Martin Casado: Here’s how software-defined networking took over the industry


Software-Defined Networking has finally arrived, says Martin Casado, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, and the networking industry will never be the same.

The pioneer of software-defined networking, the concept of connecting computers through software instead of dedicated hardware, joined Jeff Frick (@JeffFrick) and guest host Scott Raynovich (@rayno) of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile live streaming studio, during the Open Networking Summit last week to provide his take on where the industry is going.

“It’s one thing to have something on the roadmap. It’s another thing to have something planned. It’s another thing to actually start seeing it roll out,” Casado (pictured) said while describing his 10-year journey in bringing SDN to fruition.

This week, theCUBE spotlights Martin Casado as its Guest of the Week.

From inventor to mentor: lessons for tech startups

As a technologist, Casado knew SDN would revolutionize the telecom industry. What he did not account for was the effort it took to change organizational behavior or consumer behavior.

One of the founders of Nicira, a company specializing in SDN and network virtualization, Casado talked about how this decade-long experience had humbled him because even though the company had the technical solution, adoption was slow.

“Even if you have product market fit and even if you have a good technical solution, there is a natural law of market physics that you have to overcome, a moment of inertia that takes probably a decade, certainly five or six years,” he explained.

Keeping the faith that he was solving a real problem, there were moments of deliberation over what was the right solution or the right approach.

“We iterated on that, but I knew there was a real problem here. And with that as a guiding star and a guiding light, we just kept going towards that. And I think that’s why, ultimately, we ended up solving the problem we set out to. It’s just that we took a very crooked path to get there,” Casado said.

VMware Inc., a Dell Technologies company, acquired Nicira in 2012 for approximately $1.2 billion. The company was leading the SDN market and creating virtual network infrastructure and services that were separate from physical network hardware. Casado stayed with VMware until April of last year.

In his new role as a venture capitalist with Andreessen Horowitz, Casado is mentoring startups by teaching them that there is more to building a company than just having the technology. He often tells new entrepreneurs they have two jobs. The first is finding a constituency that is thinking about what you are offering, and the second is to attach a value to it. He described market category and creation as an effort.

“I think the strategic leaders of a startup have to be piped into the nervous system of both. The technology trends and the product market fit. And so, I think it’s really critical to be deeply into both of those things” he said.

The way he views it, the technology trends provide momentum and insight into future adoption. The product market fit serves the purpose of solving customer problems. And the Open Networking Summit helps entrepreneurs find a convergence of both customer needs and the technology developed to serve the market.

Casado believes that in the past there was too much focus on the technology platform. Now he sees the shift to a more customer-centric effort. He suggested an even-handed approach between what customers need and the right technical approach.

It is “products before platforms” when you are a startup, according to Casado. “Customers don’t buy platforms; customers buy products. I think if you focus on the product, you build a viable business, and then for stickiness, you turn that into a platform,” he said.

Open source: proliferation not innovation

The open-source community is an important part of SDN, and Casado has a unique perspective of the value than most. He regards open source as the proliferation of technology and the precursor to customer adoption, placing less value on the innovation.

In a $4 trillion market, Casado perceives that to gain market share right now it is necessary to offer a product as open source or “as a service.” He said that the change from a traditional direct vendor model to the “as a service” model will bring new entrants with new products into the industry.

“I think it’s very important to have open source. I think it’s changing the way people buy things. I think building communities like this is a very critical thing to do, but I do think it’s more about go-to-market and less about innovation,” Casado said.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s independent editorial coverage of Open Networking Summit.

Photo: SiliconANGLE