On the lighter side of things we get to know, Khalid Raza, CEO and Founder of Graphiant to see what makes him tick.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
Developing a new and innovative technology. I came up with the idea of SD-WAN four years prior to co-founding Viptela. The SD-WAN market didn’t exist in 2012. Ten years later it is an $8 billion-plus market.
What made you think about a career in technology?
Growing up in Pakistan, I had no choice. I would be an engineer or a doctor. I couldn’t cut a frog in my biology classes, so I decided that was not for me. I was good at math, so technology was the logical direction.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
I believe in maintaining a critical balance between compassion and accountability. You should have compassion, but that should be supported with accountability. It is critical.
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
Machine-to-machine connectivity is on the rise and because of that, we are seeing the Industrialization of the Internet. Robotic devices on factory floors are talking to automation software without a human involved and hospital beds are reporting back to AI-based safety monitoring systems.
A key challenge for this is latency. These devices require near-real-time communications, or bad things happen. This was not the case for what I’ll call the “consumer Internet.” People are more tolerant of these issues, but the connectivity models that sufficed for the consumer Internet will simply fail for the industrial Internet.
We need a very different type of connectivity to handle these challenges.
And how do you deal with stress and unwind outside of the office?
My best friend in life is my wife. I spend time with her every evening to catch up on family, life, and work. She is my biggest stress reliever.
If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?
I should have bet on myself, believed in my idea, and left Cisco five years before I did. I should have taken the risk when I initially had the idea for SD-WAN. I believe that whenever you have an idea that will change an industry, you should have the courage to take a risk.
And what do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
As I mentioned earlier – the Industrialization of the Internet. This is intertwined with Edge Computing. It is going to drive the biggest change we’ve witnessed with the Internet since its inception.
You must start with what is driving these changes. Applications such as Factory 4.0, Agriculture 4.0 , and autonomous vehicles have several traits in common. First, they involve IoT at scale. There are lots of machines that must be interconnected. Second, they all depend on real-time computing. Third, they all create volumes of data that is both created and consumed at the edge. Finally, with the emergence of AI, we’re seeing autonomous applications. These are applications that learn as they go and change the way they work based on what they’ve learned.
How do we support this? Partly by moving compute to the edge – closer to where the work is being done. That’s the basis of Edge Computing, and this is well-understood, but how we provide connectivity must also change. The networks we build must have ultra-low latency (ULL) and fast performance. They must also provide rock-solid security and privacy. Finally, they must enable extremely agile provisioning and management.
These requirements are not yet well-understood but are perhaps even more important. It will require a complete redesign of how we provide connectivity.
What are the region specific challenges when implementing new technologies in North America?
Let’s start by defining regions, not as south, northeast, west, and so on, but rather as urban and rural. That’s where we see challenges most clearly. The future requires Edge Computing, as I’ve discussed, but what does Edge Computing require?
Compute and storage, of course. That is easy enough, but Edge Computing also needs networks and clouds – and that’s not as easy.
First, where is the bandwidth? 5G? Promising, but that’s a ways-off for rural America. Wireless? Wi-Fi 6E is getting close, but is challenged in terms of performance and range. CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) is very interesting.
Next, we need a new type of connectivity. These are extremely demanding applications. How do we get SLA-level performance and hardened security in rural areas? How do we provide this connectivity with extreme agility so far from where IT lives?
These are the regional challenges that I am seeing.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing the next 12 months?
The biggest change for me has been the pivot from technical lead to executive leadership. While I do miss being directly involved in the day-to-day technical decisions, it is very rewarding to see our team collaborate and bring Graphiant to life.
Being a CEO is one of the most difficult roles that I have had, but it is also one of the most rewarding. Within the next 12 months, I will continue to develop my leadership skills to ensure that I consistently enable and empower the team.
What about in the last year? And how do you see that developing in the next 12 months? Would you say the same thing?
You cannot answer this question without discussing COVID. Obviously, the pandemic caused a lot of hardships for people and the economy. But COVID was also a driver of some fundamentally positive changes.
COVID drove broad acceptance of the remote workforce. It also moved digital transformation from the planning stage to execution. Think of the impact these two trends have had on technology – and especially networking.
I would say the most immediate impact was that it fundamentally “broke” how we network. We have orders of magnitude more nodes to connect, manage, and secure. These those nodes are constantly moving. What’s broken is this: It is too difficult and slow to provision networks since the underlying bandwidth is either too slow or too expensive, and we simply aren’t agile enough to keep up with all of these new – and changing – connections.
We are starting to rethink how we network to fix these issues. What’s excellent about this is that these changes – this next generation connectivity – is precisely what we’ll need at the edge. We’re fixing both problems.
What advice would you offer someone aspiring to obtain a C-Level position in your industry?
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