Ciena CEO: We’re not just about service providers

Enterprise data center and cloud connectivity booming, Ciena CEO Gary Smith says

gary smith cienna ceo

For more than 15 years, Gary Smith has been at the helm of Ciena, leading the company through the so-called ‘telecom nuclear winter’ following the early 2000s dot-com bust to its global leadership position today in the optical networking and metro Ethernet markets. In this installment of the IDG CEO Interview Series, Smith talked with Chief Content Officer John Gallant about Ciena’s expanding enterprise business, including its data center connectivity strategy. He also discussed how Ciena is reshaping the portfolio of WAN services for enterprise customers – from the explosion of Ethernet services, to on-demand links and, ultimately, the software-defined WAN. Smith also explored the back-office work and revenue challenges ahead for service providers as big IT shops push for a more dynamic WAN.

You operate in both the service provider and enterprise markets, but let’s focus first on the enterprise space. What do IT leaders need to know about how Ciena makes the world a better place for them?

In simple terms, we virtualize capacity, particularly [for] fiber. We’ve been at the forefront of scaling networks in the broadest sense so that we can deliver to the enterprise, mobile backhaul and the consumer space enormous amounts of capacity that we’ve had to scale over the last 15 to 20 years. We provide the intelligence and software automation as well as the optical technology to deliver that.

Some time ago you changed your tagline to ‘The Network Specialist.’ What does that mean?

We provide infrastructure to the major carriers around the world, as well as content providers and for connecting data centers. That talks about our specialist knowledge around providing that networking and software automation as opposed to many of our competitors. The concept of end-to-end architectures came out in the late ’90s, early 2000s with companies like Lucent, Alcatel, Marconi, Nortel, etc. We were one of the first focused players - us and Juniper - who said we’re going to be best of breed in what we do. We think the world is going to get even more competitive and people need to optimize around best-of-breed technology. That has largely proven to be the case.

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