Understanding Global Carrier Ethernet with Mark Fishburn at CENX

I first met Mark Fishburn at the Convergence Technology Council (CTC) in Calabasas, California. Mark was a director in the organization, and had very strong ideas about networking and Ethernet. Going beyond the standard role we all play at professional networking venues, he distinguished himself from the group by presenting a passion for teaching others, and presenting his ideas in language nearly anybody could easily understand. Mark was always easy to find at CTC meetings, as he was the center of the largest groups of people who wanted to hear what he had to say.

Mark is a true innovator, and generates a lot of inspiration among CTC members with his visions and thought leadership in a variety of technology and business-related topics. I met Mark in Tarzana, California, to learn more about his vision related to Carrier Ethernet, as well as to gather some advice for entrepreneurs.

Pacific-Tier: Mark, tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to the San Fernando Valley, and what do you do?

Mark Fishburn CENXMark Fishburn: I worked at US companies for many years when I was in London, and one day I said I could fix a (problem) in the US headquarters, and they said “OK.” So I came across as a corporate officer in a company called Retix. I worked with them for a while, and then started my own company.

So that was my business, a software company, and then back into data communications, and worked for a company called NetCom Systems, which then became a company called Spirent.

Pacific-Tier: You’ve been involved with the Metro Ethernet Forum for quite some time. What interested you about the MEF?

Mark Fishburn: Well it actually goes back some time to my interest in Ethernet, and the world of Ethernet from the very early days. in 1982 I installed my first Ethernet system while working for Xerox, and that was in Paris. it was one of the very first Ethernet installations.

And as a result of that I gathered a great interest in Ethernet. In the old times, working for an Ethernet test-equipment company, we put out on e of the first fiber Ethernet products, and a few years later one of the first copper Gigabit Ethernet products.

And so it went on. I was intimately involved as chairman with the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, and the Gigabit Ethernet Alliance before that. It became apparent this was all triggered by the definition of fiber Ethernet. It really reached out beyond the boundaries of local area networks to the metro network.

That really paved the way for Ethernet services to be provided by service providers, and not just live inside the LAN. That was really the initial foundation of the Metro Ethernet Forum/MEF.

It was all about, really advancing the adoption of optical-based fiber Ethernet.

Pacific-Tier: I guess that brings us up to your current venture, which is CENX. Can you tell us anything about CENX?

Mark Fishburn: Sure, let me just give you a bit of background, because it is all really very connected.

In the substantiation of the MEF it became clear there were many different technologies that were or could be connected together using the Ethernet as a ghost in the machine.

And thus were born Ethernet services. And in 2004 carrier Ethernet was created and defined by the MEF by providing ubiquitous services worldwide independent of the service providers providing them, and also the equipment it is connected on.

And that really led to development of the need to have global connections between the service providers who are providing these Ethernet carrier services.

Although I say that in a sentence, it actually took about eight years to transpire and it led to a business that in 2009 has become about a $20 million global services revenue.

At this point in time, as these networks have grown, there is a requirement to connect more of them together in a way which preserves the differentiation of the service providers and creates a global (Ethernet) interconnectivity.

That really led to the formation of our company CENX (Carrier Ethernet Neutral Exchange) which was established to created, effectively a service-level interconnect between the service providers worldwide, and negate the enormous cost and pain in making those connections possible.

Pacific-Tier: Excellent. It’s kind of a sketchy economic environment, a tough time for businesses. What drove you to start a new business in this tough economy?

Mark Fishburn: Well, there are some areas that grow in spite of the economic downturn. The areas that grow are those that potentially save cost, or those that are pushing the envelope and generating more revenue.

Carrier Ethernet is such an animal. It (the industry) grew somewhere around 33% last year in America alone. So while the economy is growing people look for significantly more economic ways to effectively use the same old applications, while paving the way for new applications data driving mobile technology.

So, in this economy to do that was both a natural, and almost necessary step to advance this industry. And as such it was pretty natural for those people who realize this to be attracted to our company, to invest in it, and to meet that need.

Just like anything else, if you have a sufficiently difficult problem, and there is a need to solve it, it save money, and helps make money for people, and makes their job easier, then it’s a very compelling case.

Pacific-Tier: You’ve been a director with the Convergence Technology Council of California/CTC here in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles) providing thought leadership and help to a lot of people who are members. What advice do you have for people who may be having trouble with their jobs, been laid off, or are young graduates getting ready to enter the workforce – is there hope for entrepreneurs and those getting ready to jump into the technology industry?

Mark Fishburn: I would say absolutely. I think this is a great time to start a new venture. If you look at every great new venture, this has been repeated many times. In all the great companies that were founded – they weren’t founded when the economy was good, they were founded when there were significant problems that gave people an opportunity to really look at the idea that necessity is the mother of invention.

It’s like anything else, there are tremendous opportunities, still driven by technology, or different social climates driving the way people communicate now, rather than the way they did before. So within technology is really an unlimited opportunity for people to look at an issue, or to realize their dream and go for it.

Pacific-Tier: Young people today, they have technology diffused into their education, and into their childhood and youth at a rate that we never had in our middle-aged years. How do you feel about the youth today? Are they going to be able to take this thing that we’ve built and make it better?

Mark Fishburn: I kind of look at it a little differently. I think in a way they are driving it. Because if you look at somebody who is multi-tasking, if you look at the corporate world of maybe a couple years ago, well when you were at work you were at work. When you went home you played.

It’s become so blurred that the distinction between work, collecting information, entertainment, and communications, it is going to happen in a way that is connected 24 hours, and I think that young people today are living in the world of communications – in a way that they communicate with each other, in a way they focus, in a way that they are constantly multi-tasking and moving towards whatever is the next and most convenient way to gather.

So I believe that the youth of today is programmed into this multi-processing environment that they have, and that it’s way (young) people operate, doing multiple things at the same time, is the way of the future, and I believe that people who have been brought up in the world with mobile technology and communications, texting and talking, thinking and playing – all of those at the same time. I think all of those things are the wave of the future.

I think entrepreneurs who connect to that will do well.

Pacific-Tier: That’s very encouring. Thank you today for your counsel, great advice, stories, and great talk!

Mark Fishburn: Sure – can I add one more thing?

Pacific-Tier: Of course!

Mark Fishburn: I would say that one of the things that really led me to doing this was the realization that a lot of people would fear to go into something new like this, or to start a new job. But the alternative is unpalatable. Surviving until you die is no way forward. And I believe that if you are passionate about something that you really have nothing to lose by trying it out.

If you don’t do that, you might regret it forever. So I would say, just go for it.

You can contact Mark at mark@cenx.com

Mark Fishburn, Vice President of Marketing, has more than 35 years experience in marketing, sales, product marketing, systems engineering, and management in the computer and communications industries.
He has been closely associated with Ethernet for most of his career, installing his first system in 1982 while at Xerox, co-authors of the initial Ethernet specification. Industry roles include Chairman of the Board, Metro Ethernet Forum, Chairman of the Board of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, and board member of the Gigabit Ethernet alliance and he has been instrumental of the creation of the MEF’s Carrier Ethernet and Global Interconnect strategies.
Prior to joining CENX Mr. Fishburn was President of strategic marketing company MarketWord, in the Carrier Ethernet market. He spent 10 years as VP Technical Strategy and VP Marketing for network test company Spirent Communications, and UK Managing Director and officer for Retix. He won more than 20 industry awards and studied BSc. Special Mathematics at University of London.

Check out the entire Pacific-Tier Communications Innovators and Entrepreneur Series

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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