Kentik - Network Observability
More episodes
Network AF  |  Season 1 - Episode 16  |  April 26, 2022

Peering, edge computing, and community with Grant Kirkwood

Play now


Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder of Unitas Global, Grant Kirkwood, joins Network AF to discuss motivations for starting the company and where they're at currently. Avi and Grant talk about what it is like to be a service provider and a solution provider (MSP) in one, and how it plays into what Avi calls the APIfication of networks and IT strategy. Topics throughout the conversation include:

  • Non-software enterprise companies and whether or not they'll adopt more interest in peering
  • Donut Peering and creating better interconnection
  • Building reliable and resilient networks for edge computing
  • Unitas' growth and how Grant thinks about building networking skills internally
  • Looking for people to join the team who are curious


Hi. I'm Avi Friedman, and welcome to network On this week's episode, I'm talking with Grant Kirkwood, CEO of Unitas Global. We're talking about cloud, how it's built, what's behind it, peering and how the cloud gets to, end users, edge connectivity, and the state of the art and even more the state of the business about how people are getting connected, and then community. And the community side of networking and how to get in, you can get into a career path in networking companies.

Hi, and welcome to network a f. This week, I'm talking to my friend, Grant Kirkwood, who's built a number of successful businesses and run them from, you know, into the nineties and the dawn of the internet to leading edge cloud and, and connectivity technology We're gonna be talking about, cloud, about peering, about the edge, about how people get connected, and also about community and how we get people into networking and how we grow, our diversity into the next generation.

Grant, if you could give us a quick intro on yourself.

Sure. Great to be with Yami. And, yeah, so I I've been kind of in and around Internet infrastructure. For, basically, my old career.

Started, my first company in nineteen ninety six when I had, lot less gray hair than I do today, but, Yeah. I kinda grew up in in the early bulletin board systems and very slow modems, and and, just kinda fell in love with it. And so, yeah, unit tossed to my third company, but, have started a couple others before.

Really just like the the the plumbing and the kind of infrastructure that most people don't really see, as part of the internet and cloud and, you know, the kind of physical manifestation. So, always been kind of my passion.

So anyway, glad glad to be here. Thank you. And thank you for, helping the world stay connected. I love that I get to work with folks that, make the infrastructure and then the applications that sit on top that people use. It's, it's pretty cool.

So at unitoss, as you mentioned, not your first company, What, what what got you to wanna start unitoss and, you know, sort of how do you think about where where your focus is?

Well, it's it's funny because, unitoss, being my third company, I kinda wanted to do something a little different.

I've been in the internet infrastructure space for for my whole career. And so I thought, well, you know, let let's combine all the IT resources that enterprises consume and kind of provide that as a as a fully baked managed service that includes everything.

And that's literally what unit cost means in Latin, at least we we say it does.

But, the whole idea is that we could kinda do that on a global basis. And what's happened, in the time since we started, providing those services to, today, the need for very custom, bespoke kind of IT solutions has decreased, with the prevalence of AWS, GCP, Azure, etcetera.

But the need for more sophisticated networking solutions has has increased. So kinda come full circle, due back to doing what, I've I've spent, the early days of my career doing. Which is, which is fun and exciting, although it's, you know, the world's changed a lot in in those years. At least in some ways, not not in other ways, still fiber, still data centers.

Yes. We'll conduit, in the ground that makes it all work. It's pretty amazing, really, that now, actually, the world has simplified in that, yeah, there's optical underneath but from a, you know, IP basis, it's not like we're hooking up Sonnet and understanding all that stuff. That although there were good things about that from a telemetry perspective, and debugging versus Ethernet, but it's pretty it is pretty amazing that the, that Ethernet is is effectively the same thing as when we were doing vampire taps or maybe you escaped vampire taps, but, you know, just moving from hubs to switches and all that and it and it sort of still works.

And when you think of the whole internet is actually running as a serial protocol one bit at a time underneath, you know, you just you know, sort of audit how fast computers are versus, as you mentioned, the error, you know, when when people got into it. So, you know, it's interesting. I hadn't thought about that really, but I I learned more when we started Kentech about in the US, people think about internet connectivity as something I go get to the provider. And then as you said, IT stack, I go get from others.

I know that in in Asia Pac and Europe, we have customers where they are much deeper into the IT stack, you know, for their companies.

Now some of them are thinking about, well, we don't want it all to be AWS. So we need to do, as you said, bespoke networking and also, you know, other solutions. Is that is that I wanna say, a business cultural problem you know, for you when you took this approach in the US that people weren't expecting, you know, to have a service provider and a solution provider, you know, you know, or MSP all in one, or is that an advantage?

I think it was initially because, you know, in the in the early days, people kind of focus on, you know, what what type of storage, array, or server, or, you know, what kind of software is running on it. And they're very opinionated about those things.

And that and that was that was fairly globally, I would say.

And people have become much less opinionated. Right? So it used to be I need to have a rack as this type of. Yeah. You know, thing in it. Right?

And I think, you know, the rise of kind of on demand consumable clouds are is is negated the need for that level of kind of specificity.

On the other hand, you know, in, in the early days, the, how the, how you connect to that thing was almost an afterthought, right, because it was it was driven. The consumption was driven by the IT buyer, in the organization as opposed to, you know, someone with kind of a broader rebate and then, you know, the, the, the, you know, kind of connectivity or telco buyer bought their pieces, and they're almost quite distinct.

And so it was an afterthought. And what's happened is that's kind of shifted too.

Now you find that the consumers of those same IT services in cloud form are now also consuming network services, you know, and they kind of have the expectation that they can consume those services the same way that they're used to, you know, spinning up virtual machines. Right?

And the the business hasn't quite caught up to that, industry wide, which I think is a great opportunity for, you know, for our business and and others that have kind of taken a more modern you know, network has a service type approach to to consuming those sort of that capacity.

So, really, if I think back to a dinner that I had when I was at Service Central, and we had a vendor in, and we had, I think, ten people from the vendor because we had the account wrapped, the account sales engineer, the storage, sales engineer, and then one wrap ins and sales engineer from each of the five things that they had, you know, two sands and an object store thing that didn't work and an object thing is for a thing that was going to work at some point and you know, a a a filer and, you know, trying to talk about all this. And for all of them, the network was like, you know, not ten megabits, but, you know, gigabit or something.

And I was like, you do understand that, like, this is a dawn of big data. You do understand that that would be, like, sucking the ocean through a straw to put, you know, half a petabyte on the other side of it, even a ten gig connection. How long would it take you know, to do something. And and and there was, you know, even though cloud is all these things, it was a very different focus.

You know, at the I I would say at the dawn of it. But it almost sounds like the API ification, right, you know, network as a service, the enterprises wanna consume that way and and to talk about cloud. So I've always thought of cloud as other people's network storage and compute.

Now we are in, everything is infrastructure as code. And so cloud is effectively, in some sense, it's just all these technologies we know with weird names consumed via API. But the enterprise, you know, sometimes use it at a higher level. And so how how do you see your customers, you know, thinking about cloud? Do they understand that network? Are they are they getting bit by the fact that they don't take network into account, or do they understand that networking, you know, is a critical part of that.

And, you know, you know, yeah, how how do they view that strategically? And then, you know, as they bring it as they bring it into their operations?

Yeah. I mean, so so there are some enterprises that we see.

Or let let me give a little context first. So so our our customers tend to be either large regional or multinational enterprise.

So they're they're you know, typically locations and different continents and, and hundreds or thousands of employees.

And so what I would say is there is a subset, that is, very focused on on network and connectivity, as kind of an underlay to their broader IT strategy.

But they're in the minority.

And it and that's usually because they've had a connectivity focused practice as part of their business. So as an example, We have a customer that's a health care provider.

They provide software, for hospitals and, and health care facilities.

And as part of that in their traditional model, they actually procured last mile circuits into into those healthcare facilities to provide the delivery of their software.

And so they had what looked and felt very much like a telco within their business.

But as I said, that's very much in the minority. For the most part, we more commonly see enterprises being bit by the fact that they didn't consider the needs of the network, as they, you know, as they looked at what their IT strategy is. And especially, like, in the last two years, in particular, we've seen this in a, in a big way where all of a sudden, you know, we had this massive workforce that shifted to work from home.

All of a sudden, jumped on Zoom and Teams and Webex and, you know, all these other things and turned on video for the first time.

And and gotten very used to that mode of working, And then, you know, fast forward to, you know, in the last, you know, six, nine months, all of a sudden, you got a bunch of people back at the office still some people at home, let's say it's high grade, half, half, whatever, and finding out that all of a sudden, all that office doesn't have enough Internet bandwidth in the office, to support the number of remote video users that are now collaborating, you know, from home.

Very quickly scrambling to to get more, more, internet capacity.

And, like, that kind of scenario is is very commonly playing out. I think also just shift away from traditional NPLS to SD WAN as as a, you know, quasi replacement alternative.

You know, same same thing there. We've seen a lot of enterprises that just kind of go and buy whatever local connectivity they they have from whatever local provider in that particular market exists, and assuming that it's all just going to magically work, and there's gonna be this good an experience that looks and feels like their traditional MLS, and then quickly find out that, you know, the, regional provider in, South Africa, that they bought from doesn't appear with the Tier one ISBN that they have in North America, and so therefore that undelay is is a is a bad experience, and that impacts, you know, what they have over the top.

So, yeah, I I think probably seventy, eighty percent of the time, more commonly, we we find the enterprises are saying, oops, as it relates to the, to the network. So I just wanna to poke at that when COVID started, we had a lot of customers that were that were saying, hey, how how can we look at what will happen if we, unleash the the the you know, cracking and, you know, do split tunnel instead of bringing everything back through our corporate network. But that was as things were starting to go video as you point out. So you're seeing, sort of the the reverse effect of people being trained on new patterns And then, coming back, even if it's less frequently, but, you know, to offices, which wind up you know, just having wound up under provision just because the pattern the the usage patterns had changed.

That's that's interesting. I we probably could could scry in our data and see that, but that wasn't something that I was, you know, aware of, you know, was going on. So Oh, very much so. And then, and then you've got the enterprises that did the, you know, traditional centralized internet you know, decryption and inspection stack, one one that broke two years ago.

That broke two years ago when everyone know, was trying to come in. Yeah. Broke broken a day. Exactly.

Right. Literally overnight, you know, they they had just enough internet the office when everybody was meeting in the same room, went home, you know, all of that internet for, I think, in that case, forty thousand employees, all of a sudden, was going over VPNs back to their stock, I mean, it did it broke. It broke in a day. I mean, they they had they had to break out that local internet, by policy, literally overnight, or or that gonna have continued to operate.

Mhmm. Interesting.

So it's it's been interesting as we work with service providers, they certainly understand Pering and interconnection, digital enterprise that really started before or after sneaker net was ever a thing, where the business is the application that run on the network. They sort of understand the value of that, even just from a performance optimization. Like, in the nineties, peering, it's like, I'll save a lot of money. I don't have to pay, you know, x as much, but Right now, we see it more from the software companies think about it as as control and controller performance and and and the destiny of my packets. You know, at least I have the food when there's a problem to go do something rather than calling someone up or emailing them and hoping they'll do something.

We've definitely seen a lot of enterprise that are more traditional to come at it from a perspective. Oh, I have a CDN. As long as CD CDN will will get to me, you know, and it'll be fine. Do you think that, the average, I'll say mainline enterprise that's becoming a software company, but did not start that way. Are they becoming more interested in peering or they just are they more looking for someone to help them you know, solve the problems that might happen when as you said, you know, I go back to the office and there's congestion where I'm, you know, I shifted from on prem to a bunch of SaaS services, which you know, take a lot of bandwidth. You know, how how do you see that going in the in the non software company enterprise?

So I I I would say, they don't know to be interested.

In in how that interconnection happens.

So so they're very interested in making it work well and very interested in, you know, getting content or applications to users as quickly and efficiently as possible. And I think, yeah, there's probably a de facto assumption that, well, you know, put it on CDN, and that's gonna happen.

What they don't understand is why the, you know, very aggressively, you know, pure with any eyeball kind of network approach that the CDNs have contributes to that. They don't understand that piece, typically.

And in the enterprise space, you know, we do a lot of education about you know, what is a tier one ISPA and what is a tier two ISB?

And does tier one mean, you know, better or not and, you know, the the the the typical enterprise, you know, their basis of knowledge is the marketing slicks that are that are put out by the, by the large global carriers, that basically tell the story of bigger is better.

And then when you explain that, well, actually, you know, the way the reason that CDMs are so efficient on what they do is because they take the exact opposite approach to interconnection with other networks.

And so there's this education process. And when when when we literally draw the picture of the doughnut and the tier 1s and the tier 2s, and by the way, all this stuff out here is what you're actually connecting to.

You know, that that light bulb kinda goes off.

But it takes education.

You know, when we when we have that conversation with the enterprise, they get it.

And and it, you know, it becomes important.

But to your point, they don't know to be interested or pay attention to that without that kind of level of of education in terms of how they you know, how the internet actually works? Yeah. It's been interesting to see one of our customers NetScope does a lot of aggressive explanation really about, you know, not only why it's why it's good to be using someone that's broadly connected and can be better than, again, the CDN argument better than just, you know, throwing up a couple of connections and and doing it themselves, but it does seem like in the world of API ification, the the default is while the packets will do whatever packets what, you know, or they'll just magically happen.

When I was at Net Access, we took this approach because I wanted to the reality was, dirty, little dirty sequence actually did peering because it was, you know, eight hundred dollars a megabit or fifty dollars a meg I'd rather have fifty dollars a megabit.

You know, so the actuals, it started with a cost in the nineties for sure. And probably a fair bit of ego. Like, I am doing what the people that build the internet do. And just the engineering, you know, I wanna understand the internet, which is this cool thing.

But it was true. We noticed when we started doing performance tests that as you say, there was this bifurcation, and we tried to make it about an end Like, yeah, yeah, buy from, you know, someone someone who's in the club, but the people in the club don't directly connect to this host host of other people. So You talked about doughnut. I know what that means, but maybe for people listening that don't, would you like to explain or, you know?

What what what is the doughnut peering pure you know, what is this bifurcation that we're we're talking about here? Well, besides chocolate and sprinkles. Yes. Exactly.

Besides that. I mean, so so the whole, the whole con concept of donut appearing is that you you really if if you look at the Internet as a whole, there's, I think, seventy three, seventy four thousand ASNs, on it today.

Somewhere in that neighborhood, although it keeps growing.

There's a very small number double digits of those, which are effectively tier one ISPs that, that have, you know, settlement free pairing with a hundred percent of the routing table.

And I like to use the analogy of of fight club, you know, to talk about it. And once you're in it, you you don't let anybody else in it.

And then you've got, somewhere on the order of five to six thousand, ASNs that are the the the classic tier two networks half of those being contact, half of those being eyeballs.

And if you look at the traffic on the internet, internet is whole, something like seventy five percent of traffic, transit originates or terminates between those tier two networks. So that and classic analogy I always like to use, is somebody, at home on their cable modem watching something on Netflix.

You know, some, some of the very largest, cable providers are, you know, very large, but still tier two networks that buy transit from tier 1s.

As our, as is Netflix.

And that represents a huge chunk of of traffic. And and you know, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, you know, get on the list, and then line up all the eyeball They very, very much fall into that into that same category. And so if you think about the doughnut, with the five thousand, or so ASNs that sit out there and that kind of tier two ring and the small number in the middle, the whole idea is that if you're a tier two eyeball network and you go around the doughnut and peer directly with a tier two content network, you're effectively creating a bypass ring around the tier 1s in the middle. So that's why we call it donor pairing.

But it does demonstrably improve performance.

Fewer hops, lower latency, better throughput on on a hole. Less chance for congestion. Yeah. And now we have the Taurus, which is really which is really if you had the the plane, which is the overlay networks, you know, we have customers that feed us their DNS, and we can see what sites they're going to.

And ninety to ninety five percent of their traffic is these meta network Like, as you said Netflix or CDN, like, Akamai, you know, or whatever. So it is pretty fun. And and and, Ekentech, we have VGP analytics so we can see this and we classify edges and who's getting transit and all that. But my favorite speaking of fight club, my favorite informal algorithm for looking at tier one versus tier two, is the best way to to find out who's a tier one is to ask every network who are the tier ones.

They will all name the actual tier ones and themself, And then you remove the self you remove the identity mapping, and then you're left with the people that are that are probably, you know, really are. But Yeah. From a strategy perspective, I really believe I'm not just trying to be fair to our tier one and tier two customers that you know, having some connectivity from from the the doughnut hole and some from the doughnut is what you wanna do. And and I'm hopeful that as people think about taking their their packet destiny into their hands and connecting to cloud, starting with cloud, whether you do it yourself or whether you use you know, a network as a service or or your service provider to do it.

I'm hopeful that can get people into it because, well, I mean, we're seeing a little bit right now of at least hot topic around splinter netting and what's going on with with Russia and, you know, Ukraine from an infrastructure perspective and Russia from a center perspective, you know, if you if you don't have enough connectivity and So far, I've just been thankful to kind of keep these rich enough that when the physical infrastructure is working, you know, it's mostly working.

On just on on on the previous note for a second, totally agree with you. We talk to our customers all the time about you know, the best way to get the most diverse routing table is with a tier one and a tier two. Right?

Interesting. Even though you're a service provider, you'll recommend that's why we didn't have access because It was a battle we weren't gonna win, saying we're better than, you know, level three of Verizon or whatever, and it was based in technical fact. Right? This is the best way to control your destiny. Yeah. You if you if you multi on between two tier ones, you're not creating a lot of diversity in your routing table.

If you if you you know, connect to a traditional tier one in a very aggressively, you know, period tier two, you're you're creating a lot of diversity in your routing table that gives you optionality.

And, you know, to, to your point about, you know, what's going on with with Russia and Ukraine, I think the same thing applies a lot there too. Right? You look at some of the, you know, some of the Russian ISPs, that sit on the, the peering exchanges you, you know, throughout Europe, the links, d q, exam six, etcetera.

You know, they get a lot of their connectivity through there. I I know that some have been disconnected as a result of the sanctions.

But it is something something I've been talking with people about recently is you know, the unintended effects of sanctions that effectively completes the, the, call it the Great Wall or Iron Curtis or whatever you wanna call it, of of internet censorship, whereas everything that's been been been done within Russia to this point has really been, you know, layer four and above.

And we've seen that VPN usage in Russia grew, like, something like eight thousand percent, you know, just in the first week of invasion.

And so there are there is a sizable, you know, percentage of the population that's using VPN technology to get to you know, western news sources and whatnot.

But I worry that, you know, if you cut off access to the rest of the routing table completely by turning down transit and pairing, with Russian ISPs, then that no longer becomes an option. Right? Then you then you literally do have a splintered Internet. Right now, at at from a layer three perspective, it's still you know, there's there's still ratability.

There's there's been discussion about it, but definitely some connectivity has changed, but it hasn't been a bifurcation, you know, it it hasn't been cut off. I mean, the the only side that's been cut off, cut off is just when physical infrastructure is destroyed destroyed by the tragedy. So you know, when the last cell tower goes down, there's no there's no connectivity. So, yes, hopeful people, hopefully, putting the infrastructure back together will work, you know, and and be pretty quick.

And, the good news is the technologies that we've had since the nineties work pretty well for this.

And, and, you know, our our working keep things going even as, you know, we can definitely see impact, as as infrastructure is being attacked physically.

It's it's sad. We we we think about infrastructure being attacked for decades as a logical attack and and now, you know, we actually have it being physically attacked, but it is is mostly staying up and, you know, fingers crossed on that.

So peering the point is to get between networks, which can be sort of eyeball or content or both. Maybe that's a naive view that's, you know, that's that was the nineties model.

I think of Edge. There's been a lot of, you know, oh, we'll put trailers in parking lots. The servers can talk to each other.

And before COVID, I at the end of twenty nineteen, I had just been to a number of customers where, they actually had, like, a little data center in a closet, and and I had this utilization. I was like, wait, this is the actual edge. The actual edge is not, you know, applications looking to run today, you know, is not is not this or driving your flying cars or whatever.

But, you know, the other side of the edge, which became critical with COVID is is, you know, sort of at home. You you you said to me something, which is that you you you had a conversation where people were talking about the fact that the the business model that hasn't changed. I guess I'll I'll ask you for what was that insight? You know, what was that conversation?

You know, that you were in. That was about access, you know, for for home and business?

Yeah. I mean, so so Yeah. I I I would agree. I think the concept of edge computing is still the on prem, you know, server in a closet model. Right? And and that's still in place in a lot of, in a lot of businesses, although I think decreasing, generally speaking, at least certainly as a percentage of overall workload, but, but it's still there.

And that you, you, you know, you mentioned flying cars. So as an example, you know, the the, you know, the GPU that's in the Tesla that's doing the real time you know, driving, you you you couldn't send that up to a cloud no matter how close to the edge it was. Yeah. I would not want my self driving car to be reliant on a good, LTE connection to That's the telemetry is delayed by two seconds, you know, it could be okay.

When we get to real metaverse ready player one, then Right. We have to solve some application architecture issues, but then you might need, you know, sub millisecond locality but that's right. Yeah. So that that kind of has to be in the car at that point.

Right? Mhmm. But, yeah, so so if you think about the overall, you know, getting back to what we were talking about before, where there's kind of, you know, there was the universe of, you know, IT, which are servers and storage and stuff like this. And then kind of telecommunications to connect it all together.

The the the compute side of it, the consumption model has transformed to this very, you know, sign up online, credit card, launch a virtual machine, and go do something with it. And then when I'm done with it, I turn it down and I stop paying for it.

Even though the that's that's all underneath all that are very physical assets. So it's buildings and generators and, you know, servers right, hard, you know, heavy metal stuff. Right? Even though it's very much a capital investment to do all that stuff, the the the industry has shown us very clearly that you can say, I just wanna consume a little bit of that just for a little bit of time, turn it off, turn it down, and build a very successful business doing that.

The last mile access, business, the traditional telco fiber into tall shiny building has not evolved, in the same way. And so I think there's a real opportunity for blast mile access providers to shift the way they think about providing access into buildings and into something similar where you're consuming the network services and capacity that you need kind of on demand for the period of time that you need it, and not do the traditional sign the piece of paper for the three year contract at the fixed price for the fixed product that you have, you know, for that whole term, whether you need it or not, you know, I think there's a real opportunity for that for that part of the business to catch up to the way that we've sort of, you know, become used to consuming IT yeah, compute storage capacity.

They still have all the CapEx cost, though. So they they need a They still have a knot. You can keep that building connected, unless they have a more flexible back, you know, backhaul and I remember all the people in the nineties, that were talking about doing, you know, wireless and all that that actually just bought t one tails and they lost a lot of money I kinda get redoing wireless password, actually.

And, you know, it's interesting I talked with Elliot Noss about smaller ISPss and why he's trying to be one, but we have a lot of, both direct and and we have some wisp aggregators that, you know, larger wisp that does what we used to do in networking coopetition, you know, they sort of sell to people that you know, flexibly provide to their neighbors.

You know, there there are people doing and playing with this, but usually it's it's sort of more the people that were if they're not old enough to be hams, they sort of have that mentality, which is, like, communication is good to me to keep this going. And sort of like what you would imagine could happen in clandestine. If the barrier came down, you know, to communications for a country, what would people do? They'd probably try to you know, CBM, what what the digital version of that is, you know, connect things.

Is that is that what you mean? You know, like, Like, is it wireless or is it just a business model? I mean, and are you talking about multi mostly multi tenant buildings? You know, residents and and and office?

Yeah. I mean, I I think, yes, mostly multi tenant.

And, yeah, it's it's it's, it's it's not a technology problem. It's a it's a it's a business model problem.

Yes, there's still that cap capital investment that you make to, you know, core into a building and put fiber into it. Right?

But it's the same. You could argue that it's the same as Amazon making a capital investment to put servers in a data center and make them consumable in in that model. Right?

I think it's it's harder for a telco to do it because it is so locationally defined you know, who is in this building. Right.

And, you know, are those customers sufficient for me to recoup the capital investment? But I think the thing that that, you know, cloud in general has shown us is that if you make needed resources easy Being it drives consumption. To be That's right. And make it easy to consume. It gets consumed.

And telco capacity into tossing buildings is still very hard to consume. It's still calling those people and negotiating and, yeah, you know, signing contracts and Morrestra. It's still not a So it's network as a service for the eyeball edge.

As network as a service has been because I'm very familiar with all the network with the virtual interconnect companies. I did packet fabric version one when it was just metro area where we're just like, damn, why is it so hard to get between buildings in New York and San Francisco? You know, all these big peering buildings are all over the place, and you have to dial through the phone if you're in Singapore and order a cross connect and do all this stuff. You know, and then the modern generation is the the non marketing speak is there a telco that automates so you don't hate dealing with them.

Mhmm. Right? That and that's ultimately what what people are trying to do is telcos and and every business starts thinking about customer SaaS and the lessons from SaaS business. So you're saying just, you know, do that to the edge.

Probably be easier, you know, if there's more consistency, So US is difficult because of the regulatory inconsistency. Probably it'd be easier if there's more consistency about access to infrastructure and, you know, stuff like that. But That's interesting. So we'll throw the challenge out.

Anyone's interested in doing that reach out to me. I do know some investors that are happy to invest in deep infrastructure even if you're not tokenizing it and doing packet coin and and and do whatever.

So you have any grand crypto plans for you to toss? You're not gonna do Cline or or Colo coin or cloud coin or anything like, okay. Unifin.

Unifin. Yes. That would be a good one. So How many people is is unitoss now? It's it's about a hundred and thirty. Okay.

As you look at the industry. One of the things you said to me, which I've talked with other guests about is, that the people that wind up building this stuff or people that have been at it for, let's just say, a few decades.

How do you think about career progression and getting people into, the networking business at unit house?

Well, I I think I think so so I've kind of observed, over the past, you know, period of time, ten years. Let's call it, that that there's not a lot of fresh, fresh blood. I hate to use that term, kinda coming into the, into the industry focused on the underlying, you know, plumbing of the global network. Right?

And and you know, if you if you look around in the community that I think, you know, we both have kind of spent most of our lives in, it's mostly the same people, you know, changed, you know, we've all changed business cards a bunch of times, but, it's really kind of the same group of people that have been doing this for a long time, and the the need for that plumbing to to keep operating and growing and being operated reliably on a global basis, is only getting more and more important. Right? I mean, the, you know, digital economy that we were talking about twenty years ago has very much arrived and, and the internet is how it works.

You know, everything from, you know, going to the coffee shop and using the little striped card to, you know, pay for your coffee.

With no internet, there is no coffee, which would be very unfortunate.

So I think the the need for making all of that work is is as important as it has ever been and and continue to get more important, but it it it requires that those you know, the next generation of people coming into it. When I when I got into this space, it was, you know, kind of racks of modems with fans blowing on them to keep them cool.

And, you know, today, it's a it's a very different world. We, you know, we don't just, you know, fun, fun story when I when I had our first pop in the one Wilshire building, you know, running, hey, there we go.

Running my ISP circa nineteen ninety four at the UPS next to the water heater, the, you know, modems on on the back, you know, the the CEO cabling run. So It looks it looks looks very familiar.

You know, running running cross connects in one will show was was, you know, There was no service order. There was no portal. It was you grabbed a spool of cat sex in a ladder and, and probably a drill.

To to go pull that, that, that cable.

So that part has very much changed.

But the need for what it enables has not.

And so we we need more people to kinda, you know, get interested in that piece of it. From a career past standpoint, what what I like to encourage is people to get into the network operation side, So like, like other network providers, we we have a knock, where, you know, we have teams of people that monitor the health of the network and monitor customer sites, and respond to issues that that that happen, whether that's a backhoe or you know, something else.

And from there, I think there's a natural progression, to you know, the engineering and design and architecture of how, of how networks work and and interconnect with each other.

But, you know, like I said, I think it's important, you know, for all of us in the in the industry to find people that have the intellectual curiosity to understand, you know, how does that kind of packet plumbing actually work? Behind the scenes and and get interested in it. And I will say, you know, before I say that it it's hard to compete with, you know, the the kind of newer sexier, you know, the latest greatest app that you can go and develop and, and, make a month bunch of money at it. It's it's a lot less glamorous, but it's you know, equally or if not more important.

Some Do you have a way to quantify, we used to call it the bright shiny eyes versus the dull potato eyes, right, the people that which which is, you know, it's difficult because this is really something you need to reach back into the educational system in college, especially, and, you know, sort of tell people this is your destiny to own.

You know, don't just show up and wait for someone to tell you what to do. But, you know, do do you try to quantify the, you know, ask questions, you know, explore you know, figure out, you know, as you see, whether it's support or system stuff or our internal applications or networking, you know, these are the tracks. Do you sort of quantify that?

You know, to people when when they're hired or or look for curiosity or things like that when you're hiring people.

You know, it's it's it's it's a tough one to answer. What I would say is that I I I look for people that have a curiosity.

And you can often see that in manifest itself in in ways that you wouldn't have in a typical interview. Right?

People that have intellectual curiosity tend to have other interests, or rabbit holes as you may call them. Yes. They go deep on. You you could find it and all of a sudden you're down the the cooking or car or travel or whatever, and, you know, you can learn from them and pick a pick a mini religious fight in a constructive way too. So Yeah. You know, I mean, it's one thing that I I kind of took for granted growing up in in, you know, in in this kind of community was that, Everybody in the community has such varied and interesting and deep interests in things that have nothing to do with the plumbing of the internet, and and they're all, you know, they tend to be, you know, more than a passing interest, but a kind of almost obsessive nerdiness about, understanding everything you possibly can about it, But again, you know, those are totally varied and and wide and and can be, you know, completely outside the gamut of of technology or communications.

But the people that, typically have, you know, some interests like that that they're very deep on and passionate about to play outside, this tend to be the ones that have the most curiosity about, about this particular space, and then have a kind of self fulfilled or self driven need to fulfill growth in their own career path.

That's a really hard thing to quantify there. To your question, How do you qualify? Confify that? I don't know.

When you're looking for software developers, you can look at their GitHub. You know, if they're in a position to do that or you can ask them to walk you through something like that. But if, you know, yeah, I mean, a lot of people that we would love to have come in haven't had the might not know that they can fire up a cloud lab or that there's educational material out there. I know Nanogg's trying to address this, but they might not have had the know, they might just not know enough to know what questions to ask.

You know, yes. If you have someone that's purposely dot gone down the path, can say, what is your home? What what does your lab look like? Right?

It may not be sitting in your house. It might be fired up on digital ocean or or linode or or or whatever, but, yeah, we think about that. How do you how do you reach out? Look for the people that are interested there?

Maybe even do a little selling, Annette Packet Fibrick talks about going for math or physics nerds and talking about the internet as a large distributed system with interesting dynamics and harmonics that, you know, you can study and and tune.

But that's that that'll be more it could be for graduating seniors, maybe, but also, you know, more senior people that realize that these things are not all separate. Right, that the math of things and and the and the and and the systems that we depend on are, you know, that it that's interesting to tie those together.

I definitely think we could be doing a better job, especially around peering of teaching and explaining. And peering, we didn't talk about this, but one of the interesting complexities is it's not just about the technology. It's also about the business and politics of that. So, yeah, ideas are welcome.

So I guess if if someone wanted to, be seen favorably applying to Unitas, And they were younger in career focused on passion projects in whatever area. Would that be a good way to stand out? Yeah. No. I think I think so.

I, I happen to be a physics and space nerd, so I'm always looking for people to geek out and talk about calls with, but Yes.

But, yeah, it's weird. So what is the what is the was it it a galaxy or a black hole that was on its side? I read some article, and I was like, I don't really understand why this is news that there's a black hole that's rotated with respect to the plane. Was it the plane of this system that created it? Or did did you follow that? I I missed I missed what that was, but I didn't really understand. I I didn't follow that one, but I I did just see that they from this kind of bubble, that's like a million light years across of that's only in the in the radio spectrum and they think it originated at a either a black hole or, you know, some kind of super supernova or something.

Like Uber, Nova. I don't know whatever the, like, yeah, next term would be.

But, no, I'm not I'm not familiar with what the the sideways black hole. That sounds interesting, though. And maybe an event horizon that you it's like looking at, a piece of paper edge on. Right?

Yeah. I I understand conceptually. It's like, I I have a number of those simplifications.

I the math and physics departments both tried to get me to be a math or a physics major because I was running their computers. And they made me take some specific classes that were helpful for computer science, but it was clear that I was gonna be the salieri.

Not the most part of this. I was I was gonna be I could consume. I could understand anything if you give me enough time, but I wasn't it's not where, you know, my passion was. So but I do think that You know, there's a lot of musicians that that are in software and internet, you know, stuff particular, and I think there's gotta be some residences I'm not a musician, so I don't really, you know, see that in my head. But physics, for sure, the way I was taught physics is very similar to running network because always saying, what should it be doing? How is all the stuff derived from the principles? And there's so many goddamn bugs in networking.

That whether it's cloud networking or whatever it is, it doesn't work the way it should. So you always are on your feet you know, you're on your toes. You need to understand what it should be doing. So you can say, is this a bug, you know, or not? And it does take an interesting kind of, you know, personality to enjoy that kind of pedent pedantry.

I think that's Yeah. I think I think, you know, part of it too, not to go at the risk of going on attention, but, you know, part of it is is system level thinking.

That it's a very specific, set of disciplines that you have to be, you know, very proficient and naturally kind of aligned with system level thinking, physics being one of them, certainly.

You know, things like environmental science where you have you know, thousands of interconnected things is very much the same. And networking is inherently one of those those those those things, and that's you know, to to the point about who who do we look for? That that's probably the other one. Is it people that think in terms of, you know, interconnected network of things and how they interact with each other.

So it's take the sort of it's not necessarily a con to that point, but just for context.

I I was VP of engineering at one data center company, although really was a backbone above that.

And I was CTO at Service Central Now Deft. My understanding is, again, very conceptual of physical data center design. Like, I understand, and I could talk about UPS and flywheels or whatever. But if you actually ask me to put the levers in the right places, and really understand what's going on. Or if you ask me the physics of why the light bounces around this way, and, you know, it's like, in my head, there's a prism. That WDM is a prism, and there's some active stuff or you could do passive. Like, it's possible to do system level thinking about from the micro up to the macro with good approximations that map and you don't really I don't wanna scare people, like, you need to understand all these different things.

You know, it's you can have working approximations, which is what doctors do for the human body and the internet, you know, stuff like that.

Totally agree. Yeah. Okay. Well, and if there are people interested in getting in, please pay ping feel free to ping Grant or myself, Grant. How can people how can people reach you and and read about unit files as well? Yeah. I would just, say our website, you know, tusc global dot com.

My, email phone is all all right there for anybody that wants to reach out anytime.

Cool. So I'm Avi friedman. This is network a f. You can find me on LinkedIn, Twitter, avi friedman. I'm avi at pintech dot com.

And, you can find network a f, by gluing it. It has a site. And on a different podcast that you can, download and like.

Grant, thanks for being on, and, look forward to continuing to, see what you build in the infrastructure space and beyond. Thanks, Harvey. Nice. Nice chatting with you. Really appreciate it.

Got a guest?

Network AF is accepting guests for upcoming episodes. If you’d like to be on the podcast or refer a friend, reach out to

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.
We use cookies to deliver our services.
By using our website, you agree to the use of cookies as described in our Privacy Policy.