Friday, December 21, 2007

Profile: Pradeep Sindhu

Business India, January 22-February 4, 2001


Shivanand Kanavi

Pradeep Sindhu is a difficult man to interview. "If you are talking money, networth, etc, then I am walking out of this. If you have anything to discuss about Juniper, I will be glad to talk. Anything about myself and family is a no, no," he burst out.

Apparently, he has had a bad experience with Indian media and its crass obsession with dollars made. We, of course, placated him quickly, "Networth, what networth? Perish the thought! We want to ask you about routers, about Internet Protocol (IP), about how you are giving sleepless nights to John Chambers & Co at Cisco."

The effect was instantaneous. He changed into a professor, an ardent researcher, an engineer's engineer who talks English. It was so dramatic, that for a moment one thought the guy was either one-dimensional or unreal. But Pradeep is simply passionate about his work.
That is how Pradeep Sindhu and his colleagues at Juniper Networks have carved out nearly 30 per cent of the high-end router market. Earlier, Cisco was the uncrowned king of Internet infra­structure. It still is, when it comes to enterprise level networks, but for the core of the network, more and more telcos are buying Juniper's equipment.

Pradeep narrates the story of Juniper: "In 1996, when I asked myself how an exponential phe­nomenon like the Internet could be facilitated, I saw that the only protocol that could do it is IP, since it is a connectionless protocol, it is reliable and easily scalable. The elements that were miss­ing in IP were routers. When I looked at IP routers built by others, I was really surprised at their prim­itive nature. That is when I realised that there was a great opportunity to build IP routers from the ground up, using all the software and hardware techniques I had learnt at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Centre). I thought every second wasted would lead to some- body else discovering the same. I called Vinod since I had done some work with Sun and he had investments in networking. He gave me an hour. I spoke to him about the macro scene and told him that if we design from first principles we could do 50 times better than what is available. He asked some questions and said he would think about it. He called back two weeks later and said let us do something together."

"When Pradeep came to me, he had no business experience. My view was: 'I like the person and I like the way he thinks'. I asked him to sit next to somebody who was trying to build an Internet net­work for three weeks and asked him to understand what the problems are. He is such a good guy that he was able to learn quickly what the problems are. Helping a brilliant thinker like Pradeep and guiding him gives me great satisfaction. This is one guy who has really changed what the Internet is. The difference he has made is fabulous," says Vinod Khosla. That is tall praise coming from Vinod, who is no mean thinker himself.

With apologies to Sun Microsystems, who produce chips named Sparc (in fact, Sindhu played a significant role in it), we are using the same for the title, since Pradeep Sindhu is really a spark that came out of PARC.

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