Many people have no doubt that s/w and h/w technologies will progress so much to offer (sooner or later) Carriers’ class network solutions à la SDN (Software Defined Network) and NfV (Network functions Virtualization). I tend to agree: it is not about whether or not, but when and how. And when will be earlier than we expect now. The question, which is not that debated yet, is how, i.e., the “strategic side” of the potential adoption of these technologies progresses. Can we monetize all of this ?
It is clear that any promising technology is likely to adopted not only if it is reducing costs (e.g., Capex and Opex savings), and if it is trusted, but also if it is really able to create new businesses. Today, SDN and NfV seems to be “panacea”, solving any problems that Network and Service Providers may have in optimizing their infrastructures. But where is the real value in terms of new business? Many say “programmability”: I’m not fully convinced. It’s more, “adaptability”, to me: bringing the network on the top. I think that the point is changing perspective in taking the strategic biz advantages of the tremendous technology advances which we are witnessing: it is likely that in less than five years it will be possible to develop L4 to L7 network functions (almost) fully in software (e.g., executing them in Virtual Machines) and dynamically allocating and moving VMs over distributed resources. Throughput will be improved (as simply it will be possible moving seamlessly virtual resources closer to them, thus reducing RTT) whilst Operators will be able managing QoS policies at higher levels (than we are doing today).
This is like saying that the “mind” of an “ossified network” could be removed from today’s closed (and costly) boxes and moved up to a software flexible level, where is orchestrated, thus increasing dramatically network “adaptability”. And the network will be then “on the top” ready for new biz models, or redefining the current ones.
Please note that 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’s definition), by altering its structure and dynamics. The constraints that keep a network capable of adapting in prevailing circumstances should not interfere with its potential freedom to function in an unknown or uncertain environment. A simple example: human body shows adaptation, while the nervous system exhibits adaptability (e.g. by learning): and not for that we’re saying that the nervous system is an “over the top” on the human body !
So in this evolution we have to change the perspective about the “network”: the network will not be any more an ossified “body” connecting end-points, but it will be an highly flexible communication fabric full of software processing and storage power. As said, it is like bringing it “on the top” (of multiple physical resources, even belonging to other domains). And the value of this “new network” will increase tremendously, as the bet is on its adaptability. A way to monetize ICT technology advances, whilst leveraging one of our major assets: reaching millions of Users.
One may ask: then, where’s the “intelligence” ? Inside or outside the network ? Well, reading Michael Conrad’s book “Adaptability”, the answer is easy. He introduced the concept of “hierarchical compensation”, which is the idea that adaptation predominates at one level and adaptability predominates at another level, in a delicate balance. Needless to be more explicit on the biz implications of this which appears to be natural law.
For sure, the dynamics will be in the hands of Users (who we’re reaching) , to whom we have to look at, not as network end-points but as “minds” playing with the adaptability of this network fabric.
In this new game, there are huge opportunities for Players like us.