BIG INTERVIEW: Carl Grivner, Colt Technology Services
Carl Grivner was an early pioneer of SDN during his time at Pacnet. He again has fierce ambitions for the next-generation technology at his new company Colt Technology Services, where he is soon to become CEO.
"I love talking about SDN,” opens Carl Grivner, who presently serves as EVP of network at Colt Technology Services and on January 1 2016 will take over as CEO. It is clear within minutes of our interview that he truly does.
Grivner first began championing SDN in 2013 during his time as CEO of Pacnet. Taking charge of the company in 2012, he set about revolutionising Asia’s largest privately-owned subsea cable network, culminating in the launch of a landmark SDN platform in February 2014.
The Pacnet Enabled Network (PEN) was one of the earliest and largest examples of how SDN can radically change the way carriers can provision and manage network services. Later that year, Pacnet was sold to Telstra for almost $700 million and Grivner went on to join Colt in May 2015.
Interest in SDN, meanwhile, has exploded in the market over the last 12 months. There has been an abundance of SDN-related news and announcements from major carriers as each attempts to gain a competitive advantage in the market.
What has changed in 2015 for the technology to gain such traction? “I think over the last 12 months, SDN has moved very fast. A lot of the vendors are pushing it and everyone is wanting to show off their shiny new toy,” he says.
“The traditional hardware guys realise they need to be in this business as well. Once you start to introduce SDN and start emulating certain things over servers, it really changes their business. That shift has caused a lot more exposure, brought more ideas and a lot more carriers are now starting to embrace this as a reality.”
As a result, Grivner is even stronger in his conviction that SDN can truly transform the wholesale market. “I see it as a major business model change for the wholesale telecoms community. It fundamentally changes the relationship with the customer and the overall use of the network assets, the likes of which we haven’t seen ever before,” explains Grivner.
He believes SDN will enable networks to act more like a cloud product, providing a flexibility and capability that hasn’t even been fully realised yet: “It creates a degree of flexibility with the network and gives you a virtual capability to reach in and use another wholesale provider’s network.”
The talk of Europe
If Pacnet were one of the early trailblazers of SDN in Asia-Pacific, then AT&T have certainly picked up the title in North America. “I spent time understanding the AT&T strategy and I applaud what they’re doing. They’re certainly on the right roadmap,” says Grivner.
SDN announcements have also been coming thick and fast in Europe, and Grivner believes the region is on par with its transatlantic colleagues.
“In Europe, I have spent a lot of time with customers on the wholesale and enterprise side and SDN is the hot topic right now. Some of the big carriers are developing this capability, and are interested in seeing how they can integrate their networks or bring together different capabilities,” he says. “I don’t know if the European carriers are as visible as the US carriers but trust me there is a lot of work going on with SDN capabilities.”
The drive towards SDN, says Grivner, is initially being led by service providers rather than demand from enterprises. He believes enterprises are yet to fully understand how SDN could benefit their businesses, particularly in terms of how they can upgrade or downgrade bandwidth according to peak periods of the day.
“I think it’s a little early on the enterprise side. I think they are still sorting through the applications they can use this for,” he says. “The introduction of network functions virtualisation (NFV) hasn’t been discovered fully yet.”
In the finance sector, for example, NFV could be utilised for firewalling in the future. Grivner believes much is yet to be explored, adding that enterprises are “always going to urge a bit of caution until they try it out”.
Strength in data centres
The interview took place on the same day Colt launched its first major SDN offering. Colt launched its SDN and NFV enabled Novitas platform in early October, with an initial service offering focusing on data centre connectivity. DCNet as-a-service is designed to enable on-demand data centre interconnect services across Europe via a self-service portal
“We are very excited to have released our full version of it today. And we are going to start moving into beta with some prominent carrier and enterprise customers over the coming months,” says Grivner. The operator has taken major strides to extend its data centre footprint in the last year. In November 2014, it acquired Asian network and data centre service provider KVH for €130.3 million.
The move landed the European operator with a footprint of nine data centre facilities across Asia, including Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea, as well as access to KVH’s Information Service Platform which serves the ICT services market. It has also further enhanced Colt’s ability to serve multinational enterprise customers.
Building on this, Colt went onto launch a data centre interconnection solution in June 2015, which it claims fast tracks access to key European and Asian hubs. DCNet will initially be available in Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Paris and Zurich. The service has been designed to enable the rapid provisioning of 100Mbps and up to 10Gbps connections, with wholesale and enterprise customers said to be able to activate services in five working days.
DCNet’s self-service portal is initially available for data centre interconnect services in 57 third party data centres in London, Paris and Frankfurt. This capability will be extended to over 150 data centres across Europe and Asia-Pacific early in 2016. It is said to offer service deployment in a matter of minutes, offering up to 10Gbps bandwidth. “Our customers now have the tool to move the network capability around,” says Grivner.
The launch of DCNet as-a-service is just the first step in the roll-out of the Novitas platform, which will be extended into Asia in the first quarter of 2016.
Next year, Colt also plans to leverage its SDN-based network to enable connections between data centres, customer sites and cloud service providers, including APIs to provision services across third-party networks.
Grivner says it was critical for Colt to begin laying the SDN foundations for future service offerings: “These will be new products, services, interfaces and capabilities, then within a certain period of time, there is going to be a significant transformation of the business and how we interact with customers,” he says.
“The whole philosophy is ensuring that we take this in bite size chunks and then we look forwards in terms of services and products.”
There is a much larger long term vision at play, however: “I want to drive the customer experience to a whole new level that has never been seen before in terms of overall capability. The end result is that you are not only going to see a technology movement in terms of SDN, but a transformation in terms of telcos and customer experience,” says Grivner.
He is also keen to emphasise how SDN is an industry-wide transition and that the true benefits will be realised by carriers sharing network capabilities: “It will also be critical to see who is in your ecosystem and how to use your interface and their capabilities too,” adds Grivner.
Priorities in 2016
An industry veteran, Grivner has a strong track record as a CEO who transforms businesses. Before his tenure at Pacnet, he was CEO of XO Communications, where he shifted the business from a local exchange carrier to a national carrier, growing revenues over 50%.
Now an entirely new challenge awaits him in Europe, where he will take over from Rakesh Bhasin as CEO of Colt in January. The appointment ends Bhasin’s nine year tenure at Colt, and Grivner is quick to commend the work of his departing CEO: “He’s very well known in the industry and a gentleman. I’ve enjoyed working with him. I will welcome his advice and counsel as we enter the new year and he has made the transition extremely easy,” he says.
Grivner has three priorities waiting for him when he assumes his new role in 2016. The first, he says, is to simplify the business from a process perspective. The second is to build on the launch of Novitas with further innovation: “Once we simplify the business, then we can look at how we can continue to innovate with new products and services,” he says.
Finally he is aiming to grow revenues: “Over time you are going to see us move to a much stronger sales and marketing position in our regions. Getting closer to our customers on a local level but providing them with global capabilities,” he says. “I think there is an opportunity to grow our business and focus on the sales and marketing more and more.”
Targeting revenue growth, particularly in Europe, is no mean feat. How competitive does he think wholesale telecoms is right now?
“When Colt first came on the scene, it was an aggressor and the new kid on the block. We have come a long way, but I want to go back to that entrepreneurial spirit when we started the company,” he says. “The market is competitive, but by focussing on customer experience and innovation – through better products, services, pricing and flexibility – I think we can drive towards growth."