We live in times when Facebook, Twitter and Google dominate our everyday digital life. We seem to rarely think of the companies that set up the core that helped the humongous, incredibly fast exchange of messages, mails, songs and files buzzing across the planet at high speed from small devices such as your smartphone.
Thoughts of what I call the “deep Internet” came back last week when I met Pradeep Sindhu, one of the Internet’s less visible but very influential doyens. It was in 1996 that the IIT-Kanpur-educated Sindhu founded Juniper Networks as its chief technology officer. Juniper went on to compete with Cisco Systems in network gear, particularly in high-speed routers. You can imagine these routers like giant policemen directing data traffic across the planet’s vast networks of computers that plug into the Internet. Except that these routers are deceptively small boxes – and increasingly driven more by software than hardware components.
I had an early brush with the company because some of my high school mates were among its early employees, and the first group e-mail I had with my class fellows was on a Juniper server, long before e-mail groups became famous and WhatsApp was born.
Juniper has had its ups and downs since those days, but there is little doubt that in the deep end of the Internet, it is a master player. Sindhu told me how his company was helping the “Big Six” of Web 2.0 – which in plain English means the giant companies dominating content and services in the age of cloud computing. The Big Six as he calls them, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and China’s Alibaba and Baidu, rely on Juniper, he said.
“Where is Cisco in this?” I asked. His cheeky reply: “Between Not There and Absent”
That may be aggressive salesmanship, but it is also a comment on how the Internet is getting reorganised at the back-end as the world moves towards an age where even large companies can be created and run without owning servers. All you need is to log in to the Net and cloud-based infrastructure and application companies provide you everything from web storage and computing power to an incredible range of applications.
Several companies help the deep end. EMC Corp, acquired by Dell last year for $67 billion, provides data storage and products that help “virtualization” of data centres in which you create a virtual equivalent of a device, a network or even an operating system. This makes practically every computing task “rentable” over a data pipe – which is what cloud computing more or less is. Akamai Technologies helps content delivery. Juniper joins in at the traffic management end of this revolution, helping the giants whose names are more familiar to the public.
EMC, Akamai and Juniper all have major technology development centres in India, helping to shape the next wave of the “deep Internet.” Juniper invests more than $1 billion a year in research and development, and that’s a significant 20% of its annual revenues.
As much as 85% of that is software. Juniper has already invested more than a billion dollars in India, where it has 2,500 employees—a big chunk of its global headcount of 9,000.
Sindhu says the focus is increasingly on building performance and reliability for a new phase in which the Internet of Things (IoT) in which machines talk to each other over the Internet, even as cybersecurity becomes more critical in a world where hackers and viruses can roam easy. That gives companies like Juniper more work to do, a lot of which would be in India.