27 January 2015

Softwarization: Red and Blue Strategies

Softwarization will bring risks and opportunities for Telecom Operators and Technology Providers Just imagine two scenarios:

Scenario Red: gradual evolution (continuity)
This is about pursuing a gradual evolution of SDN-NFV onto the legacy Telco infrastructures: e.g., starting from virtualizing some functionality. Main challenges will interoperability of SDN-NFV with legacy systems, need of standardized interfaces (a long way) and above all need of updating, enhancing of the legacy operational processes, e.g. OSS/BSS, to cope with SDN-NFV (quite challenging and complicated).

Scenario Blue: disruption (point of discontinuity)
Some Players (even unexpectedly new) will exploit full potential of “softwarization” much faster than the gradual evolution of legacy Telecom infrastructure (scenario Red), so that they will jumps ahead in the markets, as fully Virtual Operators. Markets will decide the “Standard de facto”. As Virtual Operators they will adopt faster operational processes (IT-style) dramatically shortening the time-to-market a la OTT.

What will be the impact on current ecosystems and value chains ?

26 January 2015

SDN linking Cloud with Fog

Fog Computing is (in a sentence) about executing services and storing data (at least some of them) in a “fog” of devices, terminals, machines, etc which are around the Users, at the edge of the current Telecommunication networks. So it’s about extending the Cloud Computing model, with a different density, to the edge.

Main characteristics of Fog Computing include: proximity to Users; highly dense distribution; support for mobility.  Apparently another buzzword, but in reality expression of a much broader technology trend transforming our terminals (smartphones, laptop, tablets, etc) in more and more powerful devices. Imagine also machines, smart-things, robots/cobots, vehicles becoming meta-terminals of the future.

This may have big impacts: Cloud will be soon complemented by the Fog, or even replaced for certain type of applications, when using local data! Also this floating “fog” of devices, terminals, machines at the edge will give rise to new biz models, based on various forms of competition and cooperation between existing Providers, and new ones, entering the arena. And the network – between the Cloud and Fog – will be fully virtualised (SDN-NFV).

So, ideally, it will be possible creating, programming, instantiating or migrating dynamically different types of virtual functionalities and services as well as alternatives of the same. No more ossified architectures. In other words a sort of an ephemeral virtual continuum will have the flexibility of plastically self-adapting to humans’ dynamics. This is the point.

Already today this is acquiring a growing interest in social networking: this is about modelling and predicting the dynamics of groups of people, the viral diffusions of certain ideas or concepts, use of resources, or even the potential adoption of products and ICT services. In other words, it’s about identifying emerging global behaviours, or ways to predict, trigger or incentive masses movements or markets. This will be rewarded directly by the market itself, which will be essential encouragement for further investments.

Imagine also the convergence of Internet and the social attitude of humans: beyond sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, Wikipedia, YouTube there is a broader process to form connections with others, to build groups, to engage communications, to exchange services.  A political message, or a piece of news or a meme, or a service are examples of "things"that can spread from person to person, enterprise to enterprise, etc in an epidemic way: in a while, millions of people can create and destroy ephemeral aggregations.

My take is that “softwarization” should look also this: how a“virtual continuum” of ICT resources could anticipate/adapt plastically to humans’ - and maybe also machines’ – needs and dynamics in the market.

24 January 2015

“Softwarization” will go “borderless”

It has been argued several times that “Softwarization” will be a game-changer for the Telecom and ICT domains.

Looking at the control variable of “Softwarization” I would even more argue that it will be a game-changer for the whole Economy and Society. Well, the technical ideas (decoupling software from hardware, virtualizing, programming APIs, etc) are not really new, but what is new today is the economic sustainability of “Softwarization”, which will be made possible by the current diffusion of ultra-broadband, the down-spiraling costs of chipset/hardware and the impressive advances in processing and storage.

A number of R&D Communities and Industries are converging on that, and cross-influencing each other. World is smaller and smaller, and innovation is propagating "virally". 

So, my take is that, in long term, “Softwarization” will go “borderless”: the border between the network and what is connected to the network will gradually disappear; more and more powerful Users’ terminals, devices, machines, smart things, robots, cobots…will become like meta-terminals or networks nodes, storing data locally and even executing network functionalities and service component. For example, “Softwarization” at the edge and Internet of Things will easily merge in a sort of “virtual continuum” of logical resources: a sort of pervasive “fabric” spanning from Users’ terminals, devices, machines, smart things, etc to the network nodes, up to the Cloud Computing.

It makes no more sense thinking in terms of “closed boxes”: future will be borderless.

Just imagine the multitude of services that could be provided (to Enterprises, residential Users, robots, machines and avatars included) by “borderless” and highly dynamic platforms of logical resources, fully decoupled from the underneath physical infrastructures. Exponential new technologies in digital money, mobile commerce, and big data will take benefit of that. This is a huge wave of innovation running over all Industries and bringing new development and costs reductions by automating (i.e., optimizing) “processes”. This is the main point "processes".

But there is a risk. If it is true that Telecom Operators and Manufacturers are showing great interest on SDN and NFV, at the same time, a wide deployment in “inertial scenarios” will take several years and it is unlikely it will initiated without strong motivations (that cannot be found just in increasing flexibility or programmability of current legacy infrastructures). In fact, there are OSS/BSS processes in place that a true SDN-NFV deployment would require changing dramatically. The risk is that “inertial scenarios” will be surpassed by “disruptive scenarios”, requiring less investments than an “inertial” evolution of legacy towards true SDN-NFV infrastructures. 

What is more likely to happen - in the short-medium term - (just my take) is that “Softwarization” will be exploited “at the edge” of current Telecom Infrastructure, with the challenge of orchestrating the logical layers of a variety of local networks distributed in different ownership domains, something that will happen already with the 5G, by 2020. In the meanwhile, other disruptive scenarios will take place with new roles and Player entering the arena.

09 January 2015

Open Source Software for Softwarization

Last post has argued that open source software can be considered one of the key “control variables” of “Softwarization” of network and service platforms. A lot of software is already there, today, but the point here is about decoupling it from hardware (as in SDN proposition), making it open source, and executing said software (e.g., implementing network functionalities) on virtual logical resources (as in NFV proposition) dynamically allocated/orchestrated on (even standard) hardware.

What will be the impact ? And how long would it take to become virally adopted ?

Looking at the past, there have been some examples of successful development and adoption of Open Source Software, producing a strong impact on the market, even in short span of time (e.g., less than 5 years).

Linux kernel is one prominent example: it is a Unix-like operating system released (around 1994) under the GNU General Public License version (GPLv2). The Linux kernel is used by a variety of operating systems based on it, which are usually in the form of Linux distributions. An example of “good enough” but simpler and cheaper operating system. The popularity of Linux virally diffused across developers and users. According to recent analysis from IDC, Linux servers now represent 28.5% of all server revenue (which means, given their lower costs with respect to other commercial servers, a much larger market share).

Apache is another example. Apache has been the most popular web server on the Internet since April 1996. Apache adoption diffused virally reaching about 60% of the market in about 5 years. Today, 385 million sites are now powered by Apache, landing today on a 37.45% share of the market.

Concerning open source OS for smartphone, in Q2 2014 Android rose to about 85% of the global market share. As known, most of Android is free and open source, even if a large amount of software on Android devices (such as Play Store, Google Search, Google Play Services, Google Music, and so on) are proprietary and licensed.  Interestingly, this piece of news mentioned the potential intention of an OTT to deploy SDN-like capabilities and protocols into Android (a way to extend the SD-x model to the very edge of the infrastructure, up to the Users’ mobile phones. Google does not charge a fee for companies that install Android on their devices. Nevertheless every installed copy of Android gives Google potential customers for its services and encourages Developers to build apps for the platform, this creating ecosystems around Android.

Coming to Cloud, SDN, NFV…we have several other recent examples. OpenStack is an open source platforms that can be used to provide Cloud services. OpenStack is being developed by the OpenStack Foundation, originally founded by NASA and RackSpace but now comprising a large group of technology companies. Several companies in the Foundation run public cloud services on the OpenStack platform (comparable with Amazon’s Elastic Computing Cloud EC2). OpenStack has been launched in 2010 and today dominates the market with a 69% adoption rate of IT Enterprises offering Cloud Computing services.

And, no need mentioning the long list of open source SDN controllers (see for example SDx). Moreover, a few weeks ago, ON.LAB has released in open source an operating systems (ON.OS) for SDN-like networks: after the release some Telco Network and Service Providers immediately announced that they will start testing it for assessing a future potential deployment in production environments.

In summary, my take (looking at past) is that if an open source software solution will be developed and released with the support of a critical mass of companies, it is likely that in about 5 years it will reach at least 60% adoption in the related market. And this could create a very strong impact on the related ecosystems.