The Critical Lowdown Podcast Episode 1

Open Networking and the Global Chip Shortage | Kelly LeBlanc - Pica8

The modern world runs on microchips. They drive our cars, run our smart homes, and allow us to communicate at lightning speed. 2020 to 2021 has seen a two-sided squeeze on the global chip market as the Covid-19 Global Pandemic accelerated already unprecedented demand and supply was restricted by extreme weather events, trade wars, and a global slowdown. How can service providers maintain access to supply chains while not compromising on security and quality on their networks?

Today on the Critical Lowdown podcast we’re talking to Alan Fagan, our Sales Director for North America, about the alternatives to legacy network equipment and how Service Providers can make the shift in the midst of a supply chain crisis.

Our guest is Kelly LeBlanc, Chief Marketing Officer for Pica8.

We talk about:

  • Supply constraints because of increased demand for network connectivity exacerbated by the global chip shortage.
  • What the alternatives are, and how Service Providers can get their hands on equipment, ready to deploy.
  • We tackle head-on the concerns we see in the market in making the shift to open disaggregated networking, centred around simplicity of network operation, security and support.

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Transcript of Episode 1: Open Networking and the Global Chip Shortage 

Alan Fagan: Kelly, could you introduce yourself to our listeners and give us a little bit about your background?

Kelly LeBlanc: Hi everyone. My name is Kelly LeBlanc and I am the Chief Marketing Officer for Pica8, and I've been in the networking industry for several decades. I'm located at the headquarters of Pica8 in Palo Alto, California.

Alan Fagan: We’re going to talk today about the solutions that Pica8 offer. We both work in the networking industry and are involved in connectivity, and of course, there's never been a greater demand than we've seen in the last couple of years with people working from home. I think you and I are prime examples of that this morning, I'm sitting in Massachusetts, you're sitting in California and we're talking to each other on Zoom, and it feels much more natural now than it would have 2 years ago, something that we've all gotten used to.

So in some ways there's never been a better time to be in the networking industry. There's a massive demand, but that creates its own challenges. And one of the things that we're seeing is huge lead times for products. I’ve heard from some of the people I talked to that Cisco are out as far as 2 years, and obviously that's very, very challenging.

Is this a challenge that you guys are seeing?

Kelly LeBlanc: Oh yes, in fact, a quick survey of the networking forums is showing that this problem's not getting any better. For example, last year we saw that there were lead times of 6 months, which is causing customers to be worried. A quick survey last week, showing this has increased beyond a year, and now we're approaching 2 years.

So for companies such as Pica8 who provide software, it's a very interesting time to partner with EPS Global because it gives a joint solution through a disaggregated hardware and software model that can give more choice. Nobody should be waiting for their solutions and putting a halt on their network deployments, certainly not when they have options. It's our opportunity to educate the market that they have options, you don't have to wait. Why not try a disaggregated hardware/software model?

Alan Fagan: I think that's a great point. I think that the fact that people are willing to try, it's one of the things that we're seeing as well, that when the supply chain is functional and everything is working great, people are happy to continue doing what they’re doing, the current disruption is an opportunity for people to try out new things.

One of the things that we see as well from talking to customers or potential customers, they like the simplicity of the monolithic OEM solution that they're using and one of the fears that they have is by going down to the open networking route is that things are going to get complicated for them.

What would you say to those customers or potential customers?

Kelly LeBlanc: That's a great point Alan, because we get this topic all of the time, and we address this head on. Pica8 provides a single point of support, and this support is 24x7. This makes sure that the customers can get the same level of support that they get with the traditional legacy or OEM vendors through software providers, such as Pica8, and then working with EPS Global to make sure that any issues or problems are diagnosed quickly and we can get back to them so that they're up and running.

Alan Fagan: And in terms of it being simple to operate the system compared to others, could you talk a little bit about that?

Kelly LeBlanc: Oh yes. It's another great point because we've put a lot of development and design effort into the operation over the last several years. For example, last Fall, we introduced our AmpCon network controller bundle, which includes our automation platform, packaged up with our software switches. These are our PicOS software switches, so with a single license, a customer receives our network automation platform, with the software switches that can turn any whitebox hardware into an enterprise switch.

What does this mean? This means with the push of a button you have full control of your networks for things like deployment, configuration and zero touch provisioning. It doesn't get much simpler than that!

Alan Fagan: Across our global customer base there is a common concern is around security, again, it's a fear of the unknown, and cyber security being such relevant topic these days, what would you say to customers who have concerns around security with a move into open networking.

Kelly LeBlanc: Well, when you talk to any enterprise CIO today, security is their top button, that and cost savings, so in terms of security, we've taken a lot of effort to apply zero trust principles to the access layer.

This is really important because this is where the access point of the network resides and this focus needed to evolve a lot over the last couple of years, not just because we’ve been having a large community working from home, but you also have contractors of course, hybrid workers, and now a lot of IoT devices connecting to the access layer, so with this zero trust principle approach that we've taken, what we really do is provide strict identity-based policies to the access layer. Basically we assume everyone or everything is compromised until it's not. We do take that at the entry point into the network.

Alan Fagan: Thanks Kelly, I think it really addressed the major issues that we see when we're talking to our customer base. People enjoy the cost savings of open networking, but do have some concerns and I think you've done a really good job at addressing these from simplification and security, to support. I think there's a tremendous solution available there and I think if people are willing to give it a try, that they’d be very happy with the results.

Kelly LeBlanc: One of the things that we've been addressing a lot with our customers is doing more with less. Certainly during the last couple of years, it's not just been about a chip shortage or a hardware shortage, it's also been largely about a worker shortage, having the technical resources that are required to spin up a new site or keep a branch office going. We put a lot of time into automating and simplifying our solutions so that, for example, if you want to have a new switch turned on at a branch location through our automation, you don't have to send a technical expert to do that. You can have someone onsite, simply plug in the switch and we push the config, and in this also includes security policies that go straight into the branch without having a technical resource, or even a CCIE show up to make this happen.

Alan Fagan: That's great Kelly. That's a huge advantage to the customer base that we see, they love that, people don't want to be sending technicians out, reducing truck rolls is a big goal for a lot of organizations and from the safety aspect of having people onsite, it needs to be minimized. So the automation piece is really key, and I think it's a winner for Pica8.

Kelly LeBlanc: And it's not just on the automation side, it's also through licensing. With our new AmpCon PicOS bundle with a single license, you take how many PicOS software switches you want in your bundle, and you can apply them as needed. So if you change your hardware in one of your locations, you can automatically, through our automation, change it on the switch.

You don't need to send someone else out to change the license on the switch, we can automatically do that through a single license with our automation platform.

Alan Fagan: Great. It's all about keeping it simple.

Kelly LeBlanc: Well, that's for sure! And that's certainly a trend that we're seeing in campus deployments right now with network sprawl. With the rapid explosion of things like IoT devices, it really puts the burden on enterprises, both the large enterprise and the mid-size enterprise to keep this under control. We do this right now through a feature that we announced last year, for EVPN and VXLAN which virtualizes the entire campus infrastructure. Right now we've been virtualizing the network all the way from the access, to the distribution, to the core. What this gives us is a really elegant solution whereby we can push policies straight down to the access layer, all in the virtualized environment, segmenting the IoT devices to make sure that all of the security policies are in place, and making sure that our customers can update their network in real time, according to any new policy that they require.

Alan Fagan: I’m going to throw you a really difficult question! We need you to look into your crystal ball and tell us what's coming at us in the next 6 to 12 months?

Kelly LeBlanc: Well, we love this question because we see 4 different topics right now that we're putting our investment into according to customer demands.

The first is automation.
We will continue to make things more simple for our customers with push button automation.

The second is security.
We will continue to increase the security integration at the access layer, really the entry point. Not just for our workers, our staff, remote employees, contractors, but also for IoT devices.

The third is virtualization.
Expanding our solution set with our EVPN and VXLAN fabric.

And the fourth is analytics with telemetry.
One of the things that our customers continue to ask for is more capabilities to monitor and analyze the network. And we have the best place to do that, starting with our software switches, and then going into our automation with our AmpCon controller.

Alan Fagan: Great. Thanks. Kelly sounds like an exciting 6 to 12 months ahead of us. Thank you.

Ciara McCarthy: Thanks Alan and Kelly for chatting with us. Kelly, I like your attitude towards security and that assume everything is compromised until it's not, it seems like the safest bet to me. I hope we put to rest some of the concerns people have with moving away from legacy equipment vendors and shown how open or disaggregated networking provides a viable route out of the squeeze on the global chip market.

We've covered various technologies and terms on this podcast. Don't forget that all of the information you heard today is available on our website at epsglobal.com/podcast. Until next time.

Glossary of Terms:

  • Pica8: Pica8 are a vendor of open-standards-based operating systems on white box network switches delivering software-defined networking (SDN) solutions for datacenter and cloud computing environments and traditional L2/L3 solutions for large enterprise customers.
  • PicOS: PicOS Software Switches install on 1G to 100G interface open switch hardware from Tier 1 manufacturers as an open alternative to legacy hardware switches.
  • AmpCon: Pica8’s AmpCon is a network controller that manages the lifecycle of any number of open network switches in enterprise campus and branch/retail office access networks.
  • IoT: Internet of Things.
  • CCIE: Cisco Expert-level certifications
  • EVPN: Ethernet Virtual Private Network
  • VXLAN: Virtual Extensible Local Area Network

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