The future is never easy to predict, especially in terms of technology innovation. While some theorized the possibility of an Internet connecting computers, no one could fully grasp the impact the “network of networks” would have in our communications, economy, culture, and way of life. But if there’s one thing that’s clear about the future of networking, it’s that the movement toward cloud computing and a greater aggregation and scale of resources in the network is the direction the industry is moving. I believe that in the not-too-distant-future, everything that computes will connect, everything that is connected will be computing. As a consequence, the always on, always connected nature of devices will be a facet of our digital life. For more detailed information on this topic, tune into the Network Transformation podcast series.
Solutions on the horizon
In order to support this continual increase in devices and connectivity, our networking infrastructure will need to be much more flexible in terms of provisioning different resources than it is today. Compute, networking, and storage assets or resources will need to be made available to the consumer of services irrespective of geographic location and time of day. As a connected citizen, the network will become your personal cloud. Your ability to watch Hi-Definition video on the right device at the right time will be enabled by a network that responds to that need. This will be made possible by a network where services are managed and provisioned seamlessly, and resources dynamically reallocated based on demand. Where it’s not required, resources will be scaled back such that bandwidth is best utilized and cost optimized. This flexibility and optimization will mean that networks will conserve limited resources (namely bandwidth, and electricity) making them more sustainable, both from a business and environmental perspective.
On a network level, designing for efficiency and sustainability has a number of built-in benefits. On the hardware side, you can increment capacity by adding more functions on physical hardware; for example, adding blades to an existing chassis or upgrading those blades dependent on their need to grow capacity, performance, or capability. That’s an upgrade path which doesn’t require changing the entire chassis. On the software side, a network that embraces more software-based functions is a much more reusable, sustainable, and scalable model. Rather than use a TDM to IP gateway, which is largely a fixed-function hardware device today, network designers can look to use standard computing platforms, where the switching function or gateway function is provided through software. As a result, the same hardware platform can be retargeted to have a completely new function based on a new software load. To handle the proliferation of high-bandwidth services, like HD video, companies can design systems to avoid the constant backhauling of video from central locations.
What you need To know
To best prepare for the future today, service providers can start to deploy new infrastructure builds on modular, flexible platforms rather than sustaining current systems unable to evolve into this new model. The primary opportunity is to embrace software-defined infrastructure, because it allows service providers to keep pace with both standards definition and the evolution of new technology development. Transformation of services is truly achieved when the network is entirely flexible and resources are configurable. Secondly, service providers should really embrace and support the growth of the supplier ecosystem. The broader the base of suppliers, the greater the opportunity for service providers to achieve true economies of scale.
The movement towards more cloud service provision is certainly permeating all facets of what we’ve come to know as connectivity and communications. We’re beginning to see an industry driven by service; driven by the user experience. Telecommunications has traditionally been a slow moving industry, so all this is quite new. We have to be realistic about the timeline for change, particularly in telecoms which has traditionally taken decades or more to embrace, introduce, and deploy new technologies on a mass scale. But there are innovative companies today who are embracing new technologies, starting to virtualize functions, and deploy them in standard platforms. That work is already underway and it will be exciting to see the result.