Hang on to your hats, the world is about to change -- the communications world, that is. It's about to get personal, way more personal, because a New IP world built on software-defined networks (SDN) and virtualized functions ultimately means everyone can get their own network. It means hackers can be stopped. It means the possibilities are endless.
Sure, NFV and SDN are hot and you can't spit without reading about one or the other or both, but focusing on the piece parts can mean you miss the big picture. Major service providers such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) aren't transforming their networks for the sake of transformation or even to cut their costs of scaling up bandwidth. They are shaping a New IP future that delivers new services in new ways that create new value and benefits for their customers.
New IP doesn't mean taking what we have today and then building it in the same way but with virtualized functions -- recreating the wheel (or the stack) so to speak, although some are taking that approach today. It means no more stacks. It means something more along the lines of connect-the-dots only the dots are always moving.
In a true New IP future, where functions are virtualized and networked, every enterprise can get their own router instance, their own virtualized firewall, even their own NAT, because virtualized functions can be assigned on a per-user basis to be networked and controlled at that scale. This sounds incredibly self-centered -- Hey, that's my router! That's my NAT! -- but the implications of a distributed, agile network, made up of billions of Your Own Networks is powerful one, indeed.
How powerful, you might ask? Take, for example, security -- one of the biggest issues faced by enterprises and consumers around the globe -- with Your Own Network, security is built in from the start because Your Own Network has its own firewall. Distributing security in this manner means that hackers can't breach one big network firewall and suddenly have the keys to the kingdom. More granular security protects each layer of resources, delivering much more protection that is possible today.
Customer portals are key to this approach and many service providers are already providing to allow their customers to control their own services -- AT&T's Network on Demand is a good example of this approach. (See Customer Experience in an SDN World, and listen to Inside AT&T's Network on Demand and Virtual Reality: AT&T's Network on Demand.)
In a Your Own Network environment, service providers can give virtual routers, virtual firewalls, virtual equipment to an enterprise, and that enterprise can manage their own resources and interfaces through a portal. "It's as if it were their own complete private network," said Andrew Coward, vice president of service provider strategy at Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), in a video interview at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event. "We haven't been able to do that since the days when you bought leased lines and created your own network by yourself so we've kind of been able to go back in time and give that flexibility to customers which simply isn't available with the MPLS or IP networks that are around today." (See End-User or Enterprise Benefits to the New IP and watch for an upcoming Tune in Tuesday radio show featuring Coward talking about this Own Network concept.)
Containers will play a big role in Your Own Network, too, in fact they are key drivers because they allow true portability of applications -- it's that "write once, deploy many times" world we've been talking about but not experiencing for a long time.
Containers are a lightweight approach to virtualization that packages everything an application needs in once place and lets that container run where it needs to. As Carol Wilson, editor at large at Light Reading, noted in her article last week, AT&T and Verizon are among 14 major service providers joining the Open Container Initiative which the Linux Foundation and Docker Inc. project launched this year. (See Containers a Critical Piece of Telecom's Future and vote in our new container poll A Container Future.)
Writes Wilson: "Containers -- and Docker is the de facto container -- essentially create a package around a piece of software that includes everything it needs to run, including its code, runtime and systems tools and libraries. The software can then run the same way in different operating environments. That fits neatly into the telecom operators' movement from an infrastructure focus toward an application one in response to customer demand, says Doug Nassaur, a lead principal technical architect with AT&T. This becomes a fundamental step in the evolution to the New IP, and a more scalable, flexible service platform."
If you are starting to think that the Your Own Network of the future sounds a heck of a lot like a data center network, you are right, but the catch is that the data center has to operate like a network at the same time. This means that applications have to be aware like never before -- aware of what others are doing, where they are and where are going.
Some suppliers like Oracle Communications are making this possible with intelligent orchestrators that can not only start up a new network function in the cloud, and scale it up and down, but also be able to connect instances together and tell everyone around about that new instance. We are also seeing movement of data center technology into the telco world -- like Apache Mesos, an open source approach to managing clusters of computers. (See New IP: It's the B-OSS and Verizon Uses Mesosphere to Manage Data Centers.)
There is no doubt that the New IP network of the future looks different from the old IP network, but people have not yet grasped just how different. I think we are on the cusp of finding out.
— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Editor, The New IP