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.