23 June 2014

SDN and Virtualization for 5G

Tomorrow I'm making the Welcome Address to open the Conference Eu-CNC2014, the European Conference of Networks and Communications (Bologna). The focus of Eu-CNC’2014 , this year, is the 5G: the future ubiquitous, ultra-high bandwidth infrastructure. SDN and virtualization issues will be under the spot during a number of sessions.

In the Welcome Address I'm argueing that 5G will become the “Nervous System” of the Digital Society and Economy, contributing to a growth more inclusive and sustainable, also by helping to face, systemically, the Grand Challenges of the Planet, like energy, food, water, environment, education...

5G will be an ultra-high bandwidth infrastructure capable of integrating, pervasively, communication, storage and processing capabilities to provide new ICT services with new paradigms. But 5G will be also new business models, regulations rules and a deep societal adoption. With 5G ICT will enter the DNA of Society!
In fact, what we're witnessing today is that IT is boosting Cloud and Network innovation (and integration), and this, also through Open Source approaches (hardware and software), will impact deeply the ICT ecosystems emerging around 5G.
Threshold for new Players to enter the ICT market will decrease tremendously  (competition is moving towards the software), thus creating new ecosystems and new forms of cooperation and competition. In turn, multiple socio-economic benefits will be possible for people (imagine a Digital Single Market in Europe) and new business opportunities not only for LEs, but also for SMEs and any entrepreneurships’ initiatives.
Stay connected with Eu-CNC !

19 June 2014

"The Second Machine Age": Where is "intelligence" computed ?

In the book “The Second Machine Age”, the Authors Brynjolfsson’s and McAfee’s have argued that the exponential growth in the computing power , in the amount of digital information and in the number of the interconnected devices will bring soon the “machines” to do things that we usually do, as humans. Imagine simply the evolution of the Google “self-driving car”, or drones and robots providing services in doing tasks or jobs, which are carried out only by humans, today.

Well, I believe that this is again another expression of the Edge Softwarization. As a matter of fact, today collected data are reaching (almost immediately) any corner of the world (with high bandwidth networks), huge amount of computing (Cloud) is available to transform these data in knowledge, for deciding actions (then done by pervasive actuators). This is the definition of “intelligence”: i.e., the capability of processing and exchanging information to understand what’s happening in the environment, to adapt to changes and to learn. This is also like saying that the “machine intelligence”, if properly computed (where?) and distributed with highly flexible networks (what latency?) will be really game changer,  capable of creating new service models, such as “Anything as a Service”.

Google “self-driving car” could be an example where an Intelligent Machine is replacing (partly?) the car driver. Another example: let’s consider the use agricultural drones. Even today drones are being adopted, just like terminals or any other consumer electronic device! In fact, the availability of cheap and easy to use 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. In agriculture, these devices will transform in an unprecedented way the job and working skills. Tomorrow, drones and robots (made intelligent and controlled through a low latency network) may provide farmers with a lot of customized services, e.g. detailed views revealing patterns from irrigation problems to soil variation, pest and fungal infestations, differences between healthy and distressed plants, etc. And this at any time the farmer may want, even every hour. Agricultural production and distribution processes will be mapped in huge data sets, employing big data analytics to make optimal decisions.
So, the availability of huge amount of processing and storage (e.g. in Cloud and at the Edge), interconnected by flexible and low-latency networks (i.e., Net Softwarization) will be able to morph the space-time dimensions of life, as the physical direct presence of humans will be less and less required to perform certain jobs or tasks. A transformation of economy.
My take is that when “intelligent machines" will become that pervasive (exploiting Anything as a Service) there will be a number of socio-economic impacts: reduction of human efforts in jobs subjected to computerization, robotization …; increase of local production; reduction of long distance transportation; “optimization” of socio-economic processes; and industries will not need relocating, as today. But a question remains: where is this (artificial) intelligence computed ?

18 June 2014

Edge Softwarization

IT adoption (facilitated also by related cost reductions) will accelerate the pace of innovation of Telco networks as well (as it is doing in the Data Centers/Cloud domains, since quite some time); this will contribute reducing the overall networks costs (e.g., CAPEX, OPEX), whilst even improving current Carriers class levels of performance. A huge quantity of processing and storage at low cost, interconnected via high bandwidth (low latency) links, will change the “equation” of the “Software Defined“ Internet.

Moreover, these technologies (enabling SD-x) are going to become widely accessible in any part of the world, almost on an equal basis. This will impact Technology Providers ecosystems and would result in new business models probably based on cheaper hardware and software. Network and Service Providers are seeing the opportunity to develop new ways to offer new services (thereby increasing revenues).
In turn, this transformation will reduce the thresholds for new Players to enter the Telco and ICT markets, leading to a shift of paradigm in Industry: competition is being moved to software, lower investments will be required to enter into Telco-ICT businesses. This tendency is even more accelerating and, from a socio-economic perspectives, enabling the transition from the economy of resources towards the economy of data/information/knowledge.

The number of devices connected to the network is growing at an exponential rate. 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, increasing dramatically the number of connected objects. There are cars today having more than fifty processors, and tomorrow cars might become just like small Data Centers. Drones and Robots are already entering our daily life.

More and more the distinction between the “network” and the “terminals” connecting to it will blur, as network and service functionalities will be executed part in the network and/or part in the Users’ terminals/devices…or whatever else is at the edge (i.e., up to hundreds of meters around Users). The edges will become the arena of very dynamic virtual environments (full of processing, storage and communication resources) created and controlled in an application-driven way.

This will allow the adoption of new services paradigms, as for example, “Anything as a Service”, where any terminal, device, machine or smart thing around end-Users will become the future “tool” (having API) to use and create new services (and data) for a variety of applications (see my next post).

17 June 2014

Softwarizarion: towards the Economy of Knowledge

The Millennium Project is a global participatory think tank connecting tenths of nodes around the world with the mission is to improve thinking about the future and make results available through a variety of media for feedback. It produces the annual “State of the Future” reports, the “Futures Research Methodology” series, the Global Futures Intelligence System (GFIS), and special studies.
The Millennium Project recently launched the “2013–14 State of the Future” report at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. It is a sort of overview of the “State of the Future” about the current situation and possible future scenarios for humanity. Report integrated trends, drivers, trajectories, forecasts and strategies. Also it updated the list and status of the 15 Global Challenges, providing a framework for understanding global changes.
According to the report that world is starting to automate processes and jobs more widely and quickly than during the last industrial revolution. Clear signs of a move from the Economy of Resources to the Economy of Information and Knowledge. “Softwarization, Computerization...or IT-sation" - as you prefer naming it - is one key driver of this evolution.
Report claims that “The number of employees per business revenue is falling, giving rise to employment-less economic growth”. New jobs opportunities have to be invented, for example bringing ICT into the “fabric of life” and implementing new possibilities — from distributed manufacturing  to seawater agriculture — and “making increasing individual and collective intelligence a national objective of each country.
This message is resonating with the remarks of a paper reporting the results of a study of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology.
Similarly with the Millennium report, the paper stated thatas technology races ahead, low-skilled workers will move to tasks that are not susceptible to computerisation — i.e., tasks that required creative and social intelligence,”. “For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.
Long-term sustainability depends very much on how we’ll be able to develop high-skills mastering the exploitation of said IT and Network technologies advances to solve Society’s problems by creating new ecosystems. Not only: it will be also making increasing individual and collective intelligence a national objective of each country”.

14 June 2014

SDN and Virtualization: not only technology, but also a matter of business and regulation

SDN and NFV can be seen, in my opinion, as indicators of a systemic technology trend (other indicators are Cloud-Fog Computing, Cloud Networking, C-RAN, etc), which is going to impact the Telecommunications Industries: the trend is the "softwarization” of the Networks, in wide sense. Well...similarly "computerization" started eating several other Industries, since a few years. 

In particular, in the SDN, the software network control is decoupled from the data forwarding plane (which can be widely identified as "hardware") and because of this, the hardware network infrastructure is decoupled from networking functions and business applications which could be, then, logically centralized (e.g. in the Cloud). SDN should not be confused with NFV, which is about virtualizing some network functions that, in turn, could be executed on standard hardware, and that could be moved and instantiated in various locations. In fact, ETSI argues that SDN and NFV could be seen as mutually beneficial but they are not dependent on each other: e.g., network functions can be virtualized and deployed without an SDN being required and vice-versa. 

Defined like that, SDN and NFV are not new principles. They were already proposed and demonstrated since quite a few years (remember for example Active Networking). But why then are they so popular today, often discussed as the most advanced innovation opportunity for future Internet?

The reason stands in the novelty of the techno-economic landscape, I believe: today there are the conditions making the potential adoption of said principles really feasible at competitive costs and with high levels of performance. This is basically thanks to the IT progresses in terms of performance, the dramatic costs reductions and the network bandwidth availability.

It can be argued, maybe for the first time, that shortly it will be possible to “softwarize, or virtualize” any network functions and service spanning L2-L7, decoupling them from hardware. Imagine the middle-boxes, for example. Nevertheless all of it is not just technology innovation. The speed with which this profound innovation will really impact the Telecommunications is dependent on a number of other key factors, like business sustainability (what business models?), regulation...and Users's adoption.