A conversation with Bill Burns the CEO of Spirent Communications

Testing is moving to wifi and wireless carriers.

This week we are chatting with Bill Burns the CEO of Spirent Communications in our executive conversation. I would like to thank my most favorite Global Public Relations Manager for Spirent Communications Sailaja Tennati, for working on this interview for me over the last few months. 

Where is the market when it comes to your product technology and where do you still see growth?

There's no doubt that cloud computing and the mobile Internet are two areas where the industry is experiencing significant growth.  For the cloud, testing plays a critical role in ensuring the Quality of Service (QoS) of cloud infrastructures as well as the Quality of Experience (QoE) across cloud services. This has led Spirent to develop new test methodologies for the cloud that validate performance, availability, security and scalability. 

Within the mobile Internet space, service providers need to control costs, enable new services and support new business models in the face of rapidly-increasing data traffic. So the deployment of 4G LTE wireless technology is underway as is the move toward a single converged IP network.  We're working with device and network equipment manufacturers who understand the importance of testing and the need for a comprehensive verification process during the design, development, and deployment phases of these complex converged systems, where performance and scalability are key factors.

Spirent has been a leader in Ethernet and IP testing since the SmartBits product family two decades ago, and Spirent TestCenter continues to push the envelope as the most complete, flexible platform for Ethernet testing.

ceo spirent

Who do you see as your biggest competitor and why?

While Spirent has competitors in all of our of market segments, there is no single company which offers the breadth and depth of test solutions available from Spirent.  Spirent's comprehensive solutions portfolio and geographically-diverse customer base are strengths of Spirent and are un-matched by any of our competitors.

Where do you see your product expanding to next and what new options will you add to the current product?

Spirent has always been on the forefront of emerging technologies and continues to deliver solutions that test products well in advance of their commercial introduction. For example, when products for IPv6 and 100G were in the design phase, customers were using our solutions to help validate their offerings.

While testing components in isolation is certainly important, it's only when complete solutions are stressed at scale under controlled, real-world conditions that actual performance can be fully understood. This is particularly true of today's converged network equipment. For this reason, we continually invest in approaches that provide our customers with the most realistic test scenarios possible, providing the ultimate re-creation of complex and dynamic environments.

I know many readers would like to hear where your products compete with other vendors. So if you could, by product, please tell us which vendor product it competes against and why you think yours are a better value.

While we have competitors within all of our individual market segments, there isn't a single vendor who offers a similar breadth of solutions.  As a result, network equipment manufacturers, mobile device suppliers and service providers continue to turn to Spirent as we provide a holistic means of addressing and ultimately solving their testing challenges. For example, by offering a complete understanding of a wide variety of components in a multi-play services environment, Spirent provides a compelling reason for potential customers to work with us rather than multiple test vendors who may only have a limited grasp of some aspects of such a scenario.

With the convergence of mobile and fixed broadband networks, we've responded to our customers' evolving needs by combining our Landslide mobile core and Avalanche application test solutions onto the Spirent TestCenter hardware platform, delivering a unique value proposition to the market. In fact, at a public event earlier this year we demonstrated the 180 Gbps capabilities of this mobile core test solution - an industry first.

Another example of our leadership is the introduction of our HyperMetrics mX 40/100G Ethernet module for Spirent TestCenter. This supports 2 ports of 100G or 4 ports of 40G Ethernet on a single module while increasing emulation scale and realism compared with our previous generation of modules. It takes advantage of our Cloud Core technology to emulate multi-protocol network topologies with millions of data flows at line-rate 40/100G Ethernet speeds, giving us unique test abilities for ultra-high scale multi-terabit datacenter fabrics as well as core and edge routers.

So while we have competitors, Spirent continues to be a leader in each of the markets we serve.

Do you see consolidation in the market place or more companies starting up in this space?

The market is actually experiencing a bit of both. Consolidation remains a natural part of business evolution, especially as technologies mature. At the same time start-ups continue to emerge, particularly with the excitement and buzz surrounding cloud-related trends and applications.

Let's talk about the cloud, what is Spirent doing in the cloud now? How are you helping large cloud providers manage their service by using your product?

Although many companies have had some involvement with cloud for several years, the scale and scope has certainly advanced much more recently. And the high-profile cloud attacks we've seen in the last 12 months have only raised concerns about security.

Spirent has been working with cloud and data center infrastructure vendors as well as providers to validate the performance, availability, security and scalability of solutions that are used to create the various components of the cloud.  We call it the PASS methodology.  

We were first to introduce a cloud security testing solution to market and are working with enterprises as well as cloud service providers to ensure that their cloud infrastructure and services are prepare for myriad of breeches, denial of service attacks and other cyber security vulnerabilities.  We have solutions for testing LAN and SAN convergence, high speed Ethernet performance and virtualized software on virtual machines, which allow a wide range of organizations to gain a complete end-to-end picture of what to expect.   

Let's talk green. Many companies talk about it but they really don't do it. Can you tell us what Spirent is doing to be environmentally friendly and how customer can save money in this way?

Spirent takes an environmentally-aware approach to product design. With the industry's highest performance per port, our test systems enable engineers to do more while utilizing less power. Furthermore, with Spirent TestCenter supporting enhanced application performance and security testing as well as mobility testing for 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE we help reduce the number of test tools required in a development lab.

The introduction of a number of new testing tools also helps to further demonstrate the positive impact Spirent is having on the environment. Spirent TestCenter Virtual, for instance, provides a means to gain unsurpassed visibility into the entire data center infrastructure through a software module that resides on a virtual machine. It extends and complements the capabilities of Spirent TestCenter to accurately benchmark and optimize performance of virtual server switches and cloud-based virtualization, ultimately saving power.

With Spirent TestCenter HyperMetrics neXt modules, powered by Intel's latest processor technology combined with the Spirent TestCenter Cloud CoreTM architecture, test engineers gain the highest-performing, scalable and energy efficient solution available for testing networks and applications.  Spirent's latest generation of test modules consume 25 percent less energy than previous generations.

And because of its density, test engineers can validate more advanced services for more subscribers, maximize ROI, utilize test resources optimally, and expand test coverage without expanding the test equipment footprint and power required.

Right now we are at 10gbps, moving to 100gbps and beyond. Where do you see Spirent moving to and how fast?

Yes, and the Terabit age is just around the corner! The challenge of high speed Ethernet networks extends from moving bits at 100 Gbps per link to handling billions of frames and Terabits of traffic on the network, all while maintaining quality of service and experience. We continue to push the envelope in this area and are adding features and functionality to test the next 100G requirements.

Today, 100G network equipment vendors are moving beyond simply validating the lower layers of chipsets to ensuring higher-layer functionality.  Recently, Spirent tested Alcatel-Lucent's 400Gpbs network processor. Testing performance with realism at scale is a major factor in why Spirent is consistently selected to test next-generation solutions.

What is the one question when meeting with potential customers that you get the most and why?

We frequently are asked from potential customers about we can help them maximize their investment in test equipment and improve their testing productivity. With our recent acquisition of Fanfare, we are positioned more strongly than ever to further improve our customers' efficiencies through automation,   find ways to optimize their test infrastructure and enable them to get to market with a quality product ahead of their competitors.  

Many vendors I talk to bring up customer purchasing terms, many have moved from 15-30 days to 60-90 days. Do you think this is getting out of hand or is the power in the customer hands?

We really have not seen any change in customer behavior in this area. The need for world class test equipment is very real and companies are still seeing significant value in our solutions.

Do you see Spirent doubling in sales within five years?

The growth trends in data communications which we saw in 2010 have largely continued through 2011 and we believe these represent long term trends within our industry. We continue to invest in product development, sales and marketing to expand into new markets and drive sustainable profitable growth while maintaining underlying operating margins.

We also see increased demand for more rigorous, secure and complex testing capabilities to meet the demand for cloud computing, proliferation of smartphones, mobile location based and voice/data/video services, network expansions and upgrades in 3G and 4G/LTE, and data center virtualization. All these will continue to drive growth at Spirent over the next five years.

What is the biggest misconception about Spirent that people believe or hear?

Well, when people who do not know us first see our name and read it quickly, they wonder if it is a misspelling of a well-known US service provider!

Seriously, some people know us only for a specific area that they use our solutions to test; they may not have visibility into our entire test solutions portfolio. One example could be someone using our Layer 2 Ethernet test solutions who may not realize that, by applying innovation to the development of our current generation of solutions, we've gone beyond just Layer 2 to include applications and security testing in data center, cloud and virtualized environments. We are also a leading player in mobile infrastructure and device testing.

It has been a while since we have seen some head-to-head testing against your competitors, when will we see more?

Our customers regularly and frequently put Spirent through head-to-head testing. As network equipment converges and, at the same time, expands to include more and more functions at an ever-increasing scale, it has become increasingly important for both our service provider and enterprise customers to select the right test equipment supplier.

I encourage your readers to visit Spirent's web site for some specific examples of how Spirent solutions have continued to be the first choice of customers when considering a public test of their products.

If you could partner with one company right now to expand your product line or sales who would it be and why?

Spirent continues to partner with best-in-class organizations to distribute and enhance our solutions. For instance, we work with Anue Systems, a leader in next-generation data communications testing, to offer network emulators which simulate delay and impairments that occur on real-world networks.

Most recently we've partnered with IBM Rational to address the Infrastructure Test Optimization, or ITO, space. Spirent iTest brings integration, automation and collaboration to infrastructure testing, while Spirent TestCenter contributes unsurpassed emulation of real-world scenarios. Combining these with the IBM Rational Quality Manager's full-lifecycle traceability and visibility enables our customers to bring quality products to market faster, significantly reducing business risk.

Spirent remains committed to working with the best companies to deliver the most complete test solutions and partnerships such as these play a role in allowing us to achieve this goal.

iPad, iPhone or Android?

None of the above. I've been a Blackberry user for years.

For personal use, I enjoy the iPad. My family also likes the device as they want to surf the web, play games, as well as watch movies when we travel.

What kind of songs are on your MP3 player?

I don't listen to music very much these days since I'm enjoying time with my family when I'm not working. Nevertheless, my musical taste is quite varied and I listen to all types of music. It really depends on the mood I'm in or the activity I'm doing.

Being an executive like myself you have to have a release. Mine is golf or my handheld satellite radio. What is yours?

Fishing is certainly at the top of my list. I enjoy deep sea fishing but fishing on a river somewhere is just as enjoyable. There's nothing more relaxing then being outdoors.

Fly, drive or train; which would you take the most if you had the chance?

Flying, simply because of the amount of international travel involved in my job. 

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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