OK, Apple's new Apple Watch, already tagged the "iWatch" in popular usage, sure is pretty. Many say it's "cool." Some say it's stupid, too, and who's right here will likely depend less on the iWatch or its link to the iPhone than on a new view of network services that might end up driving SDN and NFV deployment in a new direction.
It's obvious to even hardened Apple fans that you're not going to write a novel, or even an email, on a watch. It's obvious that you're not browsing the web to shop for something or watch a movie. What the iWatch really provides is an easier way to do something trivial on your iPhone. Answer an IM without dragging out the phone, see how far you are from your destination by glancing at your wrist rather than wrestling with your phone -- all that's reasonable. But with all wearable tech, everyone is thinking about how you can retain a trivial interface while creating a very useful service. The answer is context.
An iWatch could give you suggested answers to an IM question because most could be answered "Yes" or "No." That's context. It could tell you how far it was to your destination if it knew where you are and where you're going -- context. A little context injected into mobile services, perhaps married to a voice-driven personal assistant like Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana, lets your iWatch become a conduit for suggestions, hints, prompts, that are well within its limited GUI capability. The question, from a network perspective, is the "how" and "who"; how you'd build the infrastructure and who does the building.
Contextual services can be visualized as a bunch of cloud-hosted agent processes waiting for a user (via their iWatch of course) to invoke one. These processes act on behalf of the user, analyzing information and correlating elements of call records, schedule, location, and social likes and dislikes to suggest a decision the user can quickly ratify or change. In a sense, you could visualize this as a different decoding of the familiar "SDN" acronym -- a "service delivery network" not unlike the content delivery networks we now have. You want a video, you get connected to the cache best able to deliver it. You want an iWatch contextual service, and you get linked with the best process to offer it.
What's interesting about this service delivery network model is that CDNs are already seen as big potential applications for the other SDN -- the software-defined network. Most everyone agrees that we can't scale an SDN to the level of the Internet today, and maybe never will. We can darn sure make a CDN work with it, though, and we can make service delivery, CDN-style, work as well. Picture wearable tech linked to a service gateway, from which SDN process connections spin outward to gather the information needed. If iWatches are big, and in particular if they drive a competitive response from Microsoft and Google and even Amazon, this could be the biggest SDN application of all.
Of course, "processes" are software elements, and you can visualize the software process side of our service delivery network as an application for network functions virtualization. NFV lets you spin up a process when you need it, create or tear down copies of the process to accommodate changes in demand, and manage the processes using automated tools. NFV could make the contextual services that wearable tech will drive both feasible and profitable.
Think of Siri or Cortana as "agents" and you can easily visualize them as robots, appliances. NFV lets you build network appliances ad hoc from components, right? It could then build our agent-robots for us, assembling the data and functionality we need, and even driving the SDN paths needed to link the parts of our virtual organism together. The whole "service delivery network" would be a bunch of data centers linked with SDN and capable of running a vast inventory of software tools and storing a vast inventory of data, all designed to contribute something to our lives -- something small in itself that can become large when assembled with other pieces and used to support our decisions and behaviors. It's an NFV application that has sex appeal, and that has clear potential -- clear because Apple just made a big bet on it and they've showed they're pretty well in touch with buyer needs.
Wearable tech and context are demand-side drivers of both SDN and NFV when we need those kinds of drivers very badly. If revolutionary technologies like SDN and NFV are applied only to our current services, there's little they can do other than make those services cheaper, and we're building new networks whose revenues and profits are destined to decline as our revolutions erode their price points. If we can build some kind of service that people will pay more to get, then we're investing with a positive expectation of return. That's the kind of investment that every network operator is eager to make, so it's a constructive mission for our two technology revolutions. That's what revolutions should be about.
— Tom Nolle, President/Founder/Principal Analyst, CIMI Corp.