The Silicon Review
With a few million dollars in startup venture capital financing, we set out to develop and demonstrate what critics said was impossible: Gerald Ramdeen
A slow Internet connection can cost real dollars, putting stress on your business. According to a survey, businesses lose 38 hours worth of productivity per employee each year due to slow Internet access and IT downtime.
Think about the cost of that to your business. Assume each employee averages $15.00 per hour. At 38 hours lost per employee, that amounts to a $570 annual loss per employee. If you are Walmart with more than 2.3M employees, you’ve lost $1.3B annually.
And that just counts the lost employee time. It doesn’t include other costs of a slow Internet connection that put stress on your business, including the disruption to sales.
But having a connection that is fast and free of constant interruptions can limit that stress and help you focus on what’s really important – growing your business.
Luxcore Inc., an optical networking company, developed ethernet switch/routers and optical internetwork-ing solutions for broadband access and metro networks. It offered multifunction access switch routers for high-speed Internet, video streaming, virtual LAN, VPN, transparent LAN services, VoIP, transparent VLAN services, TDM telephony services, and cellular backhaul applications. The company now focuses exclusively on photonic wavelength switches and optical routers for wavelength services, time of day bandwidth, and bandwidth on demand applications; and multi-optical channel semiconductor optical amplifiers for wavelength conversion, amplification, and switching applications across the core Internet backbone.
Luxcore was incorporated in 1999 and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. It has additional offices located in New York and Dubai.
Gerald Ramdeen, Luxcore, Inc Founder/Chairman/CEO, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.
Why was the company set up? And how did you expand your company and its offerings over the years?
Fiber-optics were first introduced into commercial telecommunications networks in the 70’s and for nearly two decades later, the fundamental technology approach to building the chips, systems and components to enable these high-speed networks that make up today’s Internet, had not really changed much. The degree of innovation experienced by the electronics semiconductor industry, starting with companies like Texas Instruments and Intel had not been adapted to optical semiconductors the fundamental building block element of all-optical switching & transport systems. From an economic perspective, big telecom companies like WorldCom, Level (3) and Global Crossing were spending hundreds of millions of dollars building out early fibre-optic networks, globally. There was an oligopoly – or rather, a few suppliers of the enabling technology. They were the big guys: Nortel Networks and Lucent Technologies. Here was the enormous opportunity! Advancements in photonic technologies were taking place in places like Stanford that were not being commercialized. If we could advance the rate of innovation in photonics (optical semiconductors) in much the same manner as that achieved in the electronics semiconductor industry, we could significantly bring down the cost of building and deploying high-speed fibre-optics networks, reducing the cost to telecommunications services providers and consumers of Broadband Services alike! By introducing “all-optical” switching into the enabling technology, we could enable the world’s fastest and most secure fibre-optic networks. Thus, the idea of Luxcore was born.
How successful was your first project roll on? Share the experience.
I recruited and hired some of the brightest engineering minds of Lucent, Bell Labs, Nortel, Fujitsu and Alcatel to build a new kind of optical switching system with advanced photonic technologies having its origins from some of the brightest minds in academia at the Stanford University Center for Novel Optical Materials (CNOM). In the spring of 2001, at the Optical Fiber Conference, Anaheim, CA, we introduced our Generation 1 system – the Luxcore LamdbdaRouterTM – the world’s first all-optical switching, routing & transport system built with an advanced Photonic Integrated Circuit at its core. At a demonstrated speed of 1.6 Terabits per second (Tps) in a single system, it was arguably the world’s fastest core router designed to become the “work horse” of the global Internet backbone. We shipped nearly our entire test lab to the show, leased circuits to the show floor, ran live demonstrations and announced customer traction with Beta customers. Luxcore was 2001’s big award winner at OFC. The year before, in 2000, the company that won the same accolades and awards was Xros. In March of 2000, Xros was acquired by Nortel Networks for $3.25B USD. Yes, I would say our first project roll was pretty successful.
Realizing what we had accomplished as a team of approximately 125 of the brightest minds in the fields of materials science, electrical, mechanical and software engineering and knowing we had the ability to live up to our Mission Statement ‘To Change the Way the World Communicates’ was the most humbling and deeply gratifying experience. We had achieved an amazing feat of engineering that many said could not be proven. We proved them wrong.
What challenges did you face in your initial years? What can your peers learn from it?
When we first introduced our Generation 1 LambdaRouterTM, as mentioned, it was arguably the world’s fastest core router with speeds of up to 1.6Tbs. By May of 2001, it was clear the dot-com and telecom markets had collapsed globally! The Internet was not growing as fast as many speculated. There was a lot of unused fiber assets in the ground and major telecommunications services providers and network equipment providers alike started to collapse. Literally, in the blink of an eye, our market had disappeared. When markets collapse, venture capitalists close their chequebooks. I was faced with no market for our ground-breaking product, an erosion of VC funding and having to do what to this day, is still probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do as CEO – layoff a significant portion of our engineering staff, good people with families who committed their careers to Luxcore, to get our burn-rate down to match our available capital.
At that same time, the pundits and critics returned. I was told: “You did well with your $10M ‘science experiment’ but you built a product for which a market did not exist! No one would ever need that much bandwidth!” Perhaps, looking back, they may have been right; however, my founding CEO peers should know if you really believe in your vision and have the passion to stay committed, no matter how big the obstacle, you can overcome!
Now here we are today, re-emerging from a long and extended ‘stealth-mode’ having survived a myriad of business, economic, organization and funding challenges – some internal and some factors external beyond my control. Spring of 2001, Apple did not have the iPhone, Netflix, YouTube and Facebook did not exist! According to data from Cisco Systems, by year-end 2012, 640 Terabytes of data crossed the global Internet every 60 seconds. By the end of 2013, that number more than doubled to 1,543 Terabytes (or 1.5 Petabytes) of data crossing the global Internet every 60 seconds with Netflix and YouTube video streaming accounting for approximately half of that traffic every minute! There has been little innovation in the fundamental photonic building blocks that enable today’s optical switches since the introduction of Generation 1, spring 2001. And the competitive landscape has changed dramatically. Nortel Networks, Lucent Technologies and Alcatel no longer exist. The amount of traffic traversing the global Internet has been growing exponentially and with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), driverless cars and 5G wireless, data traffic will continue to grow at a staggering pace for decades to come! Under the most adverse of conditions, we have survived.
More importantly, with our latest design of our forthcoming Generation 2 LambdaRouterTM, what took an entire shelf (system) at 1.6Tbs, we will deliver in a single blade (or ‘pizza box size’ line card).
Technology & Innovation, a perfect fusion. How often do you innovate? Is it only when there is a need in the markets?
I believe the best CEO’s are truly visionaries. Innovators like Steve Job and Elon Musk did not wait for a realized need in the marketplace. If you wait to innovate only when there is a clear need, you’ve already lost the market opportunity. As an example, many people believe machine-learning and AI are new concepts and just now finding market opportunities. During my time as an intern at NASA Langley Research Center in the late 80’s, I was working on Artificial Intelligence (AI) projects. As part of our Generation 2 LambdaRouterTM design initiative, I encouraged our core engineering team early on to think of how our optical routers could become even better and smarter at determining the most optimal routes across a fibre-optic network. It was clear to me then and as now, we must look to machine-learning and AI technology as an integral part of the new design.
As we demonstrated with the Generation 1 LambdaRouterTM, Spring 2001, at Luxcore, we do not sit around and wait for the future. We build it!
What are the factors that make your brand most “innovative” and why?
“Since inception, innovation has always been a part of our corporate culture, something we’ve instilled in all of our teams from engineering to even sales and marketing. Whether it’s small measures to make our customers’ lives more secure productive, we believe in constant change and evolution. It’s how to continually deliver value.” – Dr. Gayle Link, Luxcore Chief Technology Officer. “I believe a key factor that makes our brand most innovative is that we’re not only looking to innovate at the technology level, but also our business model. Truly innovative products should enable new and disruptive business models and we’re doing just that!” – Gerald Ramdeen.
As a question on sustainability, where do you see your company a couple of years from now?
When we first started Luxcore, we were Synchordia Networks – not too exciting as a name. One of our first corporate exercises as a team, we hired a design firm from Silicon Valley to help us create ‘our brand’, starting with a new company name. I remember the day it came down to the final selection and my team said the final decision was mine. I went to the whiteboard, drew a vertical line down through the center and on the left side, I wrote the names ‘Intel, Cisco Systems, Lucent Technologies, Nortel Networks’ and the right side, I wrote the few remaining candidate names, including Luxcore. I asked my team which of the candidate names on the right look like they belong in that list of industry titans to the left. It was obvious to all of us – Luxcore (Lux – latin for light and ‘core’ because what we do redefines the core of the global Internet)! Whereas the names to the left have changed and can easily add innovative companies like Facebook, Tesla, SpaceX and Apple – it’s still clear to us that Luxcore belongs in that group and we aspire to reach that level of accomplishment within the next few years.
Gerald Ramdeen: A Brief Background
Gerald Ramdeen is the founder of Luxcore Networks Inc. and also serves as its Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer. Mr. Ramdeen also serves as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Jedai Networks, Inc. Prior to Luxcore Networks, he co-led the development of Sapient’s global communications, media and entertainment practice consulting to telecom clients including several major telecom carriers. He is an authority on Internet protocols, IP routing and distributed computing, photonic switching and transport systems, micro-kernel operating systems, and advanced packet-switching architectures over ultra high-speed optical fibre-optic networks. Mr. Ramdeen participates in several of the international standards organizations, forums and consortiums helping to establish the next generation of technology standards for convergent voice and data networks.