LIVING ON THE EDGE:
Welcome to Living on the Edge, the network resilience podcast. My guest today is Todd Rychecky, VP of Americas at Opengear. Todd has established himself as a trusted adviser to many IT enterprises over the years with a particular focus on out-of-band management. And he’s seen how the reliability of a corporate network has becoming increasingly critical to business success. Todd, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks, Steve. It’s good to be here.
Good deal. So just to kick off, maybe you can just share some of your background and what originally brought you into the networking industry.
Sure. Thank you. So I started out in the pharmaceutical industry. I worked for a company called Whitmire Distribution. They were out in Sacramento, California. I actually was originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, moved down to Dallas, and that was my first sales job. They were ultimately acquired by a company Cardinal Health, which most people know now. They’re, they’re in Dublin, Ohio, suburb of Columbus.
So in 1991, when I started, they gave me my first laptop, to send internal messages. And the other thing I used it is for is when I was on the roa , I’d plug in to a POTS line and do a daily call in and give them an update via the dialup POTS line, and we were using Lotus Notes back then.
I did that until 1996. 1996, I started again, still in Dallas, I worked for an anesthesia company, selling anesthesia monitors to the operating room – pre-op, interop and post-op. It was a company out of Helsinki, Finland, Datex Engstrom. And so that was, that was real interesting. And that kind of got me into my first kind of glimpse into networking, in that we were trying to create the industry’s first automated record keeper for patient information.
So, we would network all of these monitors from the pre-op station in the operating room and then the post-op station, so that you could collect all the vitals. But the problem was they weren’t networked to the other departments, like ICU and radiologists. So, it was really hard to get that adoption because there were so many touch points and influencers in the decision making process. So, it was a very long sales cycle, and budgeting could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months, because it was typically a pretty large purchase.
Then they acquired a company called Ohmeda, which made the anesthesia machine, which is there in the operating room that, that pumps in the gases to put you to sleep. But when they acquired Ohmeda, we had an overlap in sales reps. And so I was offered a job in Iowa, in Tampa, in Phoenix and a few other locations. And I decided not to take them. I stayed home. I just was getting ready to have a child, so I didn’t really want to move to another city. So I decided to look for a new job.
I found a company by the name of WorldCom, I was just there about six months. And I was selling T1s to the internet, because back then and kind of still today, Dallas was the internet King. And a lot of the traffic ran through Dallas and still does.
So, I’d always worked remote. That was sort of my first office job. And I didn’t like it very much. I needed to go back into a home office environment. And so what happened was, and this gets back to your original question is how did I really get into networking. I was dabbling in it a little bit there at Datex Engstrom. Well, while I was there at WorldCom about four months in I was actually sitting at my desk, having lunch. Most people had gone out to lunch, and the main phone line was ringing. And, it was a great way to get a lead. So, I quickly grabbed the phone and wasn’t expecting much, maybe hopefully a lead. But it was a recruiter. And that recruiter was hunting for a sales position for a company called Perle Systems up in Toronto. And the rest is history.
They were looking for an account executive to sell these products. And he said, “Do you know anybody that could do this job, or that would be interested in this job?” And I said, “Actually I would be.”
So, I’ve been selling serial and network connectivity and out-of-band ever since. And so, it’s kind of a funny way to get a job at that. I was just at the right place at the right time. So that was 1999. And here we are, 2020. So 21 years later.
So, the moral of the story is if, if there’s a phone ringing, pick it up. You never know what might come out of it
Grab it. Grab it. (laughing) Yeah. So, that’s how I got into networking.
Good stuff. Well, it’s interesting, some of the things you talked about there. You mentioned your first job. You’re plugging into a POTS line. And I’m sure you never even knew it was POTS line at that point, and now POTS lines are, in a lot of ways, a thing of the past.
So, you’ve obviously seen a lot of changes in networking, in general, over the years, specifically more in out-of-band management because I know that’s been a large part of your background. Can you just talk through some of those changes that you’ve seen and, and how things have evolved.
When I first arrived at Perle, they, had acquired a couple of companies actually out of the UK, Chase Research and Special X, which made terminal servers, they called them back then, and serial cards. So, I got introduced to the serial world in 1999. It was late ’99 when they started the acquisition of the two companies. But they were using serial cards to plug into, really POS equipment. That’s where we did a lot, in kiosks. And they were little DB9 connectors and DB5 connectors that were plugged into server slots, PCI slots on servers. And these cards and these modules and these concentrators could scale up to like 256, 512 devices into a single server. And I always made the joke that sort of invented the truck roll because (laughing) you’ve got 200, 300, 400 devices attached to one server. And all it takes is a little problem. And you’ve got a lot of devices that are down. And, you’ve got to go out and, and get to them.
But, what started happening was people wanted to no longer plug these serial cards into servers, they wanted to plug them into the network. And so in the early days, it was 10 BASE-T LAN interface. And they started calling them terminal servers because they were plugged into POS terminals, initially. And so that’s kind of where that name came from. And as the dotcom buildout was happening a lot of the terminal servers were attached to Sun servers. And in about 2000, people started referencing and referring to terminal servers as console servers because we were plugging into the console on a Sun SPARC server.
So they started using an HTTPS interface and the internet to actually get to these devices versus the way they were doing it in the past. So, the first decade in 2000, we, we worked with a lot of Sys Admins that was really the target prospect for us, and who was using our console server for out-of-band access to these serial ports. And all of them were doing it, using Linux. They preferred the operating system. that was one of the first questions I would get asked when I was at Perle is, “Are you guys Linux? Are you open source? Can I get access to the Linux prompt?” Well, we were proprietary. I think we ran on Linux, but we made it proprietary. We’d kind of locked it up. So they couldn’t really get to the shell and do the things they wanted to do with it.
So, what I started seeing as I was going to trade shows and talking to more and more people by 2006, more of the out-of-band requirements started shifting to the network engineer. And he wanted out-of-band access to something different. He didn’t really want access to servers, he wanted access to his routers and switches and firewalls. So, this went on for a couple of years. And I brought this to Perle’s attention. And I think they came out with a rolled pinout to make it a little bit easier for the network engineer to plug in. I was kind of looking for more of a straight through pinout.
So, when I started at Opengear, they were exclusively, for the most part, a data center hardware company. And we would go to shows like LinuxWorld and NANOG, and LISA. Those were the go-to shows back then for that crowd. And we started getting a lot more inquiries. And I brought this to our founders here at Opengear. They wanted internal storage. They wanted TFTP servers. They didn’t want a Cisco rolled pinout. They wanted a Cisco straight. It was more convenient for them.
And so we started to transition our products at Opengear to be more Cisco compatible, so that you can not only plug into the Cisco very simply, but also Juniper and Arista and Palo Alto. They all have the exact same console port pinout. That’s sort of an industry standard today. The thing that was really big though, when it comes to out-of-band and the history of it is, in 2010, I called him the father of cellular out-of-band. That’s Tony Meranda. He actually came up with the idea of using the cellular network for out-of-band and getting away from POTS lines.
So in 2010 we pioneered it. And we took it to market. And it was the world’s first 3G cellular out-of-band management solution. And it was pretty cool to talk about. I mean it was a fun thing to talk about. you’re not talking about phone lines anymore, you’re talking about something new and innovative. A different way of doing things. And so we announced it at this Avaya Connect trade show down in Florida. I think it was Orlando. Myself and Jared Mallett at the time, who was here. And, we told all the press and the analysts. We wrote a press release. And I was calling them, trying to get them to the booth because we were trying to show them this new way, this revolutionary way of doing out-of-band management. And we were going do it using the cellular network. So, “Come by the booth and see a live demonstration” is what we were telling everyone. And the funny thing is we couldn’t get it to work.
So, I don’t know if it was because of the building or if it was because AT&T wouldn’t let us on their network. But it was so new, we were troubleshooting it, trying to figure it out. But then, I guess the moral of the story is, we still won Best to Show. And we won Best to Show because even though we couldn’t get it to work, our story was really good and people liked it. And they looked forward to actually bringing it to market.
So, in those early days in the data center, 3G was, was… people were skeptical of it, I think because of the cellular reception. Everyone’s like, “Well, can I get reception,” 10, 15 years ago, if you think about it, you could be in your house, and you may not get a cell signal, or you can be in certain, pockets of the city and not get a cell signal. Now, it’s more ubiquitous than it was then. Those were the problems, they were dead zones.
So, we learned a lot about it, in the early days. And so what people started doing is they start putting up repeaters in the data centers, so that you would have a little better signal in there. And that worked. So, three years later, we released 4G LTE in our flagship product. And we started seeing a lot more cellular, adoption in the data center. I think, when we went to 4G faster speeds, we could start talking about failover, things like that. And we started to market our products differently in 2014, 2015, how people are using them and, went beyond just out-of-band management.
It was, it was more about network resilience. I mean before we talked about network resilience, it was about making sure that your network stayed up even when the network was down, or you could get to your network even when the network was down. So the whole idea of the products being smart, you could talk about that now because you were using cellular. It was an IP interface. You could get alerts. You could get text messages and emails. And, you can’t get any of that with a POTS line. So, there’s nothing really proactive going on there. And that’s really, really critical.
As we look at today, at the edge, where a lot more of the compute is located, you need to have that proactive monitoring and alerting and being able to remediate without doing a truck roll. And so today, we install a lot of our products in retail locations, banks. And, failover was… is very, very important for them. So, today, we see our products used much differently, although everyone’s using cellular, and we’ll probably be doing 5G here shortly, I would imagine, in the next year or two. But the customers that use our products today are very sophisticated in how they’re using them. And they’re using them for zero touch provisioning, and they’re wanting to launch to their own devices. So want to use our products to zero touch provision, Cisco routers and switches. And they want to use this for the orchestration and the provisioning. And they also want the remote access in the out-of-band. It’s not number one. It- it, it’s sort of number three or number four in, in terms of priority.
So it’s interesting how that the product over time has evolved. And today, I call it zero touch network management because that’s really what it is. We’re trying to get to devices remotely. We don’t want to touch anything. We’re in this pandemic. So, people are more reluctant to touch things, touch people. And so, why not network management or network devices as well? So we can do that. We can allow you to manage your network, zero touch. So that’s the history of out-of-band as it is.
When I started this, I kind of make the joke to some of the people I’ve talked to over the years about how in 2000, 2001, 2002, I was going to trade shows, and everybody I talked to, the system administrators would say, “Oh, that’s interesting.” “Oh, yeah, another terminal server, another console server.” And “Yeah, you plug it into the serial port.” We talked about it, and they‘d say serial ports are going away. And, and I’ll never forget I came home from this one trade show in San Francisco and told my wife, I said, “I talked to three people and they all told me the same thing that serial points are going away. Did I make a big mistake?” (laughs)
I’m here to tell you they haven’t gone away, and, we’ve had record sales now for 13 years in a row. And, it seems to be the best way to get into a locked up device still. It’s better than USB, in my opinion. And, we talk about it being the old faithful because it’s always there, very reliable, never changes. So, network administrators still use it to this day.
So, the obituary was a little premature, by the sounds of it.
So, a lot of good things you pack in there. A couple of things I’d like to dig into a little bit more. So you mentioned network resilience, which is a phrase that comes up more and more. And, and actually that’s the name of the podcast. So, just give me some thoughts on, what you’re hearing about network resilience, maybe, what does it mean to you. You’re seeing enterprises, grab on to this idea of network resilience.
So, network resilience is really about meantime to recover, I believe. And you can have redundancy and still not have network resilience. And so, network resilience becomes so important for making sure that your business stays up and you continue to transact. It’s very important to stay competitive as well because if your business is down, your network is down, and that’s not a good story for your shareholders, for your customers, for your business.
So, over the years out-of-band has sort of grown up. And today, we call it an independent management plane. You don’t want to use the network to manage the network, you want an independent management plane to get into the device, separate from all the other traffic. And it’s really an important component of the cloud. People say, “Well, how does Opengear work in the cloud?” Well, we help provision the cloud. So, we help build it out and all the cloud infrastructure. But we also manage the infrastructure in the cloud.
So, back to the network resilience. And the reason we can do that is because we’re already there, and it’s the whole idea of being in that presence and in the proximity of the devices. So it’s a very important part of an organization’s network initiatives, in my opinion because if a router locks up, you can have dual power and dual Ethernet. And that’s fine, but if a router actually locks up in a firmware update, you’re down. So, it doesn’t matter if you have dual power or not. You’re down.
So, in order to have resilience, you need to have this independent management plane to get to these devices when that network is down. So, resilience is business critical. It’s mission critical. You think about it, if there is no network, then you can’t transact. There’s no business going on. And we’ve been able to do a lot. You think about us being at home for the last six months, we’ve still been able to do a lot, and we’ve still been able to transact because of the internet that’s been built out. And a lot of companies have put a resilience strategy in place already, where they have remote access, and this technology strategy, gives them that resilient network, ensures that business continuity. It helps them boost their revenues, and again, like I said, gives them that competitive edge.
And I think the global pandemic has brought a lot of these things to life, you know? The people that don’t have it, wish they did, and the people that have it are glad they do. And so, we’re seeing a lot of pent-up demand to add network resilience to their network strategy. And a lot of people are working from home. And not only the general population within an organization, but the people that are running the network are working from home as well.
I know people that can’t actually get into the data center. We talk about this on calls with different customers. And the only way to get into that data center is through an Opengear. So I think that’s what you’re going to see more and more of over time, where people are going to try to do more with less. And we’ve talked about that for a long time, but they’re also going to try to do more remotely. And I think that goes for the NetOps teams, the DevOps teams, the IT teams. All of them are looking at ways to have secure remote access to the devices remotely.
So this idea of the independent management plane, is that something that you see becoming more important as companies start developing a NetOps part to their business. They have DevOps and are moving towards the NetOps philosophy. So, is this idea of an independent management plane part of that progression?
Yes, it is. I’ll give you an example. I have a customer, a large social media customer, who has actually started buying our products now, and they will not allow their employees get on airplanes and travel. And this is a team of DevOps, NetOps teammates, as well as the IT department. And they want to use our product to bring up a data center for example in Germany. Then, what they want to do is send a unit with its configurations on it, and they want to connect it up over the cellular network, and they want to download their configurations using Lighthouse. So, they do this through a cellular independent management plane. Another important part of this for those teams is a Trusted Platform Module, we call it the TPM chip. And they can load all their configurations on it and ship it to Germany, and not worry about if it gets mishandled by some rogue person or gets lost in their configuration. Imagine if it’s someone like Google. That would be problematic.
So they can take this, and they can provision the entire stack of switches remotely once the connection is made and is plugged into with some standard CAT5 patch cable. So, the OM in this case, the Operations Manager that we sell is business critical. It brings up new services. And that’s really important at the edge. And it also manages the ones that they have. And a lot of this started back years ago.
You think about SD-WAN. It’s sort of the same thing. They’re doing a lot of the decoupling of the hardware and the software. But years ago, and, and it was like 2010 or 2011, 2012, I was at an InterOp show, and, and I donated some hardware to the Open Flow lab, which originally – the Open Networking Foundation – was the original software-defined networking standard. and it was like version 1.1. And so I donated some hardware to this. And also a software developer. And a lot of the benefits of this SDN back then was the programmability. But also the decoupling of the hardware and the software and the control plane and the forwarding, and it sounds familiar – that’s kind of what SD-WAN is today.
So, we learned a lot from that experience about the technology and the architecture. Some of the overlays, how you prioritize the data. And I had a software engineer with me, a real smart one that’s still here at Opengear named Peter Hunt. And I went up to him. And I said, “Peter, this SDN looks really disruptive to our business, potentially, maybe the future. What are they doing with the product?” And Peter’s response was, “There is way too much traffic on the production network to make config changes and software updates. And you can’t fine tune the switches and, and routers either.” So ideally, you want to do this through the serial port on the management LAN. And again, this gets back to the independent management plane. So, this was going on even 10 years ago. That’s how they used it. and he said, that’s the best way to do it.
So Opengear was really there when the SDN revolution all started. And it was sort of the beginning of that. I mean, they called it out-of-band back then, but it was really an independent management plane to get to these devices, that was separate from the production network. Now, on SD-WAN installs today with customers, they use it the same way. But they also use it for failover. So, if something goes down, the SD-WAN router goes down, we can bring the remote site back up over the cellular network but also fine tune those routers and switches.
That makes a lot of sense. I can see that. So let’s change tacks a little bit. You made a comment that a lot of the network engineers now are working from home. They can’t get on a plane to go remediate. It also means for you as a sales professional, you can’t get on a plane and go meet with customers, right? So, that must be a shock to the system. You probably haven’t set foot in an airport for six months, (laughs) so how does that change your approach or the approach of your teams in terms of either working with existing customers or maybe even talking to some folks that are interested in an Opengear solution?
Right. So the pandemic, the protests, violent protests, forest fires, I mean, we’ve had just about everything in 2020. (laughing)
And it has been quite a year. And we’ve adjusted well, I think. We’ve achieved our sales targets now for three consecutive quarters. Everyone’s working hard in the sales department and marketing and product management to do this, and in tech support. And everyone has a really great attitude. And there’s lots of fight. They want to do it, they want to make it happen, they want to achieve their numbers, and they’re pushing really hard to achieve those sales targets. But the sales team, except for the inside sales team, was remote before the pandemic. And I hired them all remotely, they live all over the country. Managing a remote sales team is slightly different in that most of the updates and customer interactions are remote. So, the sales cycle has changed somewhat. We do a lot of social selling now. We’re using different tools to reach customers and prospects – video, LinkedIn, webinars, some virtual events. So those types of things are changing. But the reality is they’re sales people, and they’re getting stir crazy. (laughing)
So, they want to go to trade shows, they want to be back out there. They want to see people in person. They want to go to dinner. and so basically the reality is that we’re supporting each other through all this. There is some frustration not being able to see people right now. But they know this will pass. Everything passes. And so we’re just supporting each other and trying to stay focused on the important things, and that’s achieving the 2020 number.
I think a lot of us are struggling with this idea of having, basically, not left the spare bedroom or office in six months, when we used to be out and about.
But a lot of changes. Who knows what’s coming up next? So on that theme, we all learn from these things, but we also learn from people we’ve come into contact in the past. Anyone you want to give a hat tip to? A mentor, an influencer, somebody that’s helped you in your career, and you just want to give a shout out to?
Sure. I’ve given a shout out to a few people over the years. And the one guy I haven’t, and I need to, and I’m going to do it today is Bob Waldie. I learned a lot from Bob. It was a five-person company when we started Opengear. And so, I learned how to bootstrap a startup from him, how to take an idea. And that’s really all we had at the time, a couple of students. We started with less than 10 SKUs. But how to take an idea and to market.
And it’s very valuable. I mean we had an open source infrastructure management solution. We took that to market. We took 3G out-of-band management to market, and then 4G out-of-band management failover to market. And the thing that was really important through all this is he gave me the freedom to use my instincts to grow the business. And I really appreciate that, you know. Not a lot of people will do that. They want to grab a hold and tell you everything to do and how to do it. And, he was more hands off, but would provide feedback.
It was a very invaluable experience for me. So I really appreciate everything that he’s done. And hopefully, I can get back down to… Well, actually, I’ve never been to Australia. But hopefully, I can get to Australia and see him again because I would love to see the Opengear office down there and even his ranch. So, that who I’d say. He been a great mentor.
Good deal. So, when you can get back on an airplane, it sounds like you can be heading down under for a while.
Yeah, that’d be fun.
Sounds good. Obviously, a lot of people who listen to this are trying to learn more about what’s going on with networking. Where do you go to keep up with the latest? Any particular websites or podcasts? Where do you go to keep up on things?
Some of my go-to publications that I follow, and I share articles on LinkedIn, are Network World SDxCentral, Data Center Knowledge, ZDNet, WIRED and TechCrunch. Those are my go-to publications. I follow a couple podcasts. One is my son’s. I follow him. (laughs) It’s called the Big Brain Hour, a little plug there.
I also follow Packet Pushers. They’re one of the biggest networking podcasts in the world. And last I saw, they were number one. they cover everything, and they’re really good. Greg Ferro over there and Ethan Banks, I’ve known them for, for quite a while. And Drew, who I haven’t met yet, Drew Conry. But great podcasts. And that’s the one I follow. My wife likes to listen to books on podcast. So I’m in different things like that. So, I, I think I need to up my game there and, and follow a few more because it’s a great way to go for a walk and learn something.
I’m with you. The tough part is there’s so many out there, right? It’s finding the right ones to follow.
Well, thanks, Todd. This has been very interesting. You’ve given us a good background to what’s going on out there in the world of network resilience. For anybody that’s interested in getting in touch with you or following what you’re up to what’s the best place for people to find you?
You can find me on LinkedIn. You can send me an InMail. That’s a great way to get a hold of me and/or you can email me at email@example.com.
That’s great. And we’ll put that in the show notes as well.
Todd, it’s always nice to catch up with you. Thanks for taking some time to talk with us on Living on the Edge podcast.
Yep. Great show, Steve. Thank you.