mix of leading companies in ten years' time is not going to be the same as it is today.
When I'm trying to look at how well companies are positioned for the future, one of the criteria I look at is what percentage of people working at the company are in services, or services and support, and systems integration. Because the more of that that you are involved with, as opposed to, say, focusing on developing high-capacity proprietary hardware, for end-to-end telecom nets, the better, in my opinion. And I think Fujitsu is checking a lot of the right boxes in that regard.
SS: You've done some restructuring, is that right?
RN: There are three pillars of technology. One is the ubiquitous devices, or consumer devices. One is the data center technology. And the third one is the WAN.
SS: When you say data center, do you mean telco data center or any data center?
RN: Any data center.
SS: So that would include building something for Amazon.
RN: Fujitsu, like I said, is No. 3 in infrastructure-as-a-service, so Amazon is our biggest competitor in that regard.
SS: Is that right? OK.
RN: Overall, our biggest competitor is probably IBM, as a company. But they really don't have the networking business that we have.
SS: So how do you compete with an Amazon?
RN: Amazon is a good competitor from a marketing and cost perspective. But Fujitsu is constantly renewing its capability and has strong relationships when it approaches its customers. So I think you're going to see more announcements from Fujitsu in the coming year in and around that area. I can't get ahead of myself on that.
SS: Wouldn't want you to. Let me ask you a question about the data center. What's the difference between a "data center" and a "telco data center"? What are the differentiating features? What are people looking for?
RN: I think of it in simply two ways: There's traditional data centers and then there's a unique opportunity that our carrier customers have, in my view, which is to use the footprint of their central office architecture, which was a hierarchical architecture that started off very close to customers. They have an opportunity to use that real estate to include more data center technology in those offices.
That's probably what you mean by "telco data center." There are different engineering rules. There's different power distribution. There are different air conditioning requirements and so on. They've got to make those transitions, but doing so gives them that opportunity extend the cloud closer to end customers; to improve the quality of experience by improving the latency, for example.
So a carrier may build a data center the same way that an ISP may build a data center. But they have that other real estate to take advantage of. "Extended cloud" is maybe a better way to put it.
SS: "Extended cloud." I like that. I'm going to write it down and pretend I thought of it! [Writes it down]
Next page: Customer conundrums
SS: Let's talk about customers. What's important to them right now and how is it changing, say, over the last three years -- or roughly since virtualization started to become a real focus? What are they concerned about or excited about?
RN: I think our customers are concerned about some of the normal blocking and tackling, which I would put in the category of performance density cost. I think right now, though, we have a lot of conversations about transformational architectures. And that is where this migration to a more software-centric network comes in; where you get a migration from the physical to the virtual implementation of services.
Where you get a transition from highly integrated, proprietary solutions to more disaggregated, open interface-based solutions, particularly. And the white box is a great example of that.
On the optical side, I think you're getting a lot more discussion about dynamic networks. Putting in a very rich, new infrastructure for software control but then having very static hardware in the network doesn't fly very far.
SS: When you say dynamic, do you mean automated?
RN: I mean if the physical layer, as in the optical layer, can be made to be reconfigured through software. Today, it's reconfigured by patching a fiber to a specific transponder.
The technology for the next phase is here now. We rolled out colorless, directionless technology over a year ago and have that in deployment. And we're rolling out the next generation of colorless, directionless and contention-less technology over the coming year.
So the key difference there is that you remove the need to physically patch when you're reconfiguring. You install it and a transponder can go out in any degree or any direction and you can re-use wavelengths.
So now, with that kind of optical infrastructure, you can truly have more automated provisioning through an SDN control. That's one of the key things.
Separating or reinventing the way the packet layer is done with white box is key. That really opens a path to new vendors and lower-cost solutions and more competition on the hardware. And of course you know we don't build routers, so that's an opportunity for us.
SS: It opens everything up. It's exciting.
RN: A lot of our discussions in North America deal with issues such as: "How do we deal with what we have today. How do we transition from the current systems to the future systems. Do we grow? Do we build it for just new services? Or do we come up with a strategy to transform what we have?" And those are the real tough problems. And those are reasons why I think you've got an element of the IT in solving the problem… the back office integration and system integration -- network integration.
And you've got to have the networking experience to be able to do it, as well. So to throw a bunch of IT folks at it, or to throw a bunch of network folks at it, is going to be a challenge. You really need a company that can help you with both.
SS: Yes, which goes back to what we were talking about with services being really critical.
Next page: Opening up the white box
Opening up the white box
SS: What do service providers think about white box networking?
RN: I think they're asking how complete are the solutions. We're able to demonstrate white box technology -- both physical white box as well as virtual soft switch technology. And we've done demonstrations of that kind of technology for customers. Some in and around NFV, some in and around white box technologies. And we're now in proof of concepts in customer environments.
So there are components of it that are coming together now, and many people are testing things, but there's some maturing that needs to be done, before it goes in wholesale and displaces routers. Routers -- traditional routers -- are going to exist for quite some time.
SS: How long is that maturity going to take? Are we talking about ten years or five years?
RN: I think it'll start earlier than that.
SS: The next two or three years for real stuff happening?
SS: Not that many people are really talking about white box, which I find surprising.
RN: I can't speak specifically about customers by name, but there definitely are customers who are making plans to test and even architect around some of this technology. How long that takes… there's a lot to do. There's a lot to do at the protocol level, there's a lot to do at the reliability level. There's a lot to do at the integration and operations level.
SS: Yes. And the most critical piece seems to be the system integration or service and support, right? They need a trusted partner. So again, that's good for Fujitsu, because no service provider is going to take this gonzo approach to networking unless you've got somebody holding your hand who can actually talk you through that and tell you how you're going to secure it and how you're going to manage it and all of those things. The trends in networking are playing into your hands, right?
RN: I believe so. We're excited about it.
SS: You seem pretty excited.
Next page: On optical and IP
On optical and IP
SS: Can we get back to something that you said earlier which is that you don't make routers. It's interesting; you've turned it into a positive, right? Most people would be like: "What, you don't make routers; you don't have IP?" People are talking about optical IP integration and stuff like that. The fact that you don't make routers, doesn't that put you at a disadvantage when looking at things like optical IP integration?
RN: The term optical IP integration had a certain meaning. And it's a fairly old concept; it's been around maybe ten years. And it hasn't really taken off. And there's some technical reasons for that. There's the fact that you take a very expensive switch fabric on a router and hundreds of gigabits in a slot, and then you have to restrict the capacity to put optics in it.
I think, though, that what's happening going forward when we think about IP and convergence, is the important technology is now in the software, as we talked about earlier. That means that it's really a question of how the software converges and virtualizes maybe what is a network element into some kind of converged device.
Whether you build the hardware pieces or you pick your favorite supplier for that, focusing on that software, is a really key piece of the overall answer, now.
And we actually do an enormous amount of business with traditional router vendors in some parts of the world where we're integrating this solution.
SS: So your optical, their IP.
RN: Yeah. For example, in North America we compete heavily with Cisco on the optical side. But Cisco is a very large partner of ours around the world. So we have this kind of competing environment that we work in. And that's the unique thing about Fujitsu; we can offer that whole integration capability. I think what the white box is doing now is giving folks that have traditionally not been in that IP layer an opportunity to make solutions.
SS: So it's good for you, right?
RN: It's good for us. It's good for us in that there's more integration opportunities, as well.
SS: You talk to Accenture and other major systems integrators and they're giddy. You talk to Ericsson, they're really excited about the integration opps. You talk to Cisco, they’re not so excited. But they're Cisco so they're like, "OK, so if that's the way it's gonna be, we're gonna find a way to be really successful in that." They're probably going to work that out, aren't they? I think there are some other incumbent companies that may be looking at this trend out of the corner of their eye and thinking this is going to be a difficult fit for us because they don't have the culture. Culture is key, isn't it?
RN: Right. And strong customer relationships. That's one of the things that's kept us in business so long.
This is just another big transition the industry is going through. You've had Light Reading since the late '90s. There have been maybe four major transitions of technology and architecture in the network over the last 30 years. We've managed to make each of those, from async [ATM] to Sonet to WDM, WDM to ROADM and packet optical after that. This is another one, and we're definitely out in front of it and supporting it and driving towards it.
Next page: The future of Fujitsu – and gun chat!
The future of Fujitsu – and gun chat!
SS: The atmosphere inside Fujitsu seems to have changed. You used to be a very stern company. Are you lightening up a little bit? Is everybody giddy with excitement about the future of networking?
RN: [Laughs] I am. I can't speak for everybody. The industry is changing. Some people deal better with change than others. Take, for example, the cultural change that has to happen in some of the customer segments. For example, if we start delivering carrier services as in an NFV infrastructure in a data center, who really should be responsible for delivering those services? Is it now the CIO or the CTO of a customer? So you've got cultural change, organizational change. And you will get different responses to that.
Certainly where we're driving to is being far more agile. As you go from heavy, heavy hardware architectures to a hardware and heavy software architecture, by necessity you need to be more agile, even in process. We need to be more collaborative. We're heading in that direction: to be more open and more collaborative with the industry for a couple of really important reasons. One is our customers want that. And the second is it helps us deliver. And so in addition to being more open and collaborative and agile, there are some things that we do exceptionally well and differentiate us that we really have to care for through this transition. One of them is our quality, our approach to quality. Our approach to customer care and support.
And then, lastly, bringing together our solution capability. Not just thinking about this device or that device, but taking the big picture that we talked about and being able to bring the different integration capability, system integration, network integration and the services around it to make the transformation.
So I think it's at a very exciting time and I'm very excited about the opportunity.
By the way, didn't I see a picture of you on LinkedIn shooting a .50 caliber rifle?
SS: Not a 50 cal; It's a .762 mm Accuracy International British sniper rifle. It's my brother-in-law's, actually.
RN: Is that an interest?
SS: I like guns.
RN: You should have been from Texas.
SS: Do you shoot?
RN: I don't go range shooting that much. I go hunting with one of my kids who's really into it. It's a great time.
SS: Weekends I shoot with my oldest son. He's a pretty good shooter, very safe. He has a British approach to safety. The Brits have a really interesting take on safety with all risk sports, like sub aqua and parachuting and high-speed driving and so on. The rules are really engineered, really beaten into you. So they have the same approach on shooting. They really drill safety into you.
RN: I can't say that Texans are quite as cautious.
SS: The laws in New York are -- and I'm not making an ethical call here -- restrictive in New York. You can't have anything with a magazine, can't have anything with a pistol grip underneath it. So you're basically left with shotguns and bolt action rifles.
RN: Which is rather interesting because some of those things are really for appearance, right? I mean the pistol grip, for example.
SS: Right. It doesn't affect the size of the bullet coming out of the gun.
RN: That's one big passion of ours, hunting. The other, of course, is hockey. I'm originally from Canada. I grew up there and immigrated here in '94. One of the questions I got during my interview to come to Fujitsu, from an expat from Canada, was "do you play hockey?" I think answering "yes" secured the job for me.
SS: [Laughs] Nice.
RN: We had a team here and he was recruiting. There were serious questions from some of the other interviewers, but...
SS: That's a pretty big move from Canada to Texas, right? Did you bring your family with you?
RN: Actually, at the time it was just my wife and I, and it was a two-year adventure. That was 20 years ago.
SS: It turned into 20 years.
RN: 20 years and two kids ago. SS: Yeah, I have one of those back stories. Twenty years and three kids. I brought my accent with me but left everything else behind when I moved here. It's the classic story, right? I mean America really is the land of opportunity. People don't call it that for nothing.
RN: People who haven't done it don't understand.
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