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In the Spotlight: John Roese, Nortel Networksí new CTO


Heís not a startup guy. A systems guy, yes. A software, security and architecture guy. An ď802.1 guy.Ē A cellular systems guy? Not so much. A day after being named Nortel Networksí new chief technology officer, John Roese spoke with Telephonyís Ed Gubbins about his background and credentials and how he sees the future of communications technology.

On big companies: Iím not a startup guy. Iíve not done that type of activity in my career, nor do I find it all that interesting. Iím much more interested in a lot of moving parts--the ability to decide, delegate, implement and manage the implementation. To trust the people and organizations downstream and to act as that focal point. At Cabletron, a good example of a large equipment provider, we competed against Bay Networks and Synoptics, which are now part of Nortel. At any given time, we had 20,000 to 30,000 customers out there. Thousands of sales people, thousands of engineers. You canít possibly try to interact with everybody individually, and you shouldn`t. You should exert leadership, describe the vision and the strategy and have a great team underneath you.

The key in these large companies, unlike a startup where you can turn on a dime, is we have to establish a very strong long-term strategy. Because if we keep deviating from that strategy, if we think the company can adjust in a momentís notice, weíre fooling ourselves. These large organizations need well thought-out strategy, a stake in the ground and leadership to stay the course. If you can stay on that trajectory for a reasonable period of time, momentum builds in the company. For very large companies, if their momentum is heading in the proper direction, theyíre extremely powerful and do very well. If they try to zigzag, they usually fall over. There are examples in the industry, maybe even Nortel a few years ago, where that zigzagging and that lack of focus on long-term strategy left them a little confused and left the market confused about what they were doing.

On being a systems guy: People characterize me as more of a systems, software, security and architecture guy. Thatís probably fair. The products and companies Iíve worked with have all been about spinning silicon, building technology, the hardware underneath it and the physical layer. Iím definitely a digital guy, not an analog guy.

I spent almost my entire career in the systems business, in network equipment vendors. I did a stint in the semiconductor world. If I would have worked at a semiconductor company that built a single IC, Iíd be at a huge disadvantage. Broadcom has a very broad, diversified portfolio. They have a vision that communication is not about one element of the communication system, itís about the system of systems. So theyíre in everything from cellular chip sets to switching silicon to security to processors to fabrics, VoIP chips, optical set top boxes--you name it. But theyíre not doing it randomly. Theyíre doing it because if you can have technologies in different areas of the network and start making them work together, you`ll get a synergistic effect.

Nortel has a similar strategy. Itís one of the only companies thatís credible in the enterprise and the carrier, in the wireless and the wireline of both of those networks and in the applications, software and middleware spaces of those two types of systems. Broadcom created communication technology as componentry across the spectrum. Nortel, while trying to pick the appropriate relevant spectrum to go after, also believes the value of these types of companies is when they can make multiple types of networks operate in a more uniform way to give a more ubiquitous communication experience for the user.

Iím a systems guy, but most of my background has been in switching systems and security. Iím one of the authors of the Extensible Authentication Protocol Over Ethernet, more commonly known as 802.1x, the standard for wireless and wireline authentication. I was one of the authors RFC3580, which is the policy distribution or authorization componentry there. I was very involved in the standardization of VLANs, of link-layer discovery protocols. In the vernacular of the standards bodies, Iím an 802.1 guy. Iím very much interested in the cross-platform software and protocol functionality that makes the topologies and the security models work.

I spent a great deal of time building switching systems, both for enterprise and metro Ethernet. I was at the very first IETF MPLS meeting in Munich back in 1996. We contributed some interesting stuff about layer 2 MPLS. Everyone thought it was a stupid idea. Youíre probably familiar with VPLS, which is layer 2 MPLS, which showed up later. [My strengths are] switching technologies, layer 2 and layer 3 topology functions, network virtualization, security, network management and the overall operation elements of the system.

On weaknesses: The area where Iím the least deep, though I think Iím credible in, is I haven`t spent a great deal of time dealing with the actual systems in the carrier wireless cellular space. I`ve done a lot of work in broadband wireless but not necessarily in the cellular wireless space. One of Broadcomís largest initiatives was to bring a set of chipsets into the market to compete with the likes of Qualcomm in the cellular networking space. While thatís a fairly new area for me in terms of building componentry, thatís actually probably my most recent area of interaction.

[I have] the least familiarity [with] the actual product being delivered and the equipment market for the various flavors of cellular technology. The underlying technology is fine. I can have an interesting discussion about DVB-H or CDMA, etc. But Iíll have a little ramp in terms of understanding the marketplace and how we go to market and how the customers interact. Some of the complexities in terms of that particular segment of that very large business. The good news is, the acting CTO at Nortel for the last year or so, who works for me, is an expert in that space: Peter Carbone has been the technical lead of the CTO group. Heís a phenomenally brilliant gentleman who really understands that market and has focused on that throughout his entire career. When you take a job in a very broad technology company, you know you canít do everything and you know you donít know everything, so you better make sure that, in the gaps where you consider yourself having to ramp up, you better have a wonderful world-class technologist to assist you. Iím excited about the fact that my right-hand person is a cellular wireless expert. Iíll keep him really busy as I get up to speed. And heíll probably play a bigger role in some of the technical aspects of that particular dimension of the business.

On enterprises vs. carriers: Historically the enterprise is the area Iíve spent most of my time. However, thereís this gray area in between the classic enterprise and the classic carrier. Probably the vast majority of the last five years of my carrier have been dealing with that gray area, the companies that span that segment between pure carrier networks and the enterprises that consume their services. For instance, metro Ethernet is about connecting an enterprise to a carrier network. Itís a carrier providing it, but itís got enterprise sensitivity in terms of what kinds of services need to be delivered, what the economics are, the operational aspects of that business. Iíve done a lot of work for large rail companies in Europe. Those companies are enterprises, but theyíre big consumers of what weíd call carrier technology. When youíre a rail company with 6,000 rail stations, 30,000 or 40,000 kilometers of track, hundreds of thousands of nodes on your network if not millions, you start getting into carrier-class.

In the last five years, we`ve seen this blurring of line between enterprise and carrier. And these new models emerge, specifically in things like metro Ethernet, where the technology is built by a carrier but ultimately delivered to an enterprise if not outsourcing a service that the enterprise used to provide itself. That will become more common in the future as enterprises focus more on their compliance obligations, security architectures, application frameworks and need the carrier to play a role. But itís not going to be in the classic carrier model; it will be in new dimensions of things like metro Ethernet or other services. Imagine a world where broadband wireless or cellular wireless, with things like IMS, can suddenly provide an application framework [with which] you can effectively build applications that span enterprise and carriers. The networkís provided by one side, but the apps may come from classic enterprise app providers. They may be built and implemented by classic enterprise models. So itís hard to draw the distinction between the two, and anybody who focuses purely on one or the other is probably not going to be as effective at the end of the day as this distinction starts to blur even more than it is today.

On policy management: I was one of the people in the early 1990s involved in the creation of policy-based networking. I was involved in the Directory-Enabled Networking, or DEN, initiative in the 90s. We implemented the first virtual networking system. Itís like your child. I developed and was the lead for a technology called secure fast virtual networking that Cabletron rolled out to tens of millions of ports around the world. It was a proprietary system, but it was true policy-driven networking. It was kind of ATM-over-Ethernet in terms of how it operated. But it was a very interesting technology that even today, many years after they stopped working on it, is still in operation in many sites because it solved the operational complexity of very large networks by implementing a policy abstraction on it. Network management has evolved so that it can no longer be about managing the elements individually and relying entirely on the human being to make all the logical decisions. With policy architectures, youíre tying to into artificial intelligence or other services that can abstract the complex function. That is absolutely relevant to carrier, enterprise, wireless and wireline. Itís not possible to implement a dynamic mesh network in a wireless domain without a policy architecture on top to describe and abstract the behavior that that mesh ought to take as it self-organizes. I think policy is becoming kind of the next wave, or really the next standard, of management and operations of these very complex large-scale networks that also deliver services like security and quality-of-experience.

On location-based services: Five years ago, we filed a ton of patents on location-based networks because we knew that, after we solved identification issue--which is what I was focused on (knowing who is on youíre network)--we came to the conclusion that it was where you were that became interesting. That was five years ago. Iím excited that theyíre now all being granted. Itís interesting to see people now starting to talk about location as a critical element of network behavior. Whether itís in the enterprise, where you want to understand where the rogue access point is, or where the MRI system is in a hospital, thatís a powerful concept. But on the carrier side, knowing where someone is a requirement to do things like E9-11 or emergency dialing. Those basic constructs--policy-based abstraction for management and new dimensions like identification and location and presence--are elements of the new service model that almost all networks are emerging toward because theyíre more reflective of what the human being can understand in terms of how those services should be implemented.

On virtualization: With the first wave of IP telephony, you could do almost everything physically. You plug a phone into a port and you define policy on the port or QoS on the port or you put the port in a VLAN. And everybodyís happy, and you can make it secure and give it a quality of experience. But the problem is, in IP telephony, the world changed. We`re now seeing the phone be virtualized as a piece of software on another system. We now have multimodal technology, devices that are not just a phone. Theyíre a phone, Web browser, theyíre a million other things. Now itís an application on that phone, which means we have to virtualize the services the network delivers. Itís not okay to simply color the port Ďphone.í Because the port is a one-to-one relationship to the device maybe, but not to the applications that may need differential services from that endpoint. So all those constructs--virtualization, policy, location, these higher-level things intuitive to human beings but not intuitive to network topology-- have to be incorporated into, in Nortelís case, our switching technology, our wireless technology, our broadband technology, our cellular technology and optical. Thatís not just interesting stuff to do; itís a necessity because the endpoints are becoming virtualized, and human beings are beginning to expect that their human experience ought to be reflected on the networkís behavior and configuration as opposed to having to organize your business around VLANs. Networks are built around very basic, rigid, physical-layer-type of organization which is unacceptable in the long term.

On collaborating with a chief strategy officer: Iíve known George [Riedel] for a while. We`ve been on other sides of the table in previous transactions. I have a great deal of respect for him. Heís a very bright guy. He and I are highly complementary. We kind of meet in the understanding of the business and the market. George is absolutely excellent at the transaction piece of the equation, the partnership aspect, the interaction with the broader outside ecosystem from a business standpoint. Iím more focused on internal execution. Personality-wise and history[-wise], we know each other and get along very well. Weíve worked together--or against each other, depending on how you look at it--in previous lives. Though Broadcom [Roeseís former firm] is a supplier to Juniper Networks [Riedelís former outfit], I wasnít dealing with George in that dimension. Enterasys [Roeseís other former company] and Juniper had mutual partnerships. Enterasys worked closely with Siemens, which owned 10% of Juniper. So itís a tangled web.

On dividing the CSO and CTO roles: I donít want to call us completely overlapping, but in a Venn diagram, there is a relatively large overlapping circle or region. These titles get used relatively freely. The way we see it, my job is to be the technical center of Nortel, both internally and externally. To make sure our technologies are consistent with an overall vision that George and I will collaborate on. Internally Iíll make sure that that vision permeates the business, that it ultimately is manifested in the products and technologies we bring to market and the way we bring them to market and our interaction with the broader technical community, whether that be through partnerships or standards or other activities. George, taking that same vision we`ve collaborated on, is focused on influencing the broader business market, the ecosystem of companies, in many cases the go-to-market strategy, the where-we-will-exist, where we should target our technologies in terms of geographies and types of markets. While those sound fairly cut and dried, the good thing is that Iíve dealt with the go-to-market and external perspective that George is dealing with, and heís done a lot on the internal technology pieces. Thereís plenty of work to go around, so neither of us is going to be offended if the other is helping. I donít want to call this a two-headed beast.


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