Kentik - Network Observability
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Network AF  |  Season 1 - Episode 2  |  September 24, 2021

Backbone engineering and interconnection with Nina Bargisen

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Today's conversation is with Nina Bargisen, Director of GTM Strategy for the Service Provider customer segment at Kentik. She is an experienced interconnection specialist, and today she shares her journey through the networking industry. You'll get to hear about hot topics within the industry, with insights into what we can be on the lookout for in the future. Most importantly, Nina discusses how mentoring, learning processes, and community helped her get to where she is now that can help you get into the world of networking as well. Lastly, Avi and Nina discuss the critical topic of inclusivity and how we can be better. Listen now!


On this episode of network a f, Nina Vargasen joins us and she talks about her career, what's been really helpful for her in terms of mentoring, community, learning, Some of her experiences, being both a service provider and working for content providers, doing back engineering and interconnection, and her opinion on what's hot, and where we can go with the community, in and around networking.

Hi, everybody, and welcome to network a f. I'd like to welcome my friend and fellow networker Nina Vargasen. And, Nina, could you give a quick intro?

Absolutely. Hi.

Yeah, I'm I'm Nina. I've been working in, in this internet industry for, like, the past two decades or maybe a little bit more.

I'm in my fifties now, raving, middle life crisis.

And have been changing jobs a couple of times over the past couple of years, but started out as a mathematicians going to the university, thought I would be doing research, realized I wasn't smart enough or at least not in that right way, to go that way.

And then, over after having kids, ended up in the, internet industry by Sherlock, but but what a journey?

Cool. So I guess, how did you get into networking? How did you find from math, you know, into networking?

It was actually, again, as I say, it was a little bit of luck, but a big deal of luck. I, I had kids and stayed home for some years. And then when I wanted to get back to, to work in ninety nine, I landed a job at Tila Denmark, as it was called at that time, in a sort of a intro, program for newly graduates.

I was five years past my graduation, but since I hadn't worked, I applied anyways and said, hey, I haven't used my education. So consider me a graduate, please, and and take me into the program, and and they did. And I think Hugh is, is the first element of luck deciding to do that in November where I applied in July ninety nine.

You know, had I waited another year.

Yeah. Boom.

The bubble would have gone, and they would probably not have hired thirty people, you know, in to, into these, training positions that they did.

But lucky for me, I just made it, and then, quickly moved. We were supposed to be different areas of the of the company. I started out in telephony.

Thinking about, in a strategy position, thinking about, IN telephony, so the telephony services that you could punch on your paths and you would get a service, you know, callback or or, forward, call forwarding, you know, So even in brokers, we're thinking about think think of manage services that added value, you know. Value added services yeah, and they were run by, you know, a big computer and, and, so I was, I was ended up in a project trying to figure out whether it would be a good idea to combine the platform that was used for the mobile, mobile network and for the fixed line network because, of course, that was run on two different computers, because it was very separate separate networks at that time, probably still is.

So I did I wasn't there for very long, and then I moved on to the internet division of, of the company, and I worked started working with, streaming products in two thousand. So that would be Oh, that's pretty early. Yeah. That's pretty early. Yeah. We we were trying to build, like, a, a enterprise product so people could host, ad video advertising on, or just also just having hosting, shared hosting of, of video files.

And ended up being involved in, you know, the first runs of, the big brother.

Big brother. Wow. That was a bad thing. I I guess I'm going to. I'm in my fifties.

Yeah. I know. It was, that was, a horrible concept. Right?

And it was a it was a big, it was a big thing, and it definitely, you know, a lot of us learned a lot about live streaming.

A lot about capacity.

In particular, because we had that set up running, I think, for the second time, around in two thousand one when September eleven happened. Oh, wow. Yeah. So I remember when, when that happened, and we were watching CNN on our our lap or our computers in the office.

I got a call from on the TV stations going that we we had been running their, test or their first initial live streaming of who that they were doing.

And he and he my contact, he called me, and he said, we want, you know, we want live streaming right now because this shit is going on. And very quickly, we got everything directed around to, to the big brother set up. So sort of like, sorry, big brother. We, we kind of need these servers for something else.

So we did, one of the local TV stations live streaming. And I remember getting a picture a couple of weeks later, you know, somebody in Australia had been watching the live feed from this Danish TV station on the internet in Australia.

A day a dayne Right. Lived there. So that was one of the first, you know, big streaming events that I actually part of.

Yeah. We were fortunate. I was at Ocamai at the time.

And we were fortunate that we'd had some big events.

Steve Jobs, Victoria's Secret, but, you know, ironically, Danny Lewan, who was Akamai CTO and one of the co founders was really trying to move Akamai from just objects to whole site delivery And he was the first person murdered by the terrorist on nine eleven on the first plane. Yeah. But all the people that were disagreeing with him about that needed to call Akamai and say, like, we need no. We need to do the whole site right now. Our load balancers, our SSL, you know, the bandwidth, everything, our databases, everything is falling over.

So, it was a It was a proof.

But, yeah, those were, crazy times. And obviously, everyone at Akamai remembers, what's going on.

Yeah, what was going on then. So, so did you, what was after the streaming group at, at TDC.

So, after the streaming group, you know, had a small a short stay in the operations at at and then I moved on to the, internet backbone planning group. Mhmm. So what happened was that the IP was growing up growing up. The IP group had been like one single group in the research and development, group.

And at some point, at that point, in in in the early two thousands, it was decided IP will now be important enough that it should be structured like the rest of the company with a separate engineering, a separate operations, and a separate planning group.

So they split up that group and hired some more people in, and I I ended up in the in the planning group. Was that internal, external, both?

It was in internally in, but this was then in the fixed line company.

Okay. At that time, we was at the the company, TDC was Tella Denmark was called TDC and split up into an internet company, a mobile company, and a fixed line company. Was the group more focused on on backbone interconnection or both? Was it like joint?

So I started out just focusing on edge, like, DRAS planning.

But then after, you know, I I did a good job and, they were like, oh, Nina, you can, you can, you know, when people are doing a good job, instead of getting the money, we'll, you know, you can go to Nana of this, you know, North American thing.

And I went to my first Nanark in, Reston, and it must have been two thousand two or three or something I can't remember.

And, and there I met the Pewing crowd because we had there was, one of the it was a Teramak peering form, you know, so in a separate hotel.

And I remember, I I just, Nina, come to this meeting. I met you know, I met Rent Provo. I met some of Patrick. I met some of the the the people.

And they was like, Nina, you should come to that. And I even And my first, okay. I'll go, I went up the stairs, and I said, oh, yeah, I have this AS number. We have a pop in New York here with us. You know, I had no idea what I was doing.

So when I came home, I, I went into my manager, and I said, you know, I wanna be the peering coordinator instead of the peering coordinator.

Mhmm. And, again, luck was there because Ken, my my manager was, hey, Awesome. Because Michael, who at that time, was the peer coordinator, really, really wanted to go back to the engineering group. Okay. So he was one of the the engineers, and he had been very focused. He he's a very sharp engineer.

And but he had also been very focused on the interconnect and on backbone design. So when they did the split, they put him in the capacity planning group, which he was not happy about at all.

So he really, really wanted to go back. That's awesome. Yeah. And then there was this problem.

What what are we gonna do about the peering part because Michael is the best for that. And then, you know, I came back and I said, I wanna be peering coordinator. I said, awesome. You know, you can do the peering part.

Were you, was at the time where you, what we would now call selective or restrictive peering in in Denmark, but, but open peering in New York. Is was that the strategy at the time? That was that was very much.

The this that the policy that was developed at that point was restrictive to, to the point of always saying no locally because there was a wholesale business that, you know, they Right. Actually wanna sell transit. So we can't really peer with all these small networks in Denmark because then they won't pay us money to, you know, for the incident.

An appearing thing for in Asia Pacific in, back when I was at above that we had bought, we had bought think it was we bought packs and, and, and one of the incumbents was saying I, you know, it was saying, oh, it's so horrible. Come all the way to the US, and AT and T won't pair with us. They say you look like a customer. And I said, oh, you know, Jean, how many people how many networks do you pair with in your country? I said, well, that's different. There are customers.

It's like, oh, okay. I see.

You're my customer, so I won't say anything about that, but It's funny because at Akamai, I had to teach people you need to let people be be wrong and make it make sense in their frame of reference.

Right? Some of these big companies have their own frame of reference So, like, if someone says, we do not, we do not, you know, we do not pay for bandwidth It's like, well, maybe we'll give you space instead with some bandwidth. You know, it's like, you know, you did that right. And by the way, Nina, so I when I was trying to figure out this BGP stuff, in ninety ninety five or so.

It was like a big shh. Don't talk about it. And, I just sent mail to the May admins, May East admins. I'm like, How does this peering thing work?

Do you just, like, when you get a base IP address, does peering happen? I didn't even know about multilateral peering and agreements and and route servers and stuff like that. And, it was very it can be, you know, right for there's a lot more data now, but it can be very, frustrating.

So it's, thank you for helping grow the community and and and take new people.

So so when you were getting started, it sounded like they had you got lucky that you came in during a time of big growth.

And it sounds like TDC had a formal program for bringing people in and and mentoring them. You know, what was really helpful, you know, inside the company early in career, to getting access, getting exposure, you know, was it people processes, and, you know, what maybe could have been better that you think about, you know, as you hire people and and, you know, bring them in now.

Yeah. I think I think one of the really great things about the IP group at CDC. And and that's actually and that was very much in the sixth time, the backbone group.

I had I had actually met the exact opposite in the, in the internet group. Which was very closed protective.

You know, I don't wanna share my knowledge because then I can keep my value up.

Where in the backroom group, it was way more open. So when I showed up, you know, not really with any formal engineering skills and go, oh, that PGP stuff, you know, can you, How does that even work? You know? Right. I wanna be the peering coordinator instead of the peering coordinator, but, you know, I I kind of need to learn this, this BDP thing.

There's something and I did, you know, I did take a a class, like I said, go with the introduction class.

But, you know, learning it really learning it, really understanding it. It was a lot of, the dynamics, the dynamics of BGP are interesting. Exactly. And what happens and how do you how do you do traffic engineering? How can you move your traffic around, inbound, outbound, and Right. All of that.

It took me a little while to grok. But, here, I met some amazing engineers, and, and Michael, the former hearing coordinator, is actually, is one of them who, you know, never was too busy to teach.

And just sort of go. And, okay, here's your, here's your access. Now, you have a login on the routers, you know, here's the test net. You know, maybe you go do things in the test then before you try them out in production and let us know.

So they were very open. At that time for people who were interested in learning to learn and grow, or also out of their more formal, responsibilities.

Just because, hey, somebody somebody who likes to do this shit, let us let us teach them. Of course, there were more more serious router bugs back in the late nineties and then the early noughties.

Was there more freedom and permission to fail, you know, experiment, or was there already rigorous? Like, we have a test net We test deployments, we test code, you know, as a telco, you know, did they have sort of that mentality that you could experiment, but, you know, test test rigorously you know, before deploying.

So they would I wasn't really involved in that much in in testing code.

But they usually did that in the test net, but, you know, we also had this internal joke. There was a small test net and a big test net. Uh-huh. And that, you know, the things would do you, you know, we wouldn't really figure find all the bugs before you had it out with the big astronaut. What's hard to test traffic engineering, you know, on a prefix that's on a peer you know, it sounds like a doctor, Sue, a packet on a pocket on a prefix on a Peter.

You know. Exactly.

And I think I think that then there was a there was a higher tolerance.

You know, it it took a while, and probably also a number of big breakdowns you know, before a change management process was introduced before, you know, service windows, for a long time, I was working with people where it's like, well, we should do the changes while we are at work.

Instead of doing them when we have to wake somebody off to get she fixed, you know.

But that that definitely was something changed over time. And in particular, when more and more of the, I mean, when I started out at early north, it It wasn't really very important services running on the internet. I see. Once TV started running on the internet, once telephony started running on the same on the same backbone, once you know, we we had customers like CSC, I think, were called at the time that was, you know, running big enterprises, IT systems.

I remember I did a I did some network changes that was supposed to be non None.

I shouldn't be bothering anybody, but I kept all SAS's planes on the ground for an hour.

Yeah. It's it's a great debate, in my ISP days. They used to have a bat light that would go off when I enabled.

Yeah. And, you know, my point at the time was well.

If I'm making the change, then we might as well, you know, do it. Yeah. As you said, do it while I'm awake, but And there was a point where I stopped pulling the plug on UPS with the same theory when I happened to be at a random pop, and customers gave feedback that that was not the way they wanted to work.

And then I enjoyed being at Akamai where, you know, if there's a problem, it was a software problem, not a networking problem. So that was awesome. The networking was food But, you know, not the problem. So so you you talked about, the peering community and your entry to that. And What what was it that, you know, because because interconnection appearing, it's certainly technical. Right? You have to think about traffic and peering and is also people, what are their motivations and business and analytics, if to make a case.

But know, when you actually get to implement things, it's, like, wish, you know, the cannons move and the traffic moves, there's there's positives and and and negatives. What was the you know, what was the compare and contrast and what was it that really made you more interested on the interconnection and, people side?

So it was it was it was a combination, I think. I mean, it was the community I kind of felt I fell in love with the community. You know, it it definitely has it. It's, weirdness.

I like quirky, weird people.

I liked, you know, the idea you know, got introduced to the, you know, IRC channels where people were hanging and, that whole community and that whole bubbly communication and helping each other.

I I really fell in love with that.

And then also just the, you know, handling the traffic, man, deciding, we're gonna have that traffic in there and and and that traffic over there. Mean, I thought that was, that was amazing. And, you know, in combination with being in a planning group, you know, instead of how how can we build a network most efficiently also meaning how can we get the traffic into the network most efficiently and cheapest? You know, do we wanna buy everything in Copenhagen or Right. At that time, we we we were running on a network that somebody else has built out, so into Europe and and we had those connections into the US, and we managed to be able to, you know, build a case every time we needed an upgrade, would it is it a better case to to spend the money on the upgrade, rent some more capacity, stay in the pubs or Those people externally and all three. Handle everything and just buy some transit in governing.

And every time, you know, the case actually came out, it's a bit of a deal to, to keep the network up. And we would have to pay for that. So we might as well build our own network. So there was people engineering internally and externally. Excellent. Yes. There were, you know, business cases to be made internally, and then the negotiations externally, you know, and, and then just the whole and hold, how do we get the traffic in?

Mhmm. Like another event, a streaming event was when, then that guy jumped.

Jumped into space. Power chute parachuted from space?

Yeah. The and it was, It was like Oh, what was this? Six years ago. It was seven, I think.

And it was, it was Redpool, the sponsored this guy who flew up in a in a balloon, almost up to the edge of, of the atmosphere, and then he jumped out.

And it was live streamed.

And I remember, and this was in twenty eleven. I remember it was the year before Netflix, Netflix launched.

Because I remember the the the it was so much sex to traffic.

And it was coming in on all our, you know, we had Right. Google caches. We had automatic caches. It came everywhere.

It came in on every transit connection, we have, and every peering connection we have, like, every everywhere there was a a a source And, I remember me, and I remember my colleague, and, in Finland, he was, like, frantic because, he saw that all the traffic to Finland was coming out of New York. And he was like, you gotta do something. I mean, this is not fair. And, you know, I I pinged my friends at YouTube and he's sort of like, why?

Why is that coming from New York? And he's like, there's nothing we can do? No more servers in, you know, near Finland with any capacity. So it's either that or they're not getting it.

So I thought that was, that was another, you know, big event. And then the year after Netflix launched, and that amount of traffic that we was sort of like, oh my god, yes, so much extra traffic. It was just that was just another day when Netflix, you know, had opened up. I guess we shouldn't speak ill of the former networks, but I was at Akamai, and I forgot whether it was Steve Jobs or Victoria's Secret, but I had a call with At Home because it was the same thing.

It was like, we we filled every port of At Home up up their back in the front, in the side, everything. And we said, like, don't you wanna have more capacity, take some servers? Like, no. No.

This is our strategy. Is to congest so people need to pay to have servers inside. And I was like, well, we're not gonna cooperate with that strategy. So so they're on my list.

Aegis was a network that, while they were at spam haven. So we said that a global internet at spam haven, but They were one of the first networks that at Nanogg, I think it was an Ann Arbor one, got up and described their peering policy, which they themselves did not qualify for.

Which was a a funny thing.

So, hopefully, the good the good enlightened networks will will will survive.

You know, and would say the internet's gotten ins content and everything has gotten a lot better. So, you know, that's pretty, that's pretty cool. So speaking of content.

So you have worked for service provider. And then as you sort of, you know, Netflix started back then, but you went to work for them.

What was it like, you know, interesting more interesting, less interesting different. And, you know, sort of sort of role wise, you know, the differences of of doing interconnection for you know, at Akamai called it the world's largest non network, right, because there's no backbone and stuff like that. So and it was actually Rob Seastre, who who No. No. It was Andrew Koo who called it that. It was Andrew Koo who called it that, but, yeah, so what what what what was it like? What was the difference?

You know, on the content versus access and and transit side?

Well, the the, the big difference with was definitely, you know, now we would peer with everyone, except very, very few people who, you know, whose behavior meant that that it was mess up our traffic, more than it would, it would help, to peer.

And, because working for a service provider and and doing peering, there's this whole balance about could we sell to these people or we have a division who wants to sell transit.

So we couldn't have a completely open peering policy because you know, or maybe we could. The, the, the, the idea was that we couldn't. So we have to protect the wholesale wholesale business.

And there was a lot of, we could do, you know, trade offs, like, you know, I buy some waves. I get gearing, you know, trying to do the whole, that whole, deal. TV is probably a little bit too small you know, to really do anything interesting in that field, but we were still trying to do it. People bought people bought data centers and data center cleaning services from AT and T to get peering.

Yeah. So Yeah. And and also, you know, we have business customers. We don't have a few very important business customers.

So we could not do too many, you know, little tricks with traffic or, you know, hairpin it too much. Because then we would have customers who would be upset.

And and there was a, you know, there was some customers that we really cared about, and then there was, well, It's just internet. If it's a little bit delayed, doesn't really matter. And we can play with, with that kind of, with that kind of traffic to get the, the viewings that we wanted.

It worked sometimes, and sometimes it didn't. So Yep. No. That's a grand question is who cares about their customers more, you know, than that.

Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And and we You know, going for content, you know, obviously, we cared a lot about getting close, but then again, on the other hand, video is not really latency, sensitive.

So, you know, that traffic could be hold around a little bit if that was better for us.

And, But in general, we were open and we were on, you know, on the other side. It's like, Hey, eyeball.

We we really wanna connect.

But very quickly, also in euro, you know, Netflix became important enough.

That the eyeball companies was also the ones with, hey, Netflix. Can we somehow connect?

And with the embed program that, you know, I I started out just doing interconnection, but quickly ended up doing, embed program as well.

That was a lot of, handling small, trying to explain why we couldn't really send them a server because there are ten megs over the twenty megs Netflix traffic would then be, you know, replaced by four hundred megs of, field traffic. Yeah.

Not really a great idea.

So it changed the role changed very much that way.

And also not having a backbone was really weird in the beginning.

In fact, they have a backbone now Right. One of the world's largest non network. Right? Akamai has a backbone now too. Yeah. Yeah.

So, But, you know, for many years, we were not a lot we did not build a backbone and When we did, it wasn't called, it was the field network and not a backbone.

I think they call it. Raring our sync.

Yeah. It was to our sync everything. Yeah.

Yeah. No. It's a actually, Netflix doesn't do that. It's it's, servers are, working as clients.

So, and they just get a, you know, You need to have these movies on, and then they request the movies. Okay. So it's not push. It's cool.

Yeah. I know Netflix caused problems for Akamai when I was Maybe it was after I left, because Netflix does a better does, you know, sort of can do overnight sync.

Whereas, Akamai has to be live. You know, a lot of the main CDNs need to be live because as you said, one of the really brilliant things I I thought about Netflix, which I don't know if there was, like, brilliance by design or sort of accidental was by having the intelligence in the client and having adaptive bit rate encoding, you were already gonna be hunting and saying, can I get ten megabit one meg four megabit, one megabit, you know, whatever? And then you could go from local to worst peering, you know, cheapest to to most expensive transit before failing down to the next and do that all desynchronized. So it was so much easier than being a centralized CDN. And then, yeah, the push or or or please go get this con popular content so much easier than caching.

Not that. I mean, I I know the the the optimization of like, servers doing a hundred gig plus, you know, was huge, but, some of the some of the life is easier. I made life difficult for CDN. So, like, Can't you be like Netflix? Can't you be like Netflix?

I know. I didn't know they they they will love hearing this. I'm I'm sure, but, But again, I think it's it's by design, having the intelligence in the client, having a client.

Having a client is, is, is key to a lot of things that Netflix has been successful with.

Because when you have the client, you have the end to end control, and you have the end to end data.

And Well, where we are, right now, you know, you know, data is key.

So, it's, it's, they've done, they've done, they've done well. That was a great journey. Yeah.

Yeah. No. I've been impressed. Actually, I saw Netflix first. I met forget where I was, but I met Vish when he was there. When when they had built out a whole set top box plan and, like, data centers.

And then, again, it was an interesting look before the whole culture, you know, thing came out and Netflix talked about how they wanna be because, you know, it was, like, Read woke up and said, that's not what we're doing. And just like, nope. That's not the right way. We're gonna do streaming, and I guess it was right.

You know, yeah. So and I and the content stuff too. So definitely some interesting, you know, business lessons there. But, yeah, when I was at Ocum, I was interesting because like, not every network person, is comes from a background of being adept at making those sort of business arguments.

And it's sort of like as an inverse sales, where you're trying to get people to take things. And then as you said, maybe let people down gently, although I was I wasted I definitely wasted a dock of my money. Well, not only trying to satellite network because we didn't know how big and how edgy it was gonna be. We were off by about fifteen years, maybe twenty five years about the true edge, because we're not at the true edge yet.

But And, yeah, we we actually set ten megabits because I was like, it's all gonna grow. It's all gonna grow because it's two thousand. And everything was going like that. So we were like, sure.

Ten megabits, sure. We'll send you twenty thousand dollars of servers and switches. So you know, they didn't fire me for it, but, you know, who knew, but, you know, there was a point at which I was signing Like, it took at least half a day a week to sign all the to sign all the all the orders for everything. And, oh my god, taxes.

Did they have all that figured out at Netflix by the time you join, you know, all the in country taxes and stuff like that? It was, it was, so luckily, I was, I was in Mia, right? So Okay. Yeah. Last time is pretty bad text wise. Yeah. I mean, Europe was good.

York was good. The EU is easy to ship to.

But, you know, once you started shipping into Africa and taxes and and all of that, but but they worked it out. They, you know, learning from being accented in Brazil pretty early. Things had to be very, very bad to be Brazil when it came to taxes and shipping and stuff. So it's all like, as long as it's not Brazil, we'll figure it out.

We had yeah. We also there was some mandates. I think that you needed to buy servers that were built or assembled, and then Dell had a plant there. And, you know, technically, we actually have a lot of Brazilian ISPs.

There's someone's making routers and making them available there. Because there's a lot of interconnection down there. I I would love to go back. Yeah.

No. You can put into Brazil now. I mean, we, we managed to import.

But we had to have a Brazilian entity who did the import.

Most of the time, Netflix donates the server to the partner.


Which is, in all of the countries where that makes sense and is is allowed to tax wise and stuff. That's the that's the best model to use. Thought I was kidding when I was talking about laptop regions at the time, but this was before SSDs. So we didn't really have the Iops to, like, go down with suitcases.

And we weren't gonna do anything. We were a public company already, so we weren't gonna do anything that was, like, not regularly, you know, okay. But, yeah, I mean, I remember we had people installing, you mentioned, at IRC servers on or UsNet on some of our occupied servers you know, before we had some of the auditing, you know, when we started doing SSL, and then, you know, quickly I think, you know, within a few months of when I was at Akamai, we we had it locked down. So if someone did root it and did something, we would, you know, disconnect from the network and we'd contact them And we even had a couple cases of people stealing the servers and posting them on eBay thinking that Akama made servers So they'd show the picture with the serial number of a stolen server on eBay, which was, which was always, all these interesting.

So Oh, that's that's brilliant.

So did you I don't think, I don't think At that time in Netflix, I don't think we saw any Netflix service on your pay or anything that was stolen. And we we lost very few. I think we lost some, but not not anything that we were thinking about. Yeah. As a phone historian, we we did have some someone call us from a data center once and say, oh my god, somebody messed with your servers. We're so sorry. We don't know how it happened.

And that was because, we, at that time, we we would we would paint, movie, quotes on the servers.

Mhmm. And this was, and and this was then a cluster that was build one of our own clusters in a data center.

And I know it was and and and for some reason, the the person who were doing the coast you know, we're in a funny mood and we're doing all kind of like sexy little bit, naughty clothes.

So so we have this two racks of servers with nautical's, written in silver on it. And then when this data center technician saw that, I was like, oh my god.

Somebody wrote known his stuff on Netflix service. What are we gonna do? Oh, they fuck. All those. Instead, we're so sorry. I don't know how it happened.

I realized, I don't know. We did that. At at above that, we had, Cisco, not ASRs, what were they called, backbone routers. And you could make the line cards had like you could program what they said. So we actually for a while, we programmed them to flash our AS, but, remember the acronym speaking of NADA. People called them BFRs at the time, but that was, like, the code name for it, but I forgot what the product name was and not CSR. Anyway, so for a while, then someone asked permission and and flashed, you know, a b o v above net, you know, our stock ticker and the stock price which worked okay until the bubble and then they took it off.

You know, but that was, like, the the confluence of and of course, now we're in a bubble again. So.

So, yeah, it's in interesting, differently different, same ideas, whether you're engineering the packets to work internally or doing the negotiations and and and setting policy and planning.

Whether you're sort of access, hosting, transit, or content, you know, making things go. And to the average person, it's all the magic, you know, the magic of the internet, behind the scenes.

Personally, I generally fascinated by all of it. And definitely, like, the people side can be a little bit of a challenge. And, again, how do you how do you help someone see that what you need is really what they need too, but their terminology and way of thinking about it is is is not there. And and some technologists get very pedantic, like, geek binaryitis.

Like, no. No. No. But they're wrong. They must be shown that they're wrong. And it's, like, No.

No. That's not that's not generally the way to to influence, you know, influence people. So Yeah.

Cool. Well, thank you for sharing. So even, as you said, following networking for some time, what's, you know, what's changing, what's what's what's hype and what's hot? Like, what what's what's the things that people are talking about that aren't here yet and what's the things that you're excited about, you know, and networking overall, you know, right now?

I think it's the, you know, the new edge, like, things being pushed closer and closer. I mean, for years, we've been seeing what all slide where, you know, five g is probably just gonna be another four g, but it it looks like people are more serious about, putting compute, closer to the edge. I think a lot of people think that a lot of the content will come to the edge as well.

But, you know, if you at least I doubt that video on demand is gonna be on the edge, lives probably I can see live would would use the the edge data centers and servers sitting on the edge, but but on demand is, you know, it's not enough files. It's not enough sort of place. I mean, you have to, for, you know, for for the video on demand server to be efficient, you have to have a high demand.

So there's no use putting that next to the mast because that mass is never gonna serve enough users for that server to be to be efficient.

Yeah. And and and there's been a wave of problems with power density of putting, you know, processors in in routers and, you know Yeah. I mean, it's, there's so much. So I think the non latency sensitive services, like on demand video and a lot of other, like pictures and everything is going to stay relatively central.

Not not totally central because it is decentralized, but it really takes a lot of uses to be efficient. And I think a lot of the real time, edge compute kind of stuff, you need to be even closer, you know, than where the video files are. Mhmm. So so I'm You're optimistic for the edge and and all the action.

I'm optimistic. I'm I'm I'm I'm cautiously optimistic. Because, you know, it seems some happen, but, you know, also seeing, you know, some of the, edge hosting companies, you know, ending up Yeah. We wanna do that hosting.

And, yeah, we wanna do something else. Yeah. We don't wanna do anything at all. Right?

You know, So, you know, it still remains a little bit to be seen, but, now that the actual networks are coming up and the slicing is is starting to happen, you know, maybe, maybe there will be some changes, in that respect.

Because, you know, in the in the past eight years where I've been mostly focused on broadband, internet.

Cloud has really changed the internet a lot. So Right. I'm actually on a little bit of a a learning journey right now to to fully understand you know, how the enterprises are running their stuff and how the, how the, software as a service is running their stuff in the cloud.

Because that happened while I was looking on the other way. I was more more than focused on. Oh, all these broadband providers. Here's the video traffic.

What do we wanna do about that? Also interconnection. Right? You can now for the enterprise, you get interconnect for your SD WAN.

Yes. Like, you can do an old school. You can get an Equinix cabinet and run across connect and loop hearing and do an Ix. Oh, yeah.

You can use packet fabric, mega port, you know, PCCW.

You could, I don't know, assume they'll be ESP or something. I mean, There's lots of different ways of So many different ways. Yeah. It's like Star Trek, Idic, infinite diversity, and infinite combinations.

I believe. And then again, I and I can't really figure out is it is it is it really some magic or is it just, you know, private networking and software? You know, and I think probably is the last, but it's presented as a lot of magic. So I'm I'm still trying to figure I'm a big fan of the innovation and companies in the interconnection space.

So, again, Pack and fabric, Mega Ford, PCW. But I do have to laugh when people talk about a wave of companies as network as a service. Like, so what was TDC? What was TDC?

What was, like, above net? What was Like, we weren't doing packets as a service before. But, but, you know, you gotta have marketing and and and ways, easy ways of people to remember things. Security has Sassy.

We have network as a and and NAS, network as a service. So, yeah, the edge, it's it's, definitely a lot of innovation there. I'm really curious to see also because the dirty little secret is that the Edge is some pretty big megawatt data centers where where people are actually served from, whether it's cloud, I like going up too. That's what it is right now. But but, you know, does it have to be more distributed?

I mean No. Yeah. I mean And how much does the milliseconds actually count? And for what?

And for what? Ready player one? When we're ready player one, milliseconds will probably matter. We're not quite there yet, but yeah.

Yeah. Yeah. And and and then, you know, we see, you know, I don't know. I mean, I'm still waiting for the auto, you know, the self driving cars, right, that runs on on some network.

Kind of thing and make sure that they're not running into each other or I don't know how they I like I like networks. I'm like, I'm not sure where I'm comfortable with that. You know, I'm not sure I would be in a car which might go off a cliff if if it lost connectivity to Google, but, there's certainly a lot of telemetry. There's certainly a lot of real and I IoT, you know, with, like, doing, model development things at the edge and using power that you're using anyway.

So, yeah, it'll it'll definitely be definitely be interesting to see how that develops. Maybe we'll do this again in a in a few years and see what the world is like. You talked about getting into the people side, both inside TDC and when you're at your first Natog, and then probably ripe and apricot and global peering forum, and European peering forum, And it sounds like you had pretty welcoming and, you know, pretty good, intro.

I'm curious, as, you know, over the course of your career, did you find that to be, you know, generally generally true? Did you find that, you know, all the communities were, you know, pretty welcome, pretty educational, or are there areas that you, you know, hate frustrations in that you have constructive criticism for us as a community about ways we can do better.

I think I think the queuing crowd was a pretty welcoming crowd.

It and and and I think it it comes with it kinda comes with the job. I I mean, you you you have to be able to to talk everyone. And and if you meet somebody who's interested and and and a potential, you know, it it seems like to be welcoming.

I think the engineering crowd, that's, you know, the non peering people at Nano was probably not as welcoming.

And and more difficult to to get to talk to. And there definitely have been some, you know, I remember dinner where, you know, I went home and I was kind of crushed because I was sitting next to, a person, you know, and and he was very interested in in one of the hot shops who was sitting next to him on the other side.

And so I was just sitting there. I was at the end of the table, and I was just sitting there and just had this bag took me during the whole dinner. Still like a ten ten people table. Yeah. You know, and and I was just like, whoa. Oh, I did not like that.

That was, so, I think it can be a pretty tough crowd sometimes you know, if you don't know somebody, usually I went to these, all these events by myself.

But, you know, over the years, you you you find the people that you get along with, you you you meet friends, And and again, also the I learned so many things, just chatting with people who were awake at the same time, and I would be, you know, up late at night and, talking to people. That would teach me stuff. Oh, that's right. Your, your, you know, morning would be the, normal engineering hours of people still up, still up to you. You know, I could get on the morning and I could talk to somebody, you know, you know, drunk rats that, you know, and persuading to explain this MPLS to me because I was in a big debate with, one of my engineers in the, engineering group about something and sort of like immediate.

Mhmm. I don't think it's like this. What do you ask? Can you explain this to me? And then, you know, I would have a little bit more ammo in, in the discussions because I learned it from I didn't learn everything from the CDC engineers. I learned from outside as well.

So that was, you know, made it even better to get more inputs into, when you're basically because all of I learned everything just by, by mentoring.

Yeah. And I'm working it out myself.


The, IRC has never fit well for my brand.

But I've talked to a lot of people that I know a lot of people that are, you know, tight with that, tight with that community, and it seems like it's it's gone, you know, really well there. The, and I'm so so it has not moved to Slack. It's still IRC on the the coordinates. There might be some slack.

There might be, you know, some people might have moved to Slack, and I didn't notice. Mhmm. That could also I've been looking most of the time over the past years, you know, but but when I started a new job last year, you know, I needed to get some old contacts, and I couldn't remember the email addresses and sort of like, oh, in, Pound IX, and yet these old guys was still hanging there and sort of like, can we talk about this? Do you have do you have IRC on your phone?

Do you have a phone IRC client, or is it really laptop? No. It's on it's on the laptop. Comments.

Okay. So not not all the way. I guess discord would would give advantages there. So Yeah.

Yeah. Would you say it's more than fifty percent? More than seventy five percent of what you've learned has been sort of, mentoring osmosis you know, independent experimentation. Like, how would you how would you rate, you know, the the sort of the the tribal the tribal explanations you know, versus the sort of formal.

And is that something we could do better at formalizing, especially with, you know, in a COVID world? Or post covid?

Well, from my purse from my personal experience, it's It's like eighty, ninety percent tribal. Mhmm.

And and self study and, you know, working out, but but but a lot of it a lot of it working it out is also then, you know, hitting up somebody has said, I thought about this know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and then you have so it it it will it it's it's definitely tribal. And because I have that experience, I think it's difficult for me to point out whether we could formalize that and make it make it more available for everybody. Mhmm. We kind of should.

And I know there's, you know, there are some programs that that are teaching networking, at universities And, but you often end up. I I know I'm I I actually had an nephew who wanted to, become a network engineer, and he started in, he started this, this class, and It was a joint program with app development.

And within the first six months of this eighteen months program, everything was turned into app because they they had counted on Cisco sponsoring and making them CCNAs or, or maybe in the next level.

And, apparently, that kind of fell through. And then teachers were like, well, we don't know anything about networking, but we can do, you know, making access more fun. So So my nephew kind of, you know, ended up, you know, dropping out because, he was like, but I kind of like this network thing.

And, wasn't, encouraged to go find a, a princess place or anything because you know, he didn't get the support from the school. So I thought that was that was kind of sad. That was a local thing here in Denmark, but, I don't know that there is a network engineer education here, anymore.

Yeah. And a lot of in the US, at least, a lot of network education is still distance vector protocol, you know, prefix, NLRI, what offsets things are, you know, it's the TCP books and, you know, pulling packets apart and not the dynamics.

And then or it's a economics group that is trying to understand how does the internet work and how do people connect with each other? Yeah. Or, you know, which is Those people are more likely to go into policy than, you know, engineering.

So There's yeah. It's an interesting it's an interesting question. You mentioned your nephew. What would you advise people, you know, who who think that the internet and the in structure is interesting, you know, to get into, to get into that world. You know, get the job. Uh-huh. You know, maybe not care so much about getting a formal education first, that because it can be difficult to find a formal education that actually fits But make sure that you, you know, you know basic have basic engineering skills that you know how to work shit out.

And, and then, you know, go into a job with the, expectations of that you have to keep learning all the time because things are changing all the time.

I mean, there's some this is an to me, that's a general thing, you know, when people, you know, when I'm I talk to young people about, what should I go study? Should I go to the university? Years, and I don't know. You should go, yeah, you should go study, you should go figure out how you learn stuff, and you should definitely do it with you know, learn something that you care about.

Because the the most important skill is to figure out how you figure stuff out.


Yeah. I I think of it as the getting comfortable with getting confused and uncomfusing yourself.

Yeah. Ask for help. It's a very good way of being gay. Ask for help. Beyond IRC, have a community, but Yeah.

It's something I think we need to get earlier in with these college education, about you know, the find your passion part of it and that it's interactive. Right? It's not gonna be sitting there and getting the received wisdom of the things.

No. No. It's exactly. It's actually working with it and figuring out Oh, I don't know this.

I have to figure out how to do this in order to do this longer, far away thing that I have to do, and then go figure out how to do it. Which is why it's cool. There's network simulators. There's virtual appliances.

You can get a virtual MX, a virtual ARR, And, yeah, it's something we wanna do is, I wanna do is try to see what we can do. I to to work with educate, you know, academia education.

I saw something in Nanogg a few years ago, which was actually, like, which I thought was pretty cool, which was appearing simulator, not like the doctor peering, you know, game, but actual people got to have some prefixes and peer with each other. It was So you're it was from European region, and I forget which, you know, like, that might be interesting, you know, to do with people.

Have to have to go find that link and and look at it.

So any any asks or advice for the community about trying to be welcoming to people that, you know, do not look like, all the people in the community now.

You know, the backbone engineering is more people that look like me. The interconnection seems to be a little bit more diverse, but not matching the population certainly.

Like, what could people stop doing and start doing?

I think the general, well, having worked for, American companies who took diversity and inclusion very, very, very important.

You know, I I've been trained quite a bit, but I think, you know, realizing that the person standing next to you have a very different background. But might know as much as you do.

Is, I think that that understanding is is is crucial, and it's very difficult to have I mean, I still I still do it myself, you know, when I when I meet another female, you know, and in particular, if she's wearing a dress, and high heels, I am not assuming that we could go and have a conversation about traffic engineering, and and I hate myself for that. You know? Right. So conscious bias is hard to The conscious bias is, you know, it's a thing to think about.

And, And I think the the young people, at least the young people that I know, you know, are much more critical than I was at that age. My eldest child is, is a queer, and, and just had a top operation done, this year.

And I remember talking to them about, but, you know, how how how would you feel How how do you think you will feel when, you know, you go to the beach and and everybody will see that you, you know, your body is now matching your perception of how you want your body to watch to look, but it's very different from what everybody else is expecting it to look like because, you know, it'll be male on top and female on the bottom. Mhmm. And people will look more at you than they do now where you, yourself, is in conflict with, how you look. And they said that's their problem. Got from them was, well, exactly.

I have been fighting this fight for the, you know, the past ten years. Now it's your problem. I don't care because now I feel now I look like I feel.

And and and they're they're very different that way.

So I think in order to to to include them, we have to make sure that we don't really care about you know, color or or or, you know, gender perception or hair color or what shoes are wearing or anything.

We just have to get past the looks and then just and pass the, also how you talk and then, you know, just get to the substance. But it's a basic human thing. Mhmm. But I think it it's it is important also to be mindful about with all the all of us because we haven't been it for so long. It's been it's been a a bit of a rough community sometimes. Right?

Yeah. It has. And, with a lot of drinks being in it.

Yeah. Drinking, there's been Yeah. I can't take cigarette smoke, and, you know, there's slap dances. There's women that ask people to go go to.

You know, place Yeah. You know, they're not sure. But, you know, and so you just have to be, you do have to be aware. I think what works best is when people show that they're trying to learn and understand, then there's more grace and when there's less because we can't be nothing is gonna be everybody's not gonna be changed, then everybody will make mistakes. Right? But being open about that we're actually trying to learn and being respectful.

And, you know, that we can say sorry when we're not respectful, and somebody tells us that we're not respectful.

Well, thank you, by the way. For four or five times saying, what about the Europeans? I can't take.

Yeah. I think we do an okay job of it, but you know, I think there's been a couple times where there's been the, you you've been comfortable speaking up that, you know, hey, what about, you know, and, you know, time zones or people or, you know, things like that. So Well, I have to say I mean, I wanna say thank you on the other round because this is, the first time, I I where where I see regular meetings being started at seven AM, California time.

I mean, that has not happened before. Oh.

I see. So it's been more like, sorry. You're having dinner, but we need to meet now. Exactly.

Oh, sorry. You're just gonna miss this meeting. And, you know, yeah, you can It was never really offered that people could get up early.

Instead of everybody just staying up late for other people from other time zones would get up really early to Not even there, we could do better. Know we had our last all hands a little late. We're we're working on it. We talking about it.

Yeah. It just didn't show up. I watched the video. That's fine. As long as you that that's the great thing about, you know, that we're running everything on video is that, you know, there's a recording.

Mhmm. And obviously, you can't have the interaction, but you, you know, I could call you out afterwards and say, oh, well, you said this. What do you mean? Uh-huh.

And I couldn't I wouldn't be able to call you out probably really about not being, nice to the Europeans, but, you know, I can do that all the time. So Mhmm.

Now, Well, you know, I think you've been comfortable in more than one person, settings doing it. So I appreciate that. But, you know, you also have you know, a career in community and and, you know, all that. So you're in a position where you know that.

But we appreciate it. So thank you.

Any advice for your younger self, you know, any things that you would have said to have had maybe either guide different experiences, you know, as you're going through the career? Probably change jobs a little bit earlier than I did.

I was at, I was at two to three for thirteen years.

And the past couple of years, I was there. I was, I wasn't happy. I'd grown out as a role. Mhmm.

And, as a a a sing, yes, for young people to might be mindful of is that if they land and this is I was really lucky. I was landing a role that I could grow.

But growing a role usually means that you're not necessarily glow growing the formal responsibility and the salary to go with it. Mhmm.

So what I was really responsible for and the work I was doing was not at all matched with what people a couple of levels away in the organization thought that I was supposed to be doing.

And who didn't know what I was doing. And definitely, my salary was you know, half of what it should have been. Mhmm. So, and and that was because I didn't really care about salary for a lot of years.

Oh, it was more about, you know, I love to work. And, you know, I just thought that, well, we only have two percent. So, you know, we can't really do anything and and didn't really realize that, you know, that the the leaps that I had taken in what I was able to do from when I started in the position to when I was finishing it was not anything that could be matched by a, you know, a normal, yearly, result. Yeah.

Comp race.


Yeah. With, the currently active job market and the sustained bubble. Hopefully, that will be less of a problem for people as there's a lot of a lot of sustained recruiting, going on. But that said, you know, a lot of people think networking is just APIs and magic, and, you know, no one needs to know all the underneath. So, you know, it's, it is networking type companies, who are there.

And definitely finding ways to get involved in communities is a good way to build those networks where you can you know, find out what the interesting opportunities are and, make sure that, you know, you stay stay connected there. So I also got wasn't intentional, got lucky falling into Nanogg and networking communities.

And, you know, but not everybody Not everybody is as social that way. So, you know, with virtual, it'd be interesting to see how we in the after times, you know, you know, evolve that and try to be thoughtful about how do we take that tribal knowledge and, you know, help people get into it because it's tough.

It's tough. It's a it's been a tough couple of years, and I'm I'm saying a couple of years. It's it's almost is I think it's gonna be two years at least before, you know, like most of my conferences this fall has, you know, turned virtual already. So It's, it's, it's there's there's gonna be a gap and also the new people who have joined the community. In these years. I mean, we don't know them. We haven't met them.

Funny thing is that I write, you know, some of the feedback from the the virtual, the virtual conferences that there are there are some people who are more comfortable with with that format. So they feel more included than they would when they go through physical conference. I'd love to you can send me a link after about we could talk after about that. I'm curious. I'm curious about that because the the, lobby track or the, you know, the bar track of where people actually say, oh, yes, this vendor, this bug, that person, you know, the stuff that you're not gonna say.

Yeah. And I go to the things at Anenogg, if I wanna ask questions, But generally don't sit there clickety, clickety, both because of meetings with customers, but also just because I run into people and you know, you know a lot of people.

I'm sure you know four hundred people, you know, that you could run into and talk to.

So, Yeah. And, you know, thanks for calling out some of the stories.

You know, I think it's important that we all remember that even when we see, the grand old women and grand old men of of networking that if someone is sitting next to you, to look for signs they want to engage and, you know, try to be welcoming.

One of my great experiences was, I was at Nanogg, and somewhere I have the Cheswick and Bellovin book, which was the first book on Firewalls. And so Steve Bellovin was standing there, and he was talking to someone about something, and I was just sort of standing there. And then he just turned and engaged with me. He's like, you know, my son thinks that I should be a better nerd and play poker like you do. It's like, oh, he knows who I am.

And, you know, we had a conversation. And, you know, I wasn't been bother him because he's like a great a great person of networking and and all that. So it's moments like that where you, you know, can meet people. And so that's been a lesson for me, someone said, you know, Avi, when you're talking with people, sometimes, you know, someone comes over and you sort of look and then people move and make space.

Like, How do you make sure that if you see people wanting to, you know, engage and get in, that we can do that? And maybe that is easier online. So, yeah, I'm curious if there's ways we can build that because I've there are people that say the the clue on the internet constant. Like, don't teach people because, you know, they'll they'll screw things up.

I've never, you know, believe that, and we'll die out. We don't you know, get people in. Everybody's as curious about how shit works. We should be told, you know.

It's, it's, you have to feed the couriers. You can't make people who are not curious about it. Currors about it. Yeah.

You know, so so feed those who are that him. Yeah. That's a good way of that's a good way of putting it. And I think we can learn from the peering and interconnection world, which if you go to GPF is more diverse than the, as you said, you know, sort of the Nanog, he going to the people talking about, you know, MPLS iterations and and not to pick on any specific topics, but the more you're talking about, you know, vendors and routing protocols and stuff like that, it it does get, you know, less.

Exactly. Less diverse. So, awesome. Well, thank you for being so open and sharing, and thank you for being a guest on, on network a f and look forward to seeing some of that ripe data. And, perhaps we'll talk again for an update in a few years.

Awesome. I'd love to hear. Thank you.

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About Network AF

Network AF is a journey of super-nerd proportions into the world of networking, cloud, and the internet. Avi Freedman, self-described internet plumber and podcast namesake, hosts top network engineering experts from around the world for in-depth, honest, and freewheeling banter on all-things-network — how-tos, best practices, biggest mistakes, war stories, hot takes, rants, and more.
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