Opengear CTO on How to Future-Proof Network Infrastructure


“Cyber threats will always come from the portions of the infrastructure exposed to users, employees and the public internet. If Network Management relies solely on the production network to reach the edge, once the network is compromised, network management is also compromised.”

A series of network innovations has led the shift from legacy Opens a new window WAN to SD-WAN. The market has evolved with virtualization technologies and best-of-breed components overhauling legacy infrastructure. The networking space, traditionally viewed as conservative and slow to change, is seeing a rise of pure-play vendors upending the market with industry-standard technologies that are intelligently solving customer pain paints. Toolbox speaks to Marcio SaitoOpens a new window , Chief Technical Officer, OpengearOpens a new window to gain insights on how the tools required to future-proof network infrastructure, why building network resilience is critical for CIOs and key benefits of NetOps automation.

Key takeaways from this interview:

  • How IoT has created new business models for networking vendors
  • Why CIOs should build networks that can scale to fulfill the growing networking demands
  • How NetOps automation can provide benefits ranging such as remote monitoring and management
  • Long-term trends that will shape networking in the next decade

Here’s the edited transcript of the interview with Marcio Saito:

Tell us about your career path, your role at Opengear and your technological direction that helped the company double revenues and become a Deloitte Technology Fast 500 company?

My career path started as one of the core members of the Cyclades team. Cyclades was a pioneer in using Open Source Software (OSS) for commercial networking products and supporting the Linux kernel development community in the early 1990’s. Later, we had the opportunity to create the first modern console server, a product that became fundamental to manage Internet Data Centers. The company was acquired by Avocent, a publicly-traded company, in 2006, and I became the CTO/VP of Strategy. When Avocent was again acquired by Emerson Electric in 2009, I left and spent eight years back in the entrepreneurship ecosystem (as a consultant, investor, coach, and entrepreneur). In 2016, I joined Opengear, a company that started in 2004 and, over the previous few years, had taken the lead in the Out-of-Band Management segment I started to create. It was a great opportunity to join a focused and driven company and apply my experience helping it grow. My mission was to create and project a vision for the future of OOB to guide future growth.

For someone who has held many executive leadership positions, how has the role of CTO evolved?

Differently from an Enterprise CTO, my role in a technology product vendor is to work with both Marketing and Product Development teams to align internal technology strengths and external market trends. I believe the role of the CTO is changing in the sense that, with very few exceptions, no single company can bring complete solutions to the market base entirely on technologies developed in-house. So, awareness of external market forces and the technology ecosystem around each solution is fundamental.

Learn More: Fortinet Scores a SD-WAN Win With Equinix Opens a new window

SD-WAN has solved many issues in traditional fixed-line WANs and has introduced more flexibility, but is vulnerable to firmware issues, cyberattacks, and breakdown. How does Opengear help organizations future-proof their network infrastructure?

SD-WAN is a great solution for edge connectivity, leveraging SDN technologies to separate the data plane (the switching data paths implemented in hardware) from the control plane (the “intelligence” that routes packets, resident in software running in the cloud). The problem is that a basic SD-WAN deployment still collapses the management plane into the production network. If you manage the edge infrastructure relying on the production network, every time when there is a network disruption, you have a deadlock. Opengear implements a management plane that leverages alternative connectivity (e.g. Cellular LTE) and remains operation independent of the production network. That way you can always reach and manage the edge, even and especially when there are disruptions in the network.

What are the principal cyber threats threatening the critical infrastructure organizations and how is Opengear helping organizations beef up network security?

Cyber threats will always come from the portions of the infrastructure exposed to users, employees, and the public Internet. If Network Management relies solely on the production network to reach the edge, once the network is compromised, network management is also compromised. Because Opengear’s Resilience Platform creates this independent self-healing connectivity between core and edge, organizations facing cyber-threats can feel a lot more confident in their ability to detect, react and neutralize security attacks.

How did Digi International acquisition impact Opengear’s products and solutions for critical IT infrastructure networks and the company’s plans for the future?

Opengear serves 75% of the Fortune 100 and most of our customers are large to mid-size enterprises. Being part of Digi International, a publicly-traded company, raises our credibility. To our customers, it means being able to benefit from the best network management automation platform in the industry, while at the same time, having the confidence Opengear has the resources to continue evolving it to lead the market long-term.

On the market and technology side, Digi International has products focused on IoT and data networking solutionsOpens a new window , so there are plenty of opportunities to bring both the technology components from Digi to accelerate the evolution of Opengear Resilience Platform, as well as to apply Opengear innovations to the IoT market.

The networking industry is going through a major transformation, with virtualization technologies breaking the hold of traditional network equipment vendors. We are moving from vertically integrated solutions from single vendors, into open architecturesOpens a new window with best-of-breed components. There is consolidation happening at the top of the market, but also new exciting smaller companiesOpens a new window that can bring innovation to the networking space, a segment that is traditionally conservative and slow to change.

Learn More: 5G vs. 4G LTE: What You Need to KnowOpens a new window

How does Opengear differentiate its solutions stack from competitors like Cradlepoint, Raritan, Lantronix, Bsquare and Identiv?

Other OOB vendors are treating Console Servers as a cash-cow business. Opengear is the only vendor with a roadmap to expand Out-of-Band Management beyond just connecting human operators to devices at the edge.

Our vision is to extend the reach of other network management systems (e.g. configuration management systems like Cisco DNA Center, SIEM solutions like Splunk, traditional network management systems like SolarWinds) so that the organization can continue to manage the edge even in the event of production network disruptions.

In doing that, Opengear is moving from being a vendor of management appliances, to being an important player in Network Management and Network Automation. Those are areas where there will be a lot of innovation, competition and opportunity in the next few years.

Aside from offering seamless network connectivity through NetOps Automation and Operations Manager OM2200, how is Opengear redefining network resilience for enterprises?

From the technology stand-point, a major change in network management is the need to deploy management agents for monitoring, provisioning, security, telemetry, etc. at the edge of the infrastructure. Containers is the mechanism to do that without being entangled in vendor-specific architectures. NetOps modules are automation solutions developed by Opengear and implemented as containerized applications. The new generation of Opengear appliances OM2200 (Operations Manager) can host not only NetOps modules by Opengear, but any containerized management application by other vendors at the edge of the network infrastructure.

Can you tell us about ongoing projects that may disrupt the network infrastructure solutions market in the coming years?

The idea of extending the reach of Network Management Systems with resilience to the edge of the Network is really key to support the current move to the edge triggered by data-intensive applications (e.g. IoT, AR/VR, video/game streaming, autonomous vehicles). There will be the need for the network management vendors to adapt to that shift and create innovation that extends management in the cloud to the edge. At Opengear, we are working on an Automation Gateway concept that delivers on that promise and we will be making announcements over 2020.

Learn More: 6 Reasons Why Network Monitoring Software Should Be Open SourceOpens a new window

Overall, how has IT infrastructure management changed over the years and why should CTOs pay more attention to upgrading networking gear.

Application of virtualization technologies and the move of IT complexity back to the edge are two long-term trends that have been and will continue to change the shape of networking for the next 10 years. Without automation, IT departments will not be competitive. That has already been the case in application and server infrastructure, but the changes are now hitting Networking, the most conservative silo in IT.

Opengear started off as an open source disruptor. Is the company still offering open-source-based solutions and are there collaborations with the open source community to refine its software products?

Yes. All Opengear products have a high-content of Open Source Software (OSS), and we work closely with the OSS community. Our approach to network management has always been to create horizontal solutions that are vendor-agnostic and leveraging Open Architectures. For example, when we create network provisioning solutions, we use standards-based Zero-Touch Provisioning protocols using DHCP. When we host applications at the edge, we use Docker containers. When implementing orchestration/automation in our solution, we leverage Ansible. We are not reinventing the wheel, but combining industry-standard technologies intelligently to solve complex problems for our customers.

You serve as a guest instructor for the Stanford University SCPD Entrepreneurship Program. Can you discuss the role of academia in training entrepreneurs and business leaders for the future?

A couple of times a year for several years, I’ve served as a guest instructor in the SCPD Entrepreneurship program. Sharing experiences and inspiring entrepreneurs is very important to me. I have always believed in close collaboration between academia, industry users and vendors.

Do you think there is a need for collaboration between corporations and universities to build courses tuned to real-world skills sought by companies?

Yes. Information Technologies goes through these secular pendular cycles where change is incremental and monotonic for years and then we hit turning points where there are disruptions in the trends and quick changes happen in a couple of years. The networking industry is going through those fast-paced changes now because of network virtualization and the change of topology in applications. During those times, collaboration between researchers, vendors and users become more critical.

Can you share how networking has evolved from old school to new school with virtualization and SDx trend taking root? What’s the impact of growth of IoT on networking technologies?

Starting in the early 2010’s, we saw the concentration of IT complexity at the core of the network. POS and inventory control servers in retail, email and voice communication servers in offices all moved to the cloud. At the extreme, all that was left at the edge were network infrastructure and mobile devices.

Starting a few years ago and in the next 10 years, we are seeing the reversal of that trend. New applications generate or consume a large volume of disposable data next to the user. For example, in the past, IoT systems consisted of simple sensors at the edge sampling data (say, location or temperature) and sending that data for processing in servers in the cloud. Future IoT systems will use intelligent sensors managing large volumes of data. An intelligent camera may be able to apply AI pattern detection algorithms to, for example, detect complex events like “detect a police car crossing an intersection.” If you have a camera in every intersection in a city, it will not be viable to stream video to a central location for processing. That intelligence (and the infrastructure to support it) will have to be deployed at the edge, close where the data is produced/consumed.

Learn More: How AI Can Make or Break a Network Monitoring ToolOpens a new window

What, in your opinion, are the major trends in the enterprise networking industry for 2020 and beyond?

The overall technology trend is the application of virtualization. The overall market trend is the move of IT complexity to the edge. The overall operational trend IT managers and strategists need to consider is the imperative of automation. Current practices of managing network infrastructure by relying on direct human-device interaction through a CLI or web interface simply do not scale to satisfy the demands on networking in the future.

About Marcio Saito Opens a new window

Marcio is responsible for product and technology strategy for Opengear. He is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has previously held executive level positions in global technology companies. At Cyclades, he was a pioneer in the Open Source Software movement and helped to establish the concept of out-of-band management for Data Center Infrastructure. Later, as the VP of Strategy for Avocent, he managed product and engineering teams and led the development of one of the first DCIM solutions in the market. He holds a BSEE degree from University of São Paulo.

About Opengear: Opens a new window

Opengear, a Digi International company, delivers secure, resilient access and automation to critical IT infrastructure, even when the network is down. Provisioning, orchestration and remote management of network devices, through innovative software and appliances, enables technical staff to manage their data centers and remote network locations reliably and efficiently. Opengear’s business continuity solutions are trusted by global organizations across financial, digital communications, retail and manufacturing industries. The company is headquartered in New Jersey, with R&D centers in Silicon Valley and Brisbane, Australia. Opengear was acquired by Digi International in December 2019, bringing together two organizations with a deep commitment to providing the best products, software and services that meet the demands of mission-critical networks. Both companies will continue to build and support strong customer relationships.

About Tech TalkOpens a new window :

Tech Talk is a Toolbox Interview Series with notable CTOs and senior executives from around the world. Join us to share your insights and research on where technology and data are heading in the future. This interview series focuses on integrated solutions, research and best practices in the day-to-day work of the tech world.

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