20 March 2016

Edge Clouds: the fabrics of future Telecommunications

Today super-computers are made of hundreds of thousands of  I/O interconnected modules of CPU, HDD, SSD, where inter- and intra-chip communications are mostly carried through optical signals.
Also a future data center can be seen as a sort of a supercomputer. The data center network fabric is a network capable of interconnecting thousands of server, storage and other network ports in a flat, ultra-low latency, high bandwidth infrastructure that provides any-to-any connectivity. A flat fabric-based network architecture eliminates the need for multiple layers, switch-to-switch interactions: it simplifies network management and operations while improving performance. Other nodes can be seamlessly added given the fabric’s high degree of scalability.
Also, we may say that the data center approach (see OCP and TIP) is likely application driven, rather than network driven. Indeed this is what I think we’ll see in the future also for Telecommunications.
In the future, end Users (applications) will be more and more able to “drive the network dynamics”, flooding the network by the edges: by Users it is meant not only people by also machines, smart objects, things and any device which is attached to the network at the edge. In fact, technology advances (e.g. standard h/w performance, embedded communications, device miniaturization, etc.) and the related costs reductions are progressively moving an incredible amount of processing, storage, communications-networking capabilities at the edge of traditional networks, i.e., towards the hands of the end Users.
It is likely that we’ll virtualizing network and service functions which are provided today by expensive L4-L7 functions middle-boxes, and moving them in the Data Centers or even better at the edge (where this huge amount of resources is accumulating), as closer as possible to the Users. This will be a big change. Middle-boxes are today closed pieces of equipments. Not only said stateful middle-boxes are breaking the end-to-end principle, they also contributing to the network ossification, but they are representing a significant fraction of network capital and operational expenses (due to management complexities).
My bet is that in the near future, the edges will look like a data center network fabrics capable of interconnecting thousands of standard hardware servers, storage and other network nodes. Edges will become like massively distributed network computing infrastructure (creating the so-called Edge Clouds or Fabrics).
The term “fabric” has been used in the past to indicate a distributed system of loosely coupled storage, networking and processing functions interconnected by high bandwidth links; … recently it has been also use to indicate the datacentre networks, optimized for “server-to-server connectivity”. Here we use it as a synonymous of Edge Clouds i.e., a Fabrics will be characterized by high flexibility, performance and self- adaptation at run-time (e.g. dynamic flocking of resources computing, storage and network I/O according to needs). Importantly, it will be also possible harnessing and combining all unused resources (e.g. computing and storage power at end Users’ home and in the edge micro data centers). Through the Edge Fabrics, it will be possible programming, allocating and moving a variety of virtual architectures (spanning across diverse edge networks or even across today Data Centers) on-demand, based on Users’ applications, also meeting governance and biz requirements (no more ossified networks structures).

This is a change of paradigm: a perfect storm of pieces of software (even open source) executed on general purpose hardware allowing to abstract all network functions and services, in a way to impact profoundly Telecommunications.