CEO Chat With Barry Mainz, Wind River

Steve Saunders sat down with Barry Mainz, ten-year veteran and President of Wind River, a leading embedded system software developer with solutions that cover everything from automotive to the surface of Mars.

Steve Saunders, Founder, Light Reading

June 16, 2015

16 Min Read
CEO Chat With Barry Mainz, Wind River

When Intel bought Wind River in 2009 it elected to keep it at arm's length -- as a wholly owned subsidiary -- rather than spinning it in to the Intel mothership (or should that be "motherboard"?). [Ed. note: LOL. Good one, Steve.]

Wind River is a hot company that makes solutions that are essentially the critical DNA of next-generation communications networks, and, as you would expect from its president, Mainz was able to provide an eloquent and expert opinion on many of the gnarly challenges faced by an industry in the throes of extraordinary transmission.

Figure 1: Barry Mainz, President, Wind River: Optimism in a natty suit. Barry Mainz, President, Wind River: Optimism in a natty suit.

But I also found that we had something in common (beyond the fact that we're both ridiculously good-looking, obviously). No, Mainz, like me, is clearly an enthusiastic optimist when it comes to the current state of comms industry, and I think that's an attribute shared with most of the really successful executives I meet these days. This is a time for excitement and ebullience, rather than the dour cynicism that characterized telecom in the first decade of this century.

Enjoy the interview.

Page 2: Valley life -- including the necessity of bean bags

Page 3: Focusing on NFV

Page 4: Cracking IoT

Page 5: Life on Mars

Page 6: White box wisdom

— Stephen Saunders, Founder & CEO, Light Reading

Next page: Valley life

Valley Life

Steve Saunders: I almost went to the wrong office this morning. [Ed.note: It's true: Instead of going to Wind River's San Jose office, our fearless leader almost drove 75 miles in totally the wrong direction.]

Barry Mainz: Oh, good Lord.

SS: Yeah, I didn't get in to San Jose until 1 a.m. last night and I was super-tired. I was walking out of the apartment this morning and I just thought, well, I guess I should double-check which office I'm going to. So that was lucky.

BM: Yeah, that's good.

SS: But that's the headquarters, right, up there in Alameda?

BM: It is, yeah; this is the executive briefing center.

SS: Well, this office is beautiful.

BM: The Valley has changed. To get the type of designers that we want, you've got to have a little bit of a different environment. So this looks very Silicon Valley-ish, very open. To get a lot of good designers, we had to put an outpost down here.

SS: It's really challenging right now when you're competing with web-scale companies who are quite happy to just throw money and entitlement at new staff. I know you have a close relationship with Intel, and that's certainly not the Intel way, right?

BM: True, but Intel understands there's differences in the software market. I mean we're not just throwing money at them like drunken sailors or anything like that. But there are things that we need to do to compete. Like, hey, guess what? They like Macs. So we buy them Macs.

SS: Was that a big fight?

BM: Not internally, here. You need to give people the tools they want. They're probably going to want Macs. They're going to want different open environments. They're going to probably bring in beanbags.

SS: Always annoying. Tell me about the relationship between Wind River and Intel.

BM: The acquisition happened in 2009. We're a wholly owned subsidiary, so we have our own P&L, our own IT systems. A lot of it is because our customers look at us as Switzerland in some sense. So having the autonomy to be able to direct our business to what our customers and their needs are, their use cases, is important.

SS: So it was a customer-driven initiative not to roll it into the mothership?

BM: Customer, ecosystem partners, etcetera.

SS: I know you have a really strong ecosystem. I was reading about it. What is that called again?

BM: Titanium Cloud.

SS: Titanium Cloud, yeah. How many companies in that now?

BM: So we've got 16; going to 25 here pretty shortly. I know we picked up another two or three yesterday with all the contracts going through, so I might be off by one. But there is that ecosystem that we have for say, NFV, or software-defined X. And we have ecosystems for the other vertical markets that we play in.

Next page: NFV Focus

NFV Focus

SS: Let's focus on NFV. It's supposed to be based on open standards. Why do you need an ecosystem?

BM: It's open, but it's not integrated. It's open, but it's not bomb tested. It's open, but it hasn't been collaboratively run through the gauntlet to make it work. And I think you need to have a set of standards, yes; but you also have to have people working with one another, to make sure that the software's optimized, the hardware's optimized, and to find the defects that only come up when you're at line speeds.

You also have a clash with the IT ecosystem and embedded ecosystem. The IT guys are from the three nines of reliability school, and they don't know what they don't know. And we're over here saying, "Well, we know, because we've actually done it." So having the ability to work really closely together to learn from each group is really key.

SS: There are about 35 organizations or more now, who claim to be creating standards and specifications for NFV. Feedback from service providers is that's too many [see The New IP Agency Is Born at BTE]. And I suspect that when this stuff gets onto networks -- production networks -- there will be interoperability issues as well. Is that another benefit of having this ecosystem approach, so you can ring fence things and say, "Hey, well, at least the 20 of us know that our stuff works together"?

BM: We adhere to the standards, but we're working at a kind of collaborative or interoperable methodology. And you're exactly right. We're caught up in two things: one is how things are open sourced, or the open standards piece. And people think that just because they throw open software to an open standards board, it's going to work. No. It just doesn't work.

The second issue is that in the IT space you have hundreds of thousands of designers that can go and take a piece of code and make it work pretty quickly. In NFV, the designers that understand hitless patching, understand low latency, understand six nines; there's a lot less of them. And what they know is also the secret sauce of some of the [equipment manufacturers], so will they really want to share it right away?

So there's a different methodology that has to happen to make sure that this stuff works; to harden it, to put it through some sort of a test so you can have the Good Housekeeping stamp of approval, so the service providers can feel confident it's going to work.

SS: I'm hearing the pragmatist coming through in your viewpoint here, and if I was a service provider that's exactly what I would want to hear. At the other extreme, everybody is claiming to support virtualization, so how do you stand out in a market where there is so much noise?

BM: You put your money where your mouth is. We hired the dream team of designers from equipment manufacturers and service providers; a group that really understands the problems. They worked with the service providers -- the ATTs, the Telefónicas, the Verizons of the world, right?

The other piece in understanding the business process. You go to executives at the service providers, and you say, "What do you really want," they say, "Hey, we want things that work. We really want you to come in here and prove to us that you've got performance, you've got reliability, and you can solve problems that we're looking at."

Last but not least, we actually go and do some real PoCs [proofs of concept] at line speed, and wow the pants off of them. We're in 15 proof of concepts around the world with service providers; won seven of them already.

SS: Nice. What's the most common application in those PoCs?

BM: A lot of C-RAN.

Next page: Cracking IoT

Cracking IoT

SS: Cool. Let's talk about IoT. Is that a market where you can actually make money right now?

BM: Start with the IoT endpoints. I think an endpoint could be a cell tower. I think an endpoint could be a car. I think an endpoint could be a robot --

SS: Heh. Robots are cool.

BM: An industrial robot.

SS: [Disappointed] Got it.

BM: And a lot of these things, these expensive things, run our [Wind River's] software, it turns out.

And customers have been coming to us for a long time saying, "Hey, can you help us lock down this machine?" That's our pedigree for 30 years. Well, now they're coming to us saying, "Can you help us unlock it? And by the way, we've got this car, and we want to..."

SS: ...To make it available to somebody who wants to monetize it?

BM: Exactly right. They need to unlock the data from a car. So now they can update the firmware while the car is parked in the garage, over a network. Or they say "Hey, I've got an industrial manufacturing plant, and I'd like to virtualize some of the sensor data, so I can make better decisions." So they're coming to us in these vertical markets where the customers can make a lot of money.

SS: Give me some examples of the verticals. This is a question that comes up in every meeting I have with service providers: "who's making money and where?"

BM: Automotive is a big, big, big, big use case for firmware and software updates. There is a very high percentage of issues going into the dealership now -- well over 50% -- that are all software. And they can only be done today by driving into the dealership. Make an appointment, bring it in, take the PC, plug it in and update the software.

SS: I hate that, by the way.

BM: Yep, it's not a good model.

SS: But even if it works, I hate it. I like to be able to get my hands dirty and those days are gone.

BM: Those days are gone; although, you could buy a muscle car, right, you're right in the age group there.

SS: Way ahead of you. I have one of those: a '72 Chevy Malibu.

BM: Well, you get to get your hands dirty on that.

SS: Yeah, but to your point, that doesn't mean that drive-ins aren't a super-terrific way to make money for the dealerships, right?

BM: Yeah, but for an automotive manufacturer, and for the user experience, wouldn't it be great to have your car sitting there and having updates over the air -- or firmware updates over the air, adding functionality, adding additional features. So that's one use case.

SS: For performance?

BM: Performance, absolutely. Say, "Hey, for $1,000."

SS: I can get an extra 50 horsepower?

BM: Yeah.

SS: Whoa, I think you're on to something. That would actually be pretty incredible; if you go in and you bought like a high-end car, and you're driving it around, and then you want to upgrade it with another 125 horsepower, and you can just go online and have the manufacturers re-chip it remotely, and pay ten grand for that… I think there's an almost unlimited number of people who own that type of car, with that kind of money, who would pay that.

BM: Tesla is doing it now.

SS: No way.

BM: Way. You can go in and turn on upgrades.

SS: Barry, I think we finally found an IoT application that I would pay for!

BM: There you go; real value, demonstrable value. Energy is another one. GE comes to mind. We're working closely with them on sensors on jet engines. It turns out that they can collect a lot of data as they are flying… atmospheric pressure, wind speed, these kinds of things. And they can take the data from multiple jets, and use it to adjust the level of the plane to maximize fuel efficiency. And if they can improve that by one percent or even a half percent, that's a big number.

SS: Yeah, it's a huge number.

BM: Huge.

Next page: Life on Mars

Life on Mars

SS: Obviously, GE is a customer. Are you allowed to announce your customers typically?

BM: No, but [GE] talked a lot about that, so that's easy. And I can talk about automotive. I'm just not allowed to tell you who I'm working with, so I just say "automotive."


BM: Yep. NASA is another one, right.

SS: Aren't you on Mars or something?

BM: We're on Mars. We are doing firmware updates from 186,000 miles away, all the time. We know how to do that stuff.

SS: I mean that's really interesting. Tell me about how that came about. Did you have to build a special solution? Do you have a whole team working with NASA on that stock? I can't imagine it's just off the shelf, is it?

BM: No, not really. I mean there's base functionality that's off the shelf. But we have added a bunch of profile and certification and safety-critical software, so that we could interact with the device, and allow someone to do updates through space.

SS: Which takes 20 minutes.

BM: Yeah, which takes about 20 to 30 minutes. I see you've done your homework.

SS: Big science-fiction fan.

BM: The difference is you might do one patch for Mars every six months. What we're talking about in IoT is thousands and thousands of patches a week, a day, an hour.

SS: But in a weird way, not speed-critical patches.

BM: No.

SS: It seems like there will be this division in networks between automated high-speed virtual networks, and autonomous low-speed IoT networks; different parts of the same universe, but with different design challenges.

BM: But you'll still need smarts because you wouldn't want to start an upgrade or update, and not be able to finish it. So that's where the intelligence in the network has to play. And reliability.

Next page: White box wisdom

White box wisdom

SS: John Chambers [Cisco CEO] told me he thinks that what's happening right now with virtualization and white box is just unbelievably disruptive to his customers. What do you think?

BM: He's dead right. Think about it. You've got hardware that's wicked fast and reliable from our parent, Intel. You've got a platform that is built for virtualization at high performance. The entry costs are pretty low. And there's a lot of open standards, open software. So yeah, I believe him. And the tough thing is that you look at the telco manufacturers, and they are saying "well, I've got a disruption happening. How do I deal with that disruption?"

SS: I think you're absolutely right. They are saying "What does the future mean for our business?" And some companies have found an answer already. Ericsson has shifted from being a Swedish equipment manufacturer of wireless technology, to over 60% of its company involved in systems integration of other people's hardware -- multivendor networks.

Personally, I think the future belongs to systems integrators. They may be called Cisco, or they might be called Brocade, or they might be called Alcatel-Lucent, but all the incumbent equipment manufacturers have to go through the same process that IBM went through when mainframes started disappearing as a force at the end of the '80s and '90s. And it's astonishing but I don't think they've all realized that.

BM: Yeah, I would agree with you.

SS: That's probably where Chambers is coming from.

BM: It's system integration plus software.

SS: And it's software, but it's also white box, and that's why I think Intel is incredibly well positioned. You know, I hosted two webinars just last week on white box and they both had almost 1,000 people registered for them, which is unusual. I mean you usually get a couple hundred, and we had 1,000 people, so I know it's an interesting issue for service providers.

BM: You've got open standards, but then you still have people [within the telcos] whose paycheck is aligned with SLAs; their ability to deliver those SLAs is how they get paid. And if they don't, penalties are incurred. So I think there's going to be a clash between IT open source folk saying "hey, throw it out there, it doesn't matter because if it crashes, it's okay," and the other guys saying "hey, that not okay." This is one reason why we have so many open source standards bodies; we have so many people claiming they understand know six nines. And the reality is they don't. And that's not good for the industry.

SS: Six nines of reliability… did you guys come up with that, or is that an industry term? Because I hadn't heard it before. Admittedly I was out of the industry for six years, so while I was out they added an extra nine.

BM: The standards now are around six nines of reliability, or 5.6, five nines and a six. So it's six nines reliability.

SS: So it has gone up.

BM: It's five nines and a six, so you write up to six nines.

SS: Really?

BM: Yep.

SS: And is this something that you can test?

BM: Yeah.

SS: Wow. Very cool.

BM: Yeah, we're the only ones that will deliver that.

SS: I guess you can do this because your solution goes all the way down to the chip level.

BM: Exactly right. The service providers have been taking equipment and putting it in their networks and it's been stamped with the Good Housekeeping seal of six nines for a long time. But those are purpose-built systems. The trick is to do it with an open system, where you've got an open set of standards, an open set of software applications.

SS: Okay, that's very helpful to know. Wind River was acquired by Intel. You're the CEO. Do you feel personally that limits your options here at Wind River?

BM: So I'm actually the president, so you gave me -- you gave me a promotion there, but that's okay [laughs]. Options for Wind River -- no, because where Intel are placing their bets is right where Wind River's strengths are. IoT, the edge devices and software-defined X. And people realize that you need software to make this stuff work; it's really symbiotic.

SS: So how long have you been president for?

BM: Coming up on two years.

SS: Where were you before?

BM: At Wind River. I've been here for ten years -- ten years in a month.

SS: I mean you're pretty young to be at that level in this organization. What's your secret?

BM: Well, I'm not that young, so it might be genetics!

About the Author(s)

Steve Saunders

Founder, Light Reading

Steve Saunders is the Founder of Light Reading.

He was previously the Managing Director of UBM DeusM, an integrated marketing services division of UBM, which has successfully launched 45 online communities in less than three years.

DeusM communities are based on Saunders' vision for a structured system of community publishing, one which creates unprecedented engagement among highly qualified business users. Based on the success of the first dozen UBM DeusM communities, the UBM Tech division in 2013 made the decision to move its online business to the UBM DeusM community platform – including 20 year old flagship brands such as Information Week and EE Times.

Saunders' next mission for UBM is the development of UBM's Integrated Community Business Model (ICBM), a publishing system designed to take advantage of, and build upon, UBM's competitive strengths as a leading provider of live events around the globe. The model is designed to extend the ability of UBM's events to generate revenue 365 days of the year by contextually integrating content from community and event sites, and directories, to drive bigger audiences to all three platforms, and thereby create additional value for customers. In turn, these amplified audiences will allow business leaders to grow both revenues and profits through higher directory fees and online sponsorship. The ICBM concept is currently being discussed with a broad group of business leaders across UBM, and is earmarked to be piloted in the second half of 2013 and early 2014.

UBM DeusM is Saunders' fifth successful start-up. In 2008, he founded Internet Evolution (, a ground-breaking, award-winning, global online community dedicated to investigating the future of the Internet, now in its fifth year.

Prior to Internet Evolution, Saunders was the founder and CEO of Light Reading (, Heavy Reading (

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