For all of us, COVID-19 and the move into lockdown caused at least some level of workplace disruption. For Jürgen Hatheier, the timing couldn’t have been more unfortunate.
Appointed as Ciena’s Chief Technology Officer for EMEA in February, Hatheier had barely got his feet under the table at his new employer when the realities of a global pandemic struck. Lockdown. And with it, permanent remote working.
“In the first couple of weeks of a new role, all you want is to get to know people and learn the technology – then you end up being sent home after 10 days in the office! At that point, you’re like ‘how am I going to take it from here?’” he reflects with good humour in an exclusive interview with Digital Bulletin.
“But I have to say, I’ve had an amazing team around me; seasoned professionals and some other newcomers who had the joy of starting at a company remotely, and we have really come together as a team. I was very lucky because Ciena is a truly global organisation that is perfectly set up to work virtually.”
The seniority of Hatheier’s position meant his in-tray was full right from the off. Ciena delivers hardware, software and services to the world’s biggest network operators, and Hatheier – previously Chief Product Officer for Technetix and with two decades of experience in the networking space – is in charge of its team of technologists and engineers across some of its most important markets.
While he admits the constraints of remote working have made it harder for him to fulfil certain aspects of the job, mainly around the high-level relationship building with the rest of Ciena’s leadership team, Hatheier has still managed to hit the ground running. He reveals that the pandemic hasn’t too badly hindered Ciena’s technology programmes and timelines.
“On the product development side, we have seen very little impact, and that is mainly based on the fantastic IT infrastructure that we have in the company,” he states. “Our CIO, Craig Williams, has implemented a strategy to really set us up to be 100% seamless when we work remotely. We have perfect remote access into the labs and into the equipment. Our R&D team has really worked hard to keep our roadmaps on track.
“In the supply chain, by design we focus on partnering with leading manufacturers. It’s all about qualifying those partners and having long-term relationships, which involves looking at their business continuity planning. We have delivered more products than ever and we have maintained support levels for all of our customers. I am quite proud that we have delivered what we set out to do.”
Not only has Ciena managed to achieve close to business-as-usual during the COVID-19 crisis, but it has also continued to support innovation. The company specialises in coherent optical transmission, a technique that greatly boosts the capacity of fibre optic cables, and last year it launched the latest iteration of its technology, WaveLogic 5.
In the face of a pandemic, Hatheier reveals Ciena has managed to go through with software releases and further upgrades on WaveLogic 5 – and its customers have reaped the benefits. In May, Deutsche Telekom’s wholesale division turned up the first 800G (gigabit) network in Europe using Ciena’s solution, while Vodafone enjoyed a similar launch in New Zealand in July.
“I’m really proud of the accomplishment there because the last thing our customers needed to worry about was delays caused by Ciena at a time when they’re focused on business continuity and keeping their networks up and running,” says Hatheier.
“We were the first to release 800G commercially to the market, as we were with 100G and 400G before. We have got some great feedback. A lot of our customers learned a lot from WaveLogic AI [WaveLogic’s previous iteration] and our Liquid Spectrum application, which allowed them to tune the bandwidth up and down based on demands. Now they just love this increased speed on offer with 800G.”
When discussing the question of what drives excellence in modern network architectures, however, Hatheier prefers to steer clear of the nitty-gritty detail. Ciena’s technology is just a small cog in a huge machine working to deliver us the connectivity that we need and demand in the digital world.
The Austrian native believes network operators must take what he calls a “helicopter view”; one tied closely to business objectives and one that offers both scale and cost-efficiency, with a clear focus on how they want to serve their customers and understanding their needs and use cases.
“We call it the ‘adaptive network’,” he explains. “The adaptive network is not so much about applying this technology here and this technology there, it’s about what you need to do to respond to the demands of the network that you might not be able to forecast.
“So for example, there might be 10,000 people at a rock concert and everybody uploads their videos to social media. All of that is something that the network needs to be able to handle, but you can’t always scale for it because that wouldn’t be economic.”
The main error operators make, according to Hatheier, is trying to achieve everything by themselves and attempting to plan for the unpredictable and unexpected, rather than striking a balance between what they know and what they can work with, and how they manage the unexpected. This is why partnerships are a critical part of how Ciena operates in the vast and fast-moving networks arena.
For Hatheier, it’s really about achieving flexibility, agility and scalability in the best way you can. He breaks the vision down into three distinct areas.
“The first is programmable infrastructure, so starting with the optical air. I mentioned our WaveLogic 5 solution which can adjust the speeds as required, obviously within the limits of physics. Secondly, you need some analytics and intelligence, so big and small data, with AI and machine learning. And then you need some software controls which are actually implementing the changes on the fly, in your network, as you need them.
“So we’re talking about an ecosystem which is proactive and able to heal itself and optimise itself, within the boundaries of your business parameters. And that’s the big vision and big idea we’ve got. That might be scary to some because you might not want to give control to the network to reroute traffic, but that’s where we need to be.
“We have deployed some of those concepts, we have worked with a number of operators on defining their vision. But it is a journey you go on, it’s not something you can implement overnight.”
Automation and orchestration are the critical pieces of the puzzle that Hatheier keeps coming back to. According to Gartner, organisations that automate more than 70% of their network change activities will reduce the number of outages by at least 50% and deliver services to their customers 50% faster.
It has been and remains one of the standout trends in networking, and Ciena’s EMEA CTO believes automation will become pivotal to delivering the model customer experience.
“It’s not new by any means, but it’s still not the reality in every network,” says Hatheier. “It really helps you to react to the changes in the network quickly and is the key ingredient to keep your user experience high. Net Promoter Score is what most executives are getting paid on.
“Let us put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer – what makes our lives easy? If we buy Netflix, we want a very simple user interface, we don’t want to deal with any network settings. The front end needs to be there and the processing all needs to happen in the background. That’s where automation and orchestration come in. It’s the calm on the top, and pedalling like crazy under the surface.”
The pedalling is only going to intensify as pressure on networks ramps up even further over the coming years. Connectivity is the backbone of the digital revolution, and with the onset of 5G and the rapid growth of the Internet of Things, companies like Ciena cannot afford to take their foot off the gas.
Hatheier is passionate about the power of collaboration, with one of his objectives being to encourage his team to buy into the “codevelopment” of architectures, working around the specific visions and strategies of Ciena’s customers. Ultimately, he believes the industry needs to see challenges as opportunities, pandemic or no pandemic.
“I really believe that where we are right now, we have a lot of dynamic in the market, and it’s really up to the telcos and service providers now to make a difference in the way they approach network architectures,” he concludes. “I encourage everyone to put a bit of courage into adopting new technologies and new methods, and also operational models to help and stay relevant in a marketplace that is very competitive, and to stay ahead.”