I wish starting this post by resuming the vision of Telecommunications as a gigantic supercomputer nicely described in Roberto’s post. Internet and Telecommunications today are based on massive distributed networks interconnecting processing and storage nodes. This is recalling the image of hundreds of thousands of chips interconnected each other in a supercomputer: even more amazingly, in the near future, both inter- and intra-chip communications will be carried through optical signals. This is also what we’re dreaming for future transport networks as “photons are faster and consume less than electrons”.
Let’s make an example, looking at a data center, which 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 data center approach is application driven, rather than network driven. Indeed this is what we’ll see in the future also for Telecommunications networks.
In the future, end Users (applications) will be more and more able to “drive the network dynamics”, introducing 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. Actually, it’s a few years that we are witnessing this trends: examples are CDN delivering contents from caches at the edge, closer and closer to end Users, other edge computing services (e.g., web acceleration) provided by Players like Akamai, etc.
New paradigms as SDN (Software Defined Networks) and NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) are creating the conditions to reinvent networks architectures as they are offering the possibility to look at the whole network in an abstract way, shaping resources and connecting them in a dynamical way.
In this post, for example, I’ve already pointed out that chance of 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 Distributed Network Computing Platforms (creating the so-called Edge ICT Fabrics), composed by pools of general purpose h/w resources (capable of computing, storage and network I/O). Edge ICT Fabric will includes Users’ devices, CPE, aggregation nodes, Edge PoPs (which can be even seen as micro-data centers at the edge). Edge ICT Fabrics will be characterized by high flexibility, performance and self- adaptation at run-time (e.g. dynamic flocking of resources 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 ICT 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 storm of pieces of software (even open source) executed on general purpose hardware will allow to abstract all network functions and services, in a way to impact profoundly Telecommunications and ICT business. This impact should be considered from the point of view of Incumbents’ networks, but as well as from the one of OTT, enterprise networks and consumer electronics.