a16z Podcast

What the Narrow Waist of the Internet Means for Innovation Today

Martin Casado and Ali Yahya

Posted April 24, 2020

Today’s episode is one of our intimate hallway-style conversations — or as intimate as remote work allows anyway. It’s all about the history and future of protocol development.

a16z crypto partner Ali Yahya, formerly Distributed Systems & Machine Learning researcher at Stanford & Google Brain, wrote a tweetstorm earlier this year about the “Narrow Waist of Blockchain Computing.” Ali observed that the Internet Protocol, which emerged out of research labs and government funding decades ago, has taken the world from zero devices to more than 15 billion connected devices today.

What was it about the Internet Protocol that allowed building so many applications on top? Helping us answer this question is a16z general partner in enterprise Martin Casado, who pioneered software-defined networking. He co-founded Nicira, which was acquired by VMware; and then he led their Networking and Security Business Unit, which he scaled to a hugely successful business, so he knows a thing or two about this topic.

The two debate the tension between bottom-up design and top-down architected approaches to internet applications, including the role of standards bodies. More broadly, their discussion is about how innovation plays out in practice, and they end by sharing advice for entrepreneurs today.

They begin with a quick history and description of the “Narrow Waist,” and the conditions that create it.