Special-purpose Devices Will be Replaced With Network Apps in Future: BT

These new, future networks will emerge as independent islands


Mattew Allcoat, Chief Architect, Asia, Middle East, Africa & Turkey, BT.

The future of networking is likely to remain unchanged, at least, in the foreseeable future. Soon, the islands will likely merge together. Thereafter, computers will configure the apps to do what has been requested. Sounds intriguing?

Mattew Allcoat, Chief Architect, Asia, Middle East, Africa & Turkey, BT, speaks about the influence of networking. Excerpts:

BW: What does the future of networking looks like?

Mattew Allcoat: There’s a part of networking that, at least for the foreseeable future, is going to remain the same:  if you want to send data from Mumbai to New York then you’re going to need a physical medium, like a wire or a fibre, to get it there. For pretty much everything apart from that wire and fibre though, we are about to see some massive changes.

For many years, two things have been constant in networking: when you want to do something you buy a device to do it and when you need to set that device up, you use a person. The future of networking is this: special-purpose devices will be replaced with network “apps” that do the same job, but in software (this is called NFV), and rather than having people set up those apps, the people will just express intent (what do you want the network to do).

Then, computers will configure those apps to do what has been requested. In the beginning, i.e., now, you’ll see that these new future networks emerge as the independent “islands”. Soon, those islands will all merge together.

BW: How does Software Defined Networking and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) work?

Mattew Allcoat: To understand Network Function Virtualization (NFV) is easy: think of a Sat Nav in your car. Ten years ago, you would have go to a store and bought a device to do this, like a Tom Tom or one of many other brands. The function you wanted (Satellite Navigation) was built into an object.

Now, instead of doing that you just download an app onto your smartphone. i.e., you have one device and it can have many functions by installing different apps on it. NFV is just like that for networks: you have smart devices that can load apps, but the apps are things that always used to be physical objects like routers or firewalls.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is pretty straightforward too. When we configure the way, we want our networks to run today, we do this by a human being setting up each of the network devices individually. Then we sit back and measure the results and, if we’re being diligent, we act on those measurements and reconfigure to improve the set-up. That might take 30 days to set it all up, another 60 days to gather data and then, 30 more days to do the reconfiguration.

So, your cycle time to iterate towards an ideal outcome is measured in months. With an SDN we use a computer to do the configuration, the measurement and the reconfiguration. We do this many times per minute, taking into account the traffic flows and prevailing network conditions during that minute. Now the cycle time to move towards the ideal outcome is measured in seconds. It’s obviously a massive step forward.

BW: What is the importance of SDN and how can organizations leverage the freedom it provides to reposition, re-invent and renew networks?

Mattew Allcoat:  Think about that improvement in cycle time that was described above. If you’re moving towards the ideal outcome many times per minute instead of many times per year you’re going to get a much more efficient use of whatever assets you have deployed.

You can use this to breathe new life into an existing network infrastructure by switching from human defined networks to software defined networks. It also allows you to do things that wouldn’t be viable if we worked at the speed of human beings:, consider the security advantage of being able to create a private network that includes only the exact users who are granted access to a particular application and have that network track them and change shape as they move around the organization.

That’s not practical with humans running the show, but it is totally do-able in a software-defined world.

BW: What should organizations choose or is there a hybrid network, which brings the best of both worlds?

Mattew Allcoat: Hybrid is the way forward and it’s what every organization should be doing across it’s whole IT stack. Networks are no exception. One of the major benefits of software defined wide area networks (WANs) is that they can create an overlay that unifies a number of different “underlay” networks into a single system.

Think about WhatsApp: it doesn’t matter that you’re on carrier X, I’m on carrier Y and your friend is on carrier Z plus their friend is at home using Wi-Fi because WhatsApp lets us all talk to each other seamlessly with text, pictures, voice and video.  

Now, imagine that same flexibility in your corporate network: blend together guaranteed quality network services from premium providers like BT with value services like domestic Internet and then steer your traffic across that in real-time by taking into account every traffic flow that exists at a point in time and the relative important of each one to the others.

CIOs can take control over a network and make it more adaptable, more flexible and with lower hardware costs.

BW: How can you combine the best elements of existing networks along with the benefits of a truly cloud-based, intelligent solution?

Mattew Allcoat: There is a difference between networks and the cloud. Networks enable the cloud: they create it, interlink it and bind it together. The cloud is a series of places where we get functionality from and we access these places across networks.

Increasingly, the networks are composed of hybrid underlays with shape changing overlays and it’s here that we combined cloud and networks: the intelligence to define the topology of a software defined WAN can live in the cloud and can, indeed, take advantage of the knowledge and data that exists in the cloud.

We will see SD-WAN controller’s resident in the cloud, in both private and public versions. The really smart SD-WANs will evolve to understand the nature of the cloud services that are the source and destination of much of the traffic that flows over them.

BW: How do you see cloud security and how is the role of the CIO changing in enterprises?

Mattew Allcoat: Security in the cloud introduces a number of new angles. Assuming that most organisations use a hybrid of conventional services with public and private cloud, and that these hybrids will become more dynamic as SD-WAN evolves.

It means that CIOs must return to a familiar decision:  buy or build!

Do you build within the cloud but start from the ground up, including micro parameterisation and other cloud-friendly security technologies so that you know exactly where you are and how it works?  

Or, do you take time to research your cloud providers and then decide which organisations to trust, letting them handle security for you?  The role of the CIO becomes more and more about choosing partners and making partnerships.

Tags assigned to this article:
Special-purpose Devices Network Apps bt networking sdn nfv


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