21 December 2014

Control Variables of “Softwarization”

It has been mentioned several times that “Softwarization” is a global systemic trend, appearing under the form of several technologies and models, such as Cloud Computing, Edge-Fog Computing, SDN, NFV, etc, which are sharing the same common denominator: “any transactions, functions and services can be seen as applications executed on (virtual/logical resources hosted in) low cost distributed hardware”. This is the essence of a “game-changer” which is bringing, in a few years, far-reaching implications in the Digital Society and Economy. 

So, “Softwarization” is paving the way towards the 5G.

In fact, Industries (both Large and Small Medium ones) and other Institutions embracing this paradigm will see dramatic costs optimizations, whatever will be their business sector. It’s about “digitalizing and then optimizing” the processes (e.g., in Industry, in Agriculture, in Services, in the Public Sectors, etc) with Industrial Mathematics.

In the near future, robots, smart things and machines will become the new “tools” – directly controlled through the 5G – supporting/helping humans in their daily tasks, jobs and activities. Not only in factories, or in the agriculture, but also in the smart cities and at home. This is like saying that 5G will become like a Nervous System of Digital Society and Economy. Technologies are (almost) ready and the it is likely to be sustainable (even when communications will be just commodities) !

Just imagine the socio-economic impact of Virtual Network/Service Providers, renting physical (L0 and L1) resources (from Infrastructure Providers) for exploiting their virtual platforms (L2 to L7), so to provide - globally - services to Digital Single Markets ! Less investments will be required to enter new markets and the businesses will be oriented towards a "pay-as-you-go" model. An opportunity or a risk, depending on how you're looking at it.

Nevertheless, as I mentioned in the previous post, this wave of innovation may have different strategies of adoption, and levels of impacts, depending on a number variables, not only concerning technology maturity, but also business sustainability, regulatory rules and willingness to change, to adapt.

As a matter of fact, all these systemic interdependencies of the multiple variables of today Society and Economy are transforming our socio-economic environment in a sort of global "complex system". And like in any “complex system”, which typically non-linear, even small changes in the so-called “control variables” could produce sudden and highly impactful changes in the overall system (the well-known butterfly effect).

So it makes sense, looking for those “control variables” of  “Softwarization” in order to understand, and possibly predict, when and how (I'm not saying "if") this dramatic “phase transition” will occur, and, above all, what will be the scenarios, after said transition, and what evolution/adaptation is needed. Just taking time…or focussing on narrow, fragmented approaches, might not be the best investment! In natural ecosystems, during changes, the best surviving species are those which are capable of fast understanding and adapting.

A systemic thinking is required. Linear approaches are not enough during these types of changes.

In this analysis, we should be able to “extract simplicity from the appearing complexity”. The number of control variables should be limited enough, but complete, to cover most (if not all) the dynamics of the socio-economic environment.

My take is that the “Softwarization” way towards 5G will be impacted by the following key control variables:
  • Hardware equation: chip-sets performances/costs curve (for servers, terminals, embedded systems, etc)
  • Open Source Software: viral diffusion of pre-industrial product (e.g. a global operating systems)
  •  Network Performances: increasing of bandwidth, towards 0-latency, stability…
  • Standards-de-facto: winner will take it all (market will decide)
  • Reasons why: improving quality of life (new services), costs optimizations, new jobs…
  • Rules of the game: what regulation environment to create new development
  • Level of trustiness: dependability, security, privacy…
  • ...others ?
Obviously, there might be others, and others strictly related to these ones.
Then, each of these variables should be subjected to a breakdown analysis to understand what’s the best strategic positioning to tame potential risks and/or to be ready to exploit the opportunities of the coming 5G transition towards the Digital Society and Economy!

We'll go through these variables in the next posts.

29 November 2014

Softwarization: two scenarios towards 5G

In the IEEE SDN initiative we wish dealing with SDN-NFV adopting a “systemic” perspective.

In fact, I believe that Cloud (and Fog) Computing, SDN and NFV are just different expressions of the same systemic trend (impacting not only the Telco networks by also several other segments and Industries) which is called “Softwarization”. This trend has been/is triggered and steered mainly by ultra-broadband diffusion (i.e., high bandwidth and low latency connections) and the IT techno-economic drivers (e.g. increasing performance of chipsets, at continuously decreasing costs). This wave of innovation may have different levels of impact on the Telco infrastructures, depending on several variables, among which the speed and level of adoption of “Softwarization” by said industries, the foreseen models for business sustainability and the regulatory issues.

Personally I believe that these trends will potentially bring soon into reality (at least) two main scenarios, characterized highly different techno-economic perspectives:

·    Scenario 1: an evolutionary scenario, based on a smooth and gradual introduction of SDN (coupled with NFV) into the legacy Telco networks, e.g., starting from virtualizing network functionality; communities looking at this scenario are focusing on short-medium term challenges such as interoperability aspects of virtualized network functions with the systems of current infrastructures, integration of orchestration capabilities with the OSS (e.g., ETSI reference model), Standardization of relevant interfaces, etc.

·         Scenario 2: a disruptive scenario (where speed of adoption of innovation is much faster, so that it will jumps ahead any gradual evolution of current infrastructures as described in Scenario 1.). In this case “Softwarization” should be seen from a more “systemic” perspective, which is going far beyond the network and the Cloud, but it is reaching also terminals, smart phones, machines, smart things, robots, etc. The market will decide the standards the facto.

This second scenario is clearly disruptive. A main point  is the “lowering of the threshold” for other Players to enter the Telco market to offer services (as potential competitors).  As a matter of fact, this progressive “threshold lowering” is driven by chipsets technology advances and cost reductions (bringing to more and more powerful IT systems at lower and lower costs), and by the large availability of Open Source software solutions (examples are the open source operating systems for the Cloud and the network, respectively OpenStack and ON.OS, etc).

In this sense there is the risk a number of other Players (even with limited investments, much lower than in the past) will be able to provide services (with different business models) using low-cost software platforms of virtual resources, spanning from the terminal to the cloud (Opex-oriented model), and by using “lean” operational processes. This would mean that the gradual evolution of current Telco networks towards SDN-NFV (scenario 1) could be “surpassed” by this disruptive approach, creating a “point-of-discontinuity”.

In this case, the full potential of this wave of innovation could be "materialized" into the 5G which could become a sort of border-less “continuum of virtual resources and services” (hosted part in the Network, part in the Cloud but also part at the Edge i.e., up to end-Users terminals, devices, and smart things…). This virtual “continuum” would be capable of enabling new service models (eventually creating new roles for Operators, as well) and new business ecosystems (in industry, agriculture and social contexts). Lean operations, highly flexibility and programmability (via multiple level APIs) will be other main features of such innovative perspective, opening new ecosystems.

Adopting innovation at this level it will be possible enabling the so-called the “servitization” (e.g., anybody and anything ...even a piece of software!... will become a Prosumer of services) , and the “de-perimetrization” of services (e.g., global provisioning of any services where it will be possible for a Service Provider simply renting a physical infrastructure from Infrastructure Providers).

11 November 2014

Towards 5G: the Nervous System of Digital Society

Cloud and Fog Computing, Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) are just different facets of this same evolutionary trend which is called IT-sation or Softwarisation of infrastructures. No way to look at them separately. And this trend will change dramatically the nature of telecommunications infrastructures by automating Operations processes (thus reducing costs), by increasing flexibility and programmability (e.g., through APIs). At the end of the day (which is a few years), it will create a point of discontinuity.

This new wave of innovation will be brought to concrete exploitations and socio-economic impact through the 5G infrastructure by 2020. In fact, 5G will be more than a next step beyond 4G, it will become the “Nervous System” of the Digital Society and Economy, a truly converged and massively dense telecommunications infrastructure, deeply integrating IT (e.g., processing and storage systems) with Network resources. In other words, 5G will become the pervasive, highly flexible and ultra-low latency virtualized infrastructure capable of hooking the sheer number of smart terminals, devices, machines, things, cars, drones and robots…with the enormous processing and storage power available in the Cloud.

As a matter of fact, the number of smart terminals, machines, things (with sensors and actuators) attached to current networks is growing rapidly, and soon it will be possible to connect and operated cars, drones and even robots. All these systems will literally become like 5G future “advanced terminals”, allowing the exploitation of remote monitoring and control capabilities through the 5G radio infrastructure: this will enable the so-called «machine intelligence» (e.g., computerization, automation, robotics, Artificial Intelligence) to enter deeply into  the processes of industries, agriculture, public institutions, society and eventually into our lives, as Users. Overall this will determine costs optimizations  and the development of new business and services opportunities.

Connectivity will bring on line so many devices that the sheer number of connected points will exceed the thresholds on manageability using today’s paradigm. It will be connectivity but also processing and storing data, more like a nervous system, dynamically changing around stability points minimizing energy consumption.

This will change the rules of the game, in terms of business and economic sustainability and regulatory frameworks. From a technical point of view, it will revolutionize our ideas of networks and future service ecosystems.

5G-controlled robots (or drones, or any other self-acting machine) is an excellent example of potential future ecosystem. Already today there are robots to work alongside people on a few manufacturing production lines. In  many cases robots are augmenting the abilities of humans — freeing them to do repetitively or dangerous tasks – and increasing productivity for manufacturers. Nevertheless today robot full mobility is still a challenge, being most of said machines static or connected with cables, limiting the flexibility. 5G will allow not only monitoring and controlling truly mobile robots, but also it will allow the development and provision of “cognition services” (Cognition-as-a-Service). Robot sensors could collect data from the environments which will be transferred thought the 5G to Cloud Computing facilities where a variety of methods and techniques will execute the remotely the “intelligence” of the robot, whose decisions will be transferred to the robot local actuations. 

Moreover availability of APIs will allow Users and Third Parties to develop, program and provide any related services with Robots. So, the next generation of 5G-enabled robots will work alongside humans also in Smart Cities, collaborating with them in far more articulated ways in the daily life. 

13 October 2014

Software Defined - Agriculture

Already today we're witnessing several cases where drones and filed robots are adopted in agriculture, just like another "tool". In the future, robots and drone will look like SDN nodes or even better like any other low cost Consumer electronic devices. In fact, the availability of cheap and easy to use robots and drones is largely due to the remarkable advances in technology: tiny sensors (accelerometers, gyros, magnetometers, and often pressure sensors), small GPS modules, powerful processors, radio communications.

These devices will transform in an unprecedented way the job and working skills, introducing changes that we haven't witnessed since the Agrarian era: agriculture will be transformed to robot-intensive, data-driven process optimizing the use of resources like water while reducing the pesticides needed so for a given effort, there will be a significant increase in the output using fewer resources.

My take is that tomorrow, drones and robots (made more intelligent and controlled through the network OS) will provide farmers with a lot of customised services, e.g. detailed views revealing patterns from irrigation problems to soil variation, pest and fungal infestations, differences between healthy and distressed plants. And this at any time the farmer may want, even every hour.

These changes will be complemented with other changes that will eventually transform a muddy, low-skilled profession to a high-tech research-lab level activity. Again the agricultural production and distribution processes will be mapped in huge data sets, employing big data analytics to make optimal decisions, to save time, resources and money. And the environment will be less-polluted. 

Fragmentation and lack of collaboration between Communities and Research Groups (e.g., IT/Cloud Experts, Network Engineers, Robotics Experts, etc) is delaying this unavoidable transformation, which will be beneficial for the Digital Society and Economy. Let's join effort around this vision ! 

11 October 2014

5G will be embodied into the reality

Shannon performed an inestimable service by giving us a definition of Information and a metric for Information as communicated from place to place. We have no theory however that gives us a metric for the Information embodied in structure...” This is what Frederick Brooks wrote here “The Great Challenges for Half Century Old Computer Science”. 

This is a challenge which we still have today: the need of going beyond the traditional definition of information theory, which considers information in terms of exchanges of messages between end-points. Technology advances call for looking at new questions like, how information is embodied in the structure of the reality? In fact, when imagining the future of the environment around us, anywhere (at home, in the working areas, on the move...), we can easily foresee ultra-dense embedded processing, storage and communications resource; so we need looking at a new definition of embodied information, maybe more related to the cognition processes. Amazingly, this is how the brain-mind operates: neurons and their interconnections (the synapses) can store and process information in the same location !

So technology advances will bring in the long term to a new definition of networks beyond the client-server model and the paradigm of connecting end-points: the network become the "Nervous System" of the Digital Society and Digital Economy.

In fact, the number of terminals, devices, machines, smart things, cars connected to the Telecommunication networks is growing exponentially, and the so-called «machine intelligence» (e.g., computerization, automation, robotics, self-*) is entering already in the life-cycles of industries, agriculture, smart cities and eventually public institutions.

Advances and diffusion of ultra-broadband and Information Technologies (IT), tumbling hardware costs and availability of open source software are creating the conditions for a change of paradigm in designing and operating Telecommunications networks and services. 

In this sense, I think that 5G  (which is not just one step beyond 4G) will be the main “collector” of the Cloud/SDN/NFV waves of innovation, bringing such disruptions to maturation and socio-economic impact. Literally, the 5G will morph the space-time dimensions of the Digital Society and Economy...optimising processes, just like in Nature. IT will be the new tool. And this will determine a new economic growth more inclusive and sustainable.

09 September 2014

Protocols are distributed optimizer

In an amazing paper, F. Kelly, has shown that TCP/IP protocol is a perfect example of optimizer: its objective is to maximize the sum of source utilities (as functions of rates) with constraints on resources. And actually, each variant of congestion control protocol can be seen as a distributed algorithm maximizing a particular utility function. The exact shape of the utility function can be reverse engineered from the given protocol. Similarly, Border Gateway Protocols (BGPs) can be seen as a solution to the Stable Path Problem, and contention-based Medium Access Control (MAC) protocols as a game-theoretic selfish utility maximization. Other utility functions could be User satisfaction (e.g. User-generated pricing following end-to-end principle), resource allocation efficiency or different network economics fairness.

Then, modeling networks as a sets of optimizers, means considering management-control based on interacting controllers maximizing a combination (e.g. weighted sum) or an aggregation (e.g. in multiplicative form) of multiple utility functions. Or, alternatively, we may say that management-control should look for the network Pareto optimality (a state of allocation of resources in which it is impossible to make any one individual better off without making at least one individual worse off: the term is from Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923), an Italian economist who used the concept in his studies of economic efficiency). But this would mean taking a different perspective in designing and operating networks: i.e., looking for a vertical and horizontal network decomposition and solving problems with multi-objective optimization. In fact, protocols are distributed optimizer !

In a SDN, control intelligence could be (logically) centralized in software-based controllers. Said controllers could provide visibility and control over the network, they can ensure that access control, routing, traffic engineering, QoS, security, and other policies are enforced consistently across the network infrastructures (whilst keeping in mind the CAP Theorem). The interactions of these (centralized vs distributed) controllers will allow managing and optimizing a SDN according to certain policies. Extend this concepts to all layers functions, up to L7 (i.e., consider NFV) and this seems paving the way to look at future networks in a different way, systemically decomposing them and letting ecosystems of resources being aggregated and managed by combinations of multi-objective optimization solvers.

03 September 2014

The Network is the Robot

Ultra-broadband diffusion, Information Technology (IT) advances and the market mass decreasing costs are determining a growing adoption of processing and storage resources.

The number of devices, terminals, things connected to the network is growing at an exponential rate: microprocessors and embedded communications are everywhere around us. Smart Cities are going to become populated by any sort of mobile terminals, devices, machines, smart things, sensors, actuators, drones, robots etc.

This is the coming of machine intelligence which will determine a number of socio-economic implications, moving us and the Industry towards the Digital Society and the Digital Economy, where real-time robotics (the new digital tools of mankind) will be pervasive. But robots will require a real-time nervous system! 

In this big technology transformation, we need developing an highly flexible and pervasive 5G network, embedding processing and storage capabilities, and capable of providing high bandwidth, ultra-low latency connections. Space-time dimensions of Society and Economy will be morphed.

And a technical challenge will be exploiting the real-time Operating System“ of this “nervous system,  i.e., an Operating System intended to serve real-time applications (whatever they are functions or services or related chains) requested from all kinds of terminals (i.e., smartphones, tablets, machines, smart things, cars, robots, drones) attached to the Network and the Cloud. And these borders Terminals-Networks-Cloud will disappear !

So, my take is that controlling and minimizing the “latency” (in its generalised interpretation, including IT response time) will represent a powerful competitive advantage over which building new forms of cooperation and competition, and eventually business models for the Digital Society and Economy. 

If I had to summarize this in a slogan, I'd say: "The Network is the Robot".

20 August 2014

Mindset and Skills

Several Bodies, Forum and Communities are arguing that SDN and Virtualization (e.g., NFV) will be two of the key enabling technologies for future networks and services scenarios, even towards the so-called 5G. A wider and wider adoption of IT resources (processing and storage) and software applications (e.g., implementing virtualized network functions) will accelerate the pace of innovation (as it is doing continuously in the IT domains), will reduce costs and will create the conditions for the development of new ICT business ecosystems.

A question is: what are the jobs and the right skills we need to face this evolution ?

It is likely the this IT-zation towards 5G will bring an increase of “management complexity” (the reverse side of greater flexibility and dynamicity) of said infrastructures (in fact virtualization is bringing to a deeper integration of IT and Networks systems on one side, and the Networks with the Terminals on the other side). In order to tame such “complexity” – or better to extract simplicity out of it - it will be necessary, first of all, introducing automated/autonomic operations (e.g., with cognitive, learning methods and systems). A wider adoption of Open Source Software is also expected. 

In my opinion, in order to face said challenges, there will be a need to acquire systemic mindset and to develop/improve the following skills and know how:
  1. ability of integrating know how coming from both the IT and Network domains; in the past these two areas grew almost independently, with “client-server” relationships;
  2. Industrial Mathematics in order to design and develop systems and methods (e.g., cognitive algorithms, machine learning, autonomic solutions) capable of automating processes; I would say more than the Software it's “Mathematics that will eat the Networks”;
  3. “mastering” software (which it is likely to be mainly Open Source) for developing, customizing (and even making testing for performance and validation) of a plethora of SDN or NFV pieces of applications;
  4. understanding how handling/correlating the huge amount of data coming from the Network and serive Platforms (e.g., not only apps data but also alarms, nodes states, etc): this includes also skills on Big Data analytics;
  5. Cybersecurity and Privacy: in fact IT-zation will exacerbate the security and privacy issues.
If interested, please follow the education activities of our Initiative.

14 August 2014

"After Dark" ... The Digital Society

A few days ago I wrote a post about how SDN could meet Cloud Robotics (and other technological domains), arguing that potential promising opportunities are likely to happen around these intersections.

In these days, you might have heard (or see) about the project, called “After Dark”, developed using space exploration technologies. Initiative is about Tate Britain inviting art fans to a night to visit the museum — though robots.
People from around the world can get an after-hours tour on-line thanks to four roaming robots equipped with cameras and sensors and designed to let them move around the Museum rooms.
This is a perfect use case (about cultural heritage) where a robot  can be seen as a particular “Software Defined” – terminal (or an edge node), capable of providing services, being attached to the network (which is also controlling it). This use case is showing several of the challenges under the spot today for future networks: Big Data, 5G, Cognition-as-a-Service… and Users’ involvements, steering new services with their requests. 
Robots roaming an environment, or even actuating actions, are like advanced terminals collecting data (through cameras, sensors…), sending them to a Cloud; a low-latency network is providing robots’ remote control and Users’ access to said services; eventually "cognition" is ensuring the required “intelligence”, leaving this room to competitive "creativity".
A number of similar use cases can be invented and deployed for the Digital Economy and Society !

12 August 2014

SDN market estimations

There are a number of estimations of the potential dimensions of the business market of SDN, depending on the metrics adopted by the Analysts. One, for example, is forecasting a $3.52 billion market by 2018, according to Transparency Market Research. Another one is guessing $2.45 billion market by 2018, according to GigaOM Research. So, comparing at least these two reports, we may say a range between $3.5 and $2.4 billion. I've just mentioned two examples, but there are other reports around, obviously.

No need to say that these estimations depend (also) on a number of variables, concerning the introduction scenarios (e.g., Data Center, Core vs Edge vs Home Networks, etc), the adoption rate, the associated business sustainability of such SDN exploitations, and even the regulation aspects. And maybe other important aspects as well.

Nevertheless, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, SDN should be seen as “network IT-zation”, rather than simply the evolution of networking. This will change the perspective.

We should consider – more broadly - that the network IT-zation is likely to intercept also other trajectories, such as the evolution of the Cloud-Fog Computing and the Internet of Things, enabling new markets for other Industries. Consider, in fact, the number of devices connected to the Telco network is growing at an exponential rate. In a few years the network will become a sort of distributed computational system seamlessly interconnecting a tremendous number of terminals, devices, smart things… robots, drones.

And this could pave the way to scenarios well described in the book the “Second Machine Age”, for which it’s difficult, if not impossible, predicting the business global market today. What is sure, is that this is going to produce a deep impact from a socio-economic perspective, and not only in the Telco Industries.

Have a look at this nice post.

11 August 2014

Some challenging questions… about SDN

CAP (Brewer’s) Theorem states that among the three desirable characteristics of a distributed computational system (Consistency, Availability and Partition tolerance), only 2 (but not all 3) can be obtained simultaneously. Given that routing/forwarding packets in a network is a computational problem, then the a network can be seen – from this perspective - as a distributed computational system...

Now, imagine in future SDN scenarios, the availability of programmable and scalable nodes (e.g., routers with computing and storage capabilities), developed starting from commodity hardware and allowing multiple Parties (from Service Providers to end Users) to program, install and execute their services just like network applications. These nodes ideally should be exploited at the edge, as core nodes require by far higher performances.

One may imagine this programmable edge node having multiple instances of execution environment and exposing an Application Programming Interface (API), which is required for the development of any network services applications. Then, one may guess also that there should be a sort of hypervisor capable of receiving each packet, extracting the most important relevant parameters (e.g., MAC/IP addresses, TCP/UDP ports, etc.) and delivering the packet to the execution environment which has to process it to execute some services. Obviously some other services (e.g. the control plane) could be executed on the Cloud.

In principle, all of this can be done with commodity hardware, so with very low cost. But there is one point of attention which has to be considered, in order to get really e-2-e ultra-low latencies: the performance of the execution, especially of of data plane applications (those applications - if any - which will make sense executing on the data plane). I/O operations might limit the expected performances. In fact, data plane packet processing involves moving data from an I/O device to system memory, classifying the data and then moving the data to a destination I/O device. General purpose hardware has been mainly engineered, not for that, but for instruction-bound processing (mainly based on computing instructions rather than I/O), which is mostly local.

If the goal is an ultra-low latency network-service infrastructure, there still unsolved and challenging questions little investigated: where/how executing network services and applications (on the data plane, logically distributed on blades, centralized in the Cloud) ? What’s the required type of Hardware (general purpose, specialized, hybrid) to optimize the costs (including energy consumption) for certain levels of performance ? How handing the CAP Theorem limitations ?

09 August 2014

Over-provisioning connectivity pays off better

The throughput of a router is mainly limited by the routing (control plane) processing, which is impacting the maximum number of packets that the router can process at each time: as a consequence there is an inevitable trade-off between the number of ports (node degree) and speed of each port (bandwidth per connection) of  a router. Router Vendors cannot make a router that has both a large degree and a large bandwidth per connection mainly due to the limitation of the routing processing.

Normally nodes in the core network have large bandwidth per connection, and thus small degree.
Vice versa for the edge network: typically the degree of an edge router is almost five times larger than the one of a core router. Even larger if we move nearer the end-Users.

On the other hand, we have to consider that IT advances are making possible to build a 100 (or even more) Gbps software router. Or, software router architectures capable of parallelizing routing functionality both across multiple servers and across multiple cores within a single server (e.g. RouteBricks). 

So, thanks also to SDN and NfV, it is likely it will be possible to build high-speed software routers using low-cost, commodity hardware. This means that it will be possible overcoming routing processing limitation by using the huge amount of processing power made available in large data centers (in other words logically moving the control plane of s/w routers – separated from the forwarding h/w - in the Cloud).

This would change – in principle – the (economic) equation of the network: over-provisioning connectivity rather than just over-provisioning bandwidth. Over-provision connectivity pays off better than over-provision capacity: it is possible creating very large numbers of flexible topologies to choose, even almost randomly, or programming and controlling the QoS to Users' requests. 

Up today, over-provision connectivity in a network is typically more expensive than over-provision capacity, but tomorrow this equation may change. Furthermore, consider also adding to this, the over-provisioning of processing and storage capabilities. That's the IT-zations. It's network adaptability for future ICT services.

In a data center, we have already over-provisioning of connectivity, but the story is different: network covers a relatively small fraction of the cost, compared to server, electricity and cooling costs. So over-provisioning connectivity makes economic sense (by the way, in data centers, traffic demands are quite volatile and not well understood, so it is strictly necessary to over-provision connectivity). Traffic fluctuation on a network has been (up today) over time rather than space, so it has been mitigated by capacity over-provisioning, but this is going to change in the future...

08 August 2014

Network Adaptation vs Cognitive Adaptability

In the future, any promising technology is likely to adopted not only if it is reducing costs (e.g., Capex and Opex savings), and obviously if it is secure and trusted, but also if it is sustainable from a business viewpoint, which is if it is able to create new growth. Savings are not enough. In fact, "zero-Capex and zero-Opex" mean, at the end of the day, "zero-Revenues". 

Today, SDN and Virtualization seems solving any problems that Network and Service Providers have to face for optimizing their infrastructures, and as such for reducing costs. But where is the new business value in terms of new business developments ? Hard question, too little investigated in my opinion. Many says offering “programmability”, or reducing "time to market"... Maybe, but I think it's also about adaptability.

Adaptability is a broader concept than adaptation: it’s the capacity to continue to function in an unknown or uncertain environment (as from Michael Conrad’ book “Adaptability”), by altering its structure and dynamics. The constraints that keep the network capable of adapting flexibly in prevailing circumstances should not interfere with its potential freedom to function in future unknown or uncertain environments. A simple example: human body shows adaptation, while the nervous system exhibits adaptability (elaborating data collected from senses, learning, making decisions and then actuating actions through the body). Cognition is the key enabler. This metaphor is fitting well when thinking at future SD-Networks.

The strategic value of a low latency pervasive network, embedding processing and storage capabilities, and showing cognitive adaptability, will increase tremendously. Indeed, it will become the sustainable "fabric" of the future Digital Society and Economy.

Interestingly Michael Conrad’s book introduced also the concept ofhierarchical compensation” in Nature, which is the concept that "adaptation predominates at one level and adaptability predominates at another level", in a delicate balanceNo need to be more explicit on the metaphor: let's learn from Nature!

06 August 2014

The Digital Society and the Digital Economy

SDN and NFV appear to be just the top of an iceberg of a world-wide industry transformation. Ultra-broadband diffusion, advances in Information Technologies (IT) and optical bandwidth, tumbling hardware costs and availability of open source software are creating the conditions for a change of paradigm in designing and operating networks and service infrastructures.  In fact, all these factors are creating the conditions for the so-called IT-zation, or Softwarization or Computerization of several industrial and even societal processes, activities, jobs. And the networks are going to become the ubiquitous, ultra-high bandwidth “nervous systems” of the Digital Society and the Digital Economy of the future.

Actually we're witnessing that mass digitalization (e.g., Big Data) and wide adoption of software apps are accelerating rapidly the pace of innovation in several industrial ecosystems: it will be the case also about Telecommunications. Software is going to eat the Networks. Technology advances are making Cloud Computing/Networking and IT platforms are accessible  in any part of the world (almost) on an equal basis: this will reduce the thresholds for new Players to enter the Telecom and ICT markets: competition is being moved to “software”, lower Capex (or even just Opex) will be required to provide ICT services. This tendency is accelerating the non-linear transition towards the Digital Society and Economy of data/information/knowledge.

As we mentioned previously, as a matter of fact, the basic technological principles proposed by Software Defined Network (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) are not “completely” new principles, as they were already proposed and demonstrated since a few years (the former in the ‘90ties and the later even before). Nevertheless, today SDN and NFV are considered potentially impactful due to the novelty of the techno-economic landscape (i.e., availability high bandwidth links, high performance IT/hardware at continuously decreasing costs). So SDN and NFV are not new technologies per se, but they can be seen as indicators of as a global trend (which will be coupled with other indicators such as Cloud-Fog Computing, Cloud Networking, C-RAN, etc) impacting Telecom and ICT arenas in the next years. Just to give you a simple example: it will be possible, in the medium-term developing any network functions and services (L2-L7, i.e., from a software switch/router to a software middle-box) as “applications” and executing them logically centralised in the Cloud, or in clusters of mini-Data Centres (e.g. in correspondence of current exchanges, enriched of processing and storage). This will have a deep impact on the current value chains of Telcos (split of roles are possible) and Equipment Providers (change of biz paradigms are possible), as competition is moving towards OPEX-centric roles. Having said that, SDN and NFV is not only about technology, but it is much more on business sustainability and regulations rules.

But there is more. The number of devices connected to the network is growing at an exponential rate. The network of the future will be a sort of “Fabric” seamlessly interconnecting a tremendous number of terminals, devices, smart things…robots, drones. This is paving the way to medium long term scenarios which are very well described in the book the “Second Machine Age”, which will improve, at the end of the day, the quality of our life and will create a new growth.

This evolution is going to produce an deep impact from a socio-economic perspective, as well. We’re witnessing that the number of employees per business revenue is falling. As mentioned in this report “…as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will have to reallocate to tasks not-susceptible to Computerization, i.e., requiring creative and social intelligence”. It will be necessary to mitigate the risk of unemployment due to the coming of the Second Machine Age. This is also another interesting reading about that. In this direction, also education will be very much important to understand these implications, as well as it will be very much important identifying the value chains, the new roles and the new skills required to face such industrial and societal transition.

25 July 2014

Software-Defined Infrastructures for Networks, Clouds and Services

NetSoft 2015 will be the first of a series of annual flagship events organised by IEEE Initiative on Software-Defined Networks (SDN) set-up of the IEEE Future Directions Committee to build an world wide community in this area across multiple IEEE societies and councils (http://sdn.ieee.org/about.html). 

What's the main scope of the Conference ? SDN and Virtualization (e.g.  Network Function Virtualization - NFV) could be seen as different expressions (Cloud Computing as well) of an overall "transformation trend", which is deeply impacting and Telecom and IT industries, also in terms of business models and regulation rules. We are already witnessing that this ”softwarization" trend is transforming several other Industries, bringing to optimization processes (and costs) and new values in infrastructures (e.g., 5G). SDN and NFV are creating the conditions to reinvent network and service architectures, to accelerate innovation and to create new business opportunities.

Accordingly, the main theme of NetSoft 2015 is “Software-Defined Infrastructures for Networks, Clouds and Services”. NetSoft is intended to serve as the flagship IEEE forum for technical exchange on software-defined infrastructures and services. NetSoft 2015 aims at providing an excellent forum for the latest innovations, results, and developments in the overall transformation trend, seen also from the business and regulation viewpoints, which is deeply impacting Telecom and IT industries.

The conference will be held on April 13-17, 2015 in London, UK.
The NetSoft 2015 website can be found at: http://sites.ieee.org/netsoft/

Please join us by clicking on the button "Join the  SDN Technical Community" at the link  http://sdn.ieee.org/!

17 July 2014

An OS for SDN meeting Cloud Robotics

They say that innovation, and the development of new industries, is about positioning research on the confluence of distinct streams of emerging technology. Research progress at the intersection of fields is more likely to happen when cross-disciplinary scenarios are encouraged: strategies would include importing ideas from diverse communities and creating an environment enabling to deep cross-collaboration.

I believe that promising opportunities are likely to happen around the intersection of Software Define Networks, Network Function Virtualization - and - Cloud Robotics.

We’re witnessing that the number of smart devices, terminals, machine, things connected to the network is growing day by day. For every cell phone today we have already a few sensors and by the end of this decade there will be more than hundred sensors per each cell phone; for every car we have tenths of microprocessors, the average middle-class household has about 40 microprocessors. The number of connected sensing-computing-actuating objects is increasing tremendously.  This is change of paradigm, as in the future the distinction between the “network” and “what connects to it”, will disappear, becoming these smart devices, terminals, machine, things… like nodes. And this will the case also for Robots.

Let’s go beyond the concept of SDN as the evolution of “networking”, let’s open new perspectives. A Robot, in principle, can be seen as a Software Define – node, capable of providing ICT services and attached to the network. What services ? Imagine the adoption of Robots in agricultural processes, or a wider introduction of smarter Robots in industry (even in hazardous environments improving safety for emergency services, in mining activities, etc) or the use of Robots to support us in our day life activities: a self-driving car is just an example, or the evolution of Jibo or next intelligent personal assistant (like Siri) to evolve to become an intelligent personal Robot.

Devices, machines, smart things or robots will become like new “tools” (enabled by Softwarization) which we’ll have at disposal to develop the Digital Society and the Digital Economy. So, if SDN is seen today as a sort of “network OS”, the 5G OS will be the big technical challenge of the future:  a sort of decentralized OS bringing to radio-fixed convergence beyond the last mile, supporting mobility, embedding security – by design – and spanning from the all Terminals, to the Network to the Cloud.  A key requirement of 5G OS will be allowing QoS with very limited values of “latency” (e.g. in the order of 1-2 ms) for real-time sensing and actuations, but also being developed Open Source to boost innovation!

15 July 2014

SDN-NFV: technology, business sustainability and regulation rules

When looking at future potential deployment scenarios of SDN and NFV, at least three dimensions should be taken into account: technology, business sustainability and regulation rules.

One way to consider the technology variable is the split degree in the (centralized vs distributed) execution of L2-L7 Virtual Network Functions (VNF). In fact, many (but not all) Network Elements (e.g., routers and switches) and Network Functions (e.g., middle-boxes) can be virtualized, i.e., replaced by software running on logical resources (e.g., Virtual Machines). This split will determine different alternatives, as long as the Operations of said VNFs and the services.

In general this could create a split of roles of current Networks and Services Providers (NSP) into “Software- Defined NSP” (SD-NSP) and Infrastructure Provider (IP). A SD-NSP is an Operator owning basically software networks and services platforms, i.e., platforms whose functions (ranging  from L2 to L7) are fully developed, executed and operated in software, in the Cloud and/or  in the Exchanges (centralized vs distributed). SD-NSPs are “borrowing” hardware resources (e.g. just antennas, L0-L1 transmission and processing power) from IPs. An SD-NSP looks like an OTT.

Regarding the business sustainability variable, it is estimated that SD-NSPs will see dramatic costs reductions (e.g. estimation of 40%-50% savings in energy), CAPEX reductions, improved efficiency in the overall Operations (e.g. 25%-35% OPEX savings just by automating processes), reduced time-to-market when deploying services (e.g., quite similar to OTTs today). SD-NSPs will be also potentially capable to “upload and execute” their “software networks and services platforms” anywhere there will be an IP willing to rent hardware and L0-L1 resources.  This is disruptive and it allows to enter new markets with limited investments, e.g., by using just OPEX, or playing as Global Players. Also new service ecosystems (today not sustainable) might be enabled.

Concerning the third variable, regulation rules, the story is even more complex: rules should encourage fair competition, improve the functioning of the market and guarantee basic user rights. In this sense, “mass digitalization and Softwarization” have the potential to create a situation where personal information is created, held and managed at a ‘global’ level, so proper legal frameworks should be put in place.

11 July 2014

Softwarization bringing to a “new order of things”

The Prince” is an impressive political book written by Niccolò Machiavelli, the well-known Italian historian and political theorist. The book was published in 1532, five years after his death: about 5 centuries ago! Machiavelli brilliantly argued in his book that there is no constituency for innovation: "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things”. A reasoning perfectly applicable to the worries of our world, today!

As a concrete example, this nice piece of article elaborates about the downfall of an Industry, which had to face a technological singularity, a new order of thing, and did not move into “the digital world” well enough and fast enough. Barriers to change culture, hiding innovation, complacency ? A combination of these and other variables, probably…
Taking this metaphor, the technological singularity challenge that we are facing today is that “software is eating the world”: this is due to the ultra-broadband diffusion, the advances in Information Technologies (IT) and optical bandwidth, tumbling hardware costs and availability of open source software. A transformation of economy triggered by technology. In the past, it happened several times…

In fact, software eating the world means “dematerialization”, dramatic changes in processes, and, at the end of the day, a sort of economy phase transition (which, being a non-linear process, it is taking place suddenly, once the critical conditions are reached). You can wait and see, but the problem is that at the transition, it is too late to take any actions: the ecosystem will jump to a new order of things, whatever you’re doing. Nothing strange or surprising: it’s a Nature law, the law governing any ecosystem, even the matter.  That’s symmetry breaking: local decrease of entropy to optimize functionals, but overall global increase. After this sharp transition, a new order of things always emerge, just to quote Machiavelli, till the next one.

It is not probably a question of debating if/when/how software will eat the network (e.g., SDN and NfV are apparently going in that direction). Maybe, the real question is another one: what will be the “new order” after this transition will occur, who will be the winners and how positioning in the new ecosystems, with the right sustainable processes, required for a new flourishing biz ?

09 July 2014

From “Waterfall” towards “Complex Innovation”

“Waterfall” Innovation finished about 15 years ago: the model was moving from research activities to standardization, from systems development by Technology Providers to Service Providers deployments up to services provisioning to Consumers.

Today (and tomorrow) Innovation is likely working the other way round: it is starting from the needs of the Digital Society, from the massive Consumers, Users and from the challenging requirements of the new Digital Economy. Today Could Computing and ICT platforms are easily accessible in any part of the world (almost) on an equal basis. This is making a big difference as it this will reduce the thresholds for several new Players to enter the Digital Economy ecosystems and to provide ICT services for the Digital Society.

In fact, at the end of the day, competition is moving from Capex to Opex, and my guess is that the full transition will happen non-linearly, once a critical threshold will be reached. Just like a phase transition. A system/phenomenon is called linear if effects are proportional to their causes, non-linearity mostly happen when effects are becoming (positive and negative) feedbacks to the input. And that’s what’s happening today: technology development and adoption is accelerating through a systemic combination of several variables. The coming Digital Economy – just like a Complex System - cannot be reduced just to the sum of its parts!

What is the meaning of complexity ? We have to resume the Latin root complexus, which means entwined: a complex system is composed by a network of components variously interconnected (e.g., with positive and negative feedback loops). The study of complex (eco)systems investigates how relationships between components give rise to collective, systemic behaviours of the (eco)system and how the it interacts and forms relationships with its environment. “Waterfall” approaches won't work anymore. 

So, my argue is that Innovation should be deeply embedded in the DNA of Digital Society and Economy, looking at massive markets.That’s why I’m calling it Complex Innovation: a way of making Innovation by dealing with the systemic interdependencies of all socio-economic variables of the hyper-connected world we are living in.

Ultra-broadband diffusion, advances in Information Technologies, increasing optical bandwidth availability, tumbling hardware costs are creating this hyper-connected world and the conditions for the change of paradigm, which is about softwarizing the processes of the Society and the Economy.

06 July 2014

Softwarization paving the way to Cognition-as-a-Service

In Computer Science abstractions hide hardware specific details which are considered not useful at a given level. The OS in fact stands between the Users’ programs and the physical computer hardware, it provides  high level functions (e.g., allocating memory or writing to disk). In this sense, it has been mentioned that SDN can be see seen as a Network Operating System (even if there are interpretation of SDN as a Compiler).

Let’s imagine now to extend this concept (see my previous post) to a distributed “5G Operating System“ capable of spanning from the Terminals, to the Network to the Cloud. Not only that: imagine even embedding cognitive capabilities in the 5G OS, so that cognitive apps can be easily developed by means of APIs, rather than requiring Developers to reinvent the wheel any-time.

Welcome to the world of “Cognition as a Service” (CaaS). By the way, isn’t this also the direction of the next generation cognitive management systems (in the sense of OSS/BSS) that we’re looking for ?

In fact, it will not be possible anymore adopting traditional management approaches (with declared objectives and observed behaviour) for 5G. Complexity and dynamism will be too high. Dynamic or static modeling for (open or closed loop) control will become very complicated and unstable if not supplemented with a variety of methods and control techniques, including (nonlinear) dynamic systems, computational intelligence, intelligent control (adaptive control, learning models, neural networks, fuzzy systems, evolutionary and genetic algorithms), and artificial intelligence.

This trend is already detectable today. It’s not surprising, for example, that a companies like OTTs are pushing the idea of cloud robotics. It is no more Science Fiction when we say that we’ll be living soon with cognitive machines and robots.

03 July 2014

An Operating System from the Terminals to the Network to the Cloud

5G will be the future ubiquitous, ultra-high bandwidth infrastructure: a truly converged “fabric” of IT and Networks resources, where wired and wireless communications will be almost undistinguishable. 5G is expected to become a sort of “nervous system” of the Digital Society and the Digital Economy, capable of bringing an ICT breakthrough to ensure a sustainable economy, to improve quality of life also with new ICT services and to create new jobs.

In order to pursue this, what is needed – in my opinion – is the concrete development and deployment of a distributed Operating Systems (OS) for 5G infrastructures. And it should be based on Open Source. As known, an OS is a “software” managing (for example, in a computer) hardware resources and providing services and abstractions for applications.

Practically Operating Systems acts as an intermediary between applications and the hardware and it is present on almost any device that contains processing and storage, e.g. from cellular phones, to computers, to servers...

Interestingly, there are already activities for developing examples of OS for Software Defined Networks: ONOS in one. ONOS aims at capturing the up-to-date state of the network and maintain a network map; providing an interface for the network control and management applications to update the network map; and programming the forwarding elements, by installing forwarding rules, in response to the changes to the network map by the control and management applications. A similar OS is still missing (at least in part) for the radio infrastructure, where “softwarization” could bring to disruptive scenarios, such as C-RAN, where all functions (e.g., L2-L7) could be moved to Data Centres (e.g., BS pool) interconnected to the RRU via optical backhauling. A then an integration, into a single OS, would complete the breakthrough.

So, the grand technical challenge will be getting this truly distributed “5G Operating System“ capable of spanning from the Terminals to the Network to the Cloud. And a key requirement will be keeping the “latency” in the order of 1 ms, as this will enable a tremendous number of new ICT ecosystems (e.g., imagine providing Cloud APIs for Anything as a Service, including machines, smart things, drones, robots...).