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.