2020 FierceTelecom Rising Star — VMware's Sachin Katti

The FierceTelecom editorial team is proud to announce our second annual Rising Stars series, in which we’re profiling up-and-coming executives in the telecom industry. We’ve selected a slate of executives whom we think are on the rise in 2020. We’ll be doling out the names of our winners, two per day, so that our readers have the time to enjoy reading their profiles. And next week, we’ll post a Rising Stars poll, giving everyone the opportunity to vote for their favorite top executive to watch in the FierceTelecom ecosystem. We hope you enjoy the series!

When Stanford professor Sachin Katti identifies a technical challenge, he starts an organization to solve it. He founded the xRAN Forum (now part of the O-RAN Alliance) to bring companies together to create an open, interoperable radio access network. He co-founded Kumu Networks to help operators get more use out of their spectrum with technology that lets wireless radios send and receive simultaneously on the same channel. Then he founded Uhana to use artificial intelligence to optimize and automate networks. 

Last year, VMware bought Uhana, and Katti took a leave of absence from Stanford to become VP of Telco Strategy at VMware. He says his job is to look at both product and technology strategy, and figure out how to apply VMware’s technology to telco evolution. “The big theme really is that the telco network is getting cloudified across every layer of the stack,” Katti said, adding that this generates several important business and technology questions. “How does cloudification impact the telco network? How does it get extended to the radio access network? How does the edge play into all this? What is the role of network programmability and network KPIs especially for edge applications? How does private 5G fit in? These are the kinds of questions that I’m thinking through.”

Katti wants to position VMware as a neutral cloud player, even more neutral than the hyperscalers like AWS and Microsoft. He said telcos are pursuing a more horizontal infrastructure, but risk locking themselves into a new kind of vertical silo if they rely too heavily on one public cloud. Katti believes the answer is software that runs on multiple clouds.

“VMware can provide an abstraction layer on top of even the hyperscalers,” Katti said. “VMware itself is not operating infrastructure; it is providing software ultimately. But the hyperscalers, they’re not really selling software. They’re selling a service, so the telcos essentially become a tenant rather than a customer.”

Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and Dish are all working closely with VMware. “Dish is going fully containerized end-to-end and is using VMware’s infrastructure as well as orchestration platforms,” Katti said.  He said one of his goals is to leverage the lessons learned from VMware’s current telco customers.

RELATED: Dish picks Nokia for containerized 5G SA core

“I think the big shift that I’ve been driving is taking the best of what we know there and extending that to the edge and the radio access network, especially being able to cloudify and being able to run the latency-sensitive workloads that you get in the radio network in a cloud-centric manner,” Katti said. 

Katti is particularly proud of VMware’s partnership with Intel. Together the companies are building a hardened pre-integrated cloud platform for open RAN. “We are doing the dirty work to make sure this stack is compatible with a variety of radio hardware, a variety of oscillator hardware,” Katti said, adding that the goal is to let smaller radio vendors “focus on what differentiates them, which is their radio performance [and] their spectral efficiency.” He said ultimately this initiative should make the radio access network ecosystem more competitive.

RELATED: Open RAN leader Sachin Katti ‘surprised’ by uptake

Driving VMware to build programmability into 5G networks is another priority for Katti. He wants to help operators guarantee enterprise customers specific performance metrics in applications like video conferencing. “You cannot do that if you do not have the ability to program the underlying access network,” Katti said. “But with technology like the [radio intelligent controller] that VMware is building and APIs from the RAN being exposed to applications, we are now able to deliver application layer guarantees by programming the network to deliver that quality of service. … It is a 5G network slice on demand with an application layer SLA.”

Katti clearly has a talent for understanding not only technology but also its potential in the marketplace. His leadership is one of the key assets that VMware acquired with its purchase of Uhana.