Talking Innovation, Disruption and Software Defined Cloud Routing with Steve Mullaney

By Frank Cabri
Vice President of Marketing, Aviatrix
September 28, 2018

Steve Mullaney recently joined Aviatrix as a board member and investor.  He’s a winner with a ton of energy. We are excited he is onboard here.

Steve was the CEO of Nicira Inc., a network virtualization and software-defined networking company, from 2009 until it was acquired in 2012 by VMware for $1.26 billion. Mullaney became the senior vice president and general manager of VMware’s Networking and Security business unit following Nicira’s acquisition.
Previously, Steve served as vice president, marketing, and interim CEO for Palo Alto Networks, a network and enterprise security company known as a global cybersecurity leader. During his tenure there, he oversaw the company’s invention of the next-generation firewall market category.

I had the opportunity recently to sit down with Steve and get his take on some hot topics in our industry. His thoughtful answers, below, demonstrate why he is a respected industry expert and visionary.

Can incumbent networking vendors change their stripes?

History says no. Whenever there’s chaos, uncertainty, and a big technology shift, startups that thrive on that uncertainty are the ones that will emerge as leaders in the new world. At each stage of technology development, it’s new players that lead the way. That’s been the case in computing, with former industry leaders IBM, HP, Sun, and DEC now replaced by public cloud vendors such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. Some of the old guard disappear (such as Sun and DEC), while others remain but lose some of their relevance (such as IBM and HP).

Cisco has dominated the networking world for about 20 years. But that networking world operated on physical equipment in physical data centers. As networking follows compute and storage to the cloud, Cisco will lose its dominant status. It likely won’t go away, but the leadership mantle will pass to a new generation of networking vendors born to operate in the cloud.

How can the old guard compete with a disruptive technology?

You can’t. Market relevance relies on changing with the times and technologies. Just as with taxis, it’s the same with networking and the cloud. Cloud technologies have put the focus squarely on applications, data, and customers. If a company takes nine months to deploy its networking infrastructure to support its applications, and its competitor can do that in a day, it’s easy to see which company will thrive—and which one will be left behind.

Here’s an analogy: In the old days, cab companies knew how to compete against other cab companies. But how do they compete with Uber and Lyft? If they continue with business as usual, the answer is that they don’t compete. Taxis killed taxis, because they didn’t adapt to a fundamentally disruptive new technology.

What has been the infrastructure evolution of companies adopting public cloud?

First, companies outsourced their data storage to the cloud. Then, through SaaS, they outsourced their compute resources to the cloud. For all kinds of technical and other reasons, it’s taken longer for networking and other infrastructure functions, but now those, too, are being outsourced to the cloud.

As companies shift from physical, on-premises equipment to cloud-based infrastructure, how will they retain control of their data, applications, and customers—especially as those intangibles now loom ever larger in their operations and business processes?

Why has network infrastructure been the last piece to head for the cloud?

When Nicira came out of stealth mode in 2012 as pioneers of software-based networking, it blew people’s minds. The common wisdom at the time was that networking was a brittle, strictly hardware-based affair that lived in on-premises data centers because, well, because that’s how it had to be. By abstracting the physical network and creating a logical network on top of the data center, Nicira forced everyone to rethink their assumptions. Then, when VMware paid $1.26 billion to purchase Nicira that same year, heads were again blown.

Now, in 2018, we’re seeing another equally interesting shift as networking infrastructure, meaning the actual routing of data, is being moved out of the data center and into the cloud. This new nuance, known as software-defined routing, raises some interesting questions. For instance, how will organizations control the security and performance of their applications when, by definition, they no longer own their network infrastructure?

What is the future of networking infrastructure?

In an ideal world, networking infrastructure would be like air: something that’s always there and that you don’t have to think about it. The cloud has already turned compute and storage into utilities, but networking has taken longer to catch up. That’s because networking is more heterogeneous and distributed than compute or storage. It’s all about moving data, which has gravity and—especially with big data—real heft.

People often forget that the network exists to help applications and data move closer to the users who need them. If the networking isn’t right, it almost doesn’t matter how great your processing and storage capabilities are.

Finally, in 2018, we’re seeing the first instances of networking infrastructure becoming utility-like. The innovation making it possible is called software-defined cloud routing.

Is DevOps the future?

Forget DevOps: The future Is NoOps. As more enterprises operations move to the cloud, competitive success becomes increasingly about speed. If the answer to a request to spin up a new virtual cloud or deploy a new application is “no” or “it will take us nine months,” that’s a problem.

Enterprises want to deploy things in days, hours, or minutes, not months. They first sought greater efficiencies and speed through ITOps, then DevOps, then DevSecOps, and most recently CloudOps. But each of these nuances is just a slightly better version of the old model, which still revolves around humans. The hard truth is that speed and humans don’t mix.

To achieve their speed goals, enterprises need to turn to automation, removing humans from the equation as much as possible. That means making everything point-and-click simple. Sure, you’ll need one or two people to handle the occasional glitch.

But the goal for enterprises isn’t a better version of SomethingOps. The real goal has to be a world of NoOps.


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