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Reimagining the Network

MPLS+SDN+NFV World Congress is almost here, and what a great forum it is for those interested in learning about and understanding the software-defined wave. The conference, taking place in Paris, gathers a broad group of industry experts from Hyperscale providers, Telcos, Enterprises, Universities and networking vendors, with an agenda that covers the latest in transformative technologies.

Continuing to be top-of-mind for our customers is a focus on using these transformative technologies to enable business outcomes, like enabling new revenue streams, lowering CAPEX dramatically, or lowering OPEX dramatically.  This focus on outcomes coupled with an accelerated pace of technology and architectural changes are enabling (or perhaps forcing) new business models.

We have an opportunity with these transformative technologies to think of the network in a fundamentally new way. We must embrace technology and architectural transformation in addition to automating the entire network operation lifecycle in order to accomplish these outcomes.

Why the urgency? It is no secret that global IP traffic keeps increasing – nearly threefold over the next five years and 127-fold from 2005 to 2021. A few drivers can explain this exponential growth:

  • Average broadband speed today is in the range of 20 to 50 Mbps, depending on the country where you are, whereas 10 years ago it was hardly reaching 2 Mbps. It does not stop here – some Service Providers are considering offering connections up to 10 Gbps in the near future!
  • The number of devices connected to IP networks by 2021 will be three times than the global population.
  • Upcoming 5G rollouts will put even more pressure on network infrastructures as GSMA estimates 5G connections to reach 1.2 billion by 2025.

Service Providers must support this continued bandwidth growth, but they cannot continue to expand their CAPEX nor are they able to continue to spend 3-4 times their CAPEX on operating that infrastructure (OPEX).  The balance between revenues and costs has become unsustainable. This new way of thinking is enabling Service Providers to take a fresh look at how they are designing, architecting, and operating their networks.

The opportunity to reimagine the network.

Interestingly, new market entrants often find innovative ways to address industry challenges. The telecom industry is no exception. Hyperscale web providers have succeeded in leveraging SDN and automation to drive scalability and operational efficiency to new heights. Some of the concepts they have actively promoted – such as network fabric architectures, network telemetry and model-driven network management – are now making inroads into many Enterprise and Service Provider networks.

When it comes to network architecture and operations, I strongly believe there are four key principles – simplicity, scalability, automation and security.

Simplicity and scalability

Over time, the networking stack has become too complex. Too many protocols (be it at the Data or Control plane level) have been introduced to respond to specific problems, but rarely have protocols been removed from the network. This must stop. Not only are too many protocols leading to complex network architectures, but they are also impacting network operations efficiency.

Two key software innovations – Segment Routing and EVPN – can help greatly simplify the networking stack.

In just a few years, Segment Routing has emerged as the foundational technology helping Service Providers make their networks SDN-ready: SR brings simplicity – as it removes the LDP protocol; and scalability – which frees up the network from maintaining per-flow states. These are obvious benefits, but there is more to it. Controlling how the network transports applications is increasingly important to ensure a superior customer experience. Not every application is the same – some are latency-sensitive and some are bandwidth-hungry – hence do not have the same requirements vis-à-vis the network. Segment Routing powers a unified fabric that can match end-to-end paths to every application’s requirements at scale.

Segment Routing will also play a key role in 5G networks. Network slicing makes the delivery of myriad services possible over a converged architecture and Segment Routing. MPLS today and IPv6 in the future is fundamental to implement these slices efficiently and at scale. Cisco and Vodafone showcased exactly that at Mobile World Congress recently.

Ethernet VPN (EVPN) is another technology helping to simplify network architectures. With a unified control plane capable of delivering Layer 2 as well as Layer 3 VPN services, Service Providers can fast-track the provisioning and delivery of VPN services. Having one single Control Plane extending from Data Center to Metro and WAN brings simplification to the networking stack.

Another important aspect relates to network fabric architectures that are inherently scalable, enabling topological regularity and operational simplicity.

Network fabric architectures bring modularity, composing standardized elements into an easily managed system. That modularity is critical as it enables Service Providers to use a scale- out approach for growing their network. They no longer have to largely rethink their network architecture when bandwidth explodes – they just add more of the same. It is easier to automate and deploy while also being simpler to operate.

Moreover, network fabric architectures deliver equal paths between network nodes – this makes the whole fabric highly resilient as the network can survive multiple network failures without impacting services.

In a nutshell, this “fabric” approach to network design combined with Segment Routing and EVPN offers Service Providers unprecedented simplicity and scalability.

Automation

Network operations are traditionally anchored in the five stages of the network lifecycle – Plan, Design, Implement, Operate and Optimize (PDIOO). This lifecycle has proved to be very efficient but is showing its limitations, as managing and operating the network of the future cannot be done manually by humans.

The industry has  generally accepted that SDN now equals automation. I strongly believe that automation is an area in which we will witness unprecedented innovation and changes over the coming years. Yes, automation can help move from manual configurations to automated provisioning, but its potential is so much more than that. We are talking about a complete overhaul of network operations. Several key and timely technologies contribute to drive this massive transformation:

  • Operational data can now be streamed from networking devices at very high frequency (every 5 to 10s).
  • Massive amounts of data can be stored in what the industry refers to as data lakes.
  • All this data can feed machine learning algorithms to extract knowledge in near real-time.

All this will result in network operations moving up the “analytics maturity curve”:

  • From descriptive today – “What happened? Where did it happen? Why did it happen?”
  • Through predictive – “What’s happening now? What will happen next?”
  • To prescriptive – “How can I change the outcome of what’s going to happen next?”

Our recently-announced Cisco Crosswork Network Automation portfolio is paving the way toward reimagining network operations for Service Providers, introducing the industry’s most comprehensive closed-loop multi-vendor, multi-domain automation solution designed to help service providers run their large-scale networks.  I encourage you to read my blog for an overview, then follow our multi-part blog series over the coming weeks to get a more in-depth look at each of the five new solutions in the portfolio: Cisco Crosswork Change Automation, Cisco Crosswork Network Insights, Cisco Crosswork Data Platform, Cisco Crosswork Health  Insights, and Cisco Crosswork Situation Manager.

Security

With more applications and devices connected to the network, the risk surface is getting larger. According to BDO, an international advisory firm, cyber security and data hacking was cited as a material risk by just 37 percent of service providers back in 2015 and rising to 69 percent in 2017.

Because of its critical role in delivering current and future services, the network must be secure. A trusted network starts from the ground up with a trusted hardware and software infrastructure.  This bedrock of trust is an essential foundation to build the suite of security services required to support today’s service provider infrastructure.

Cisco is securing the network at three levels:

  • At the hardware level – we ensure platform integrity while in transit from factories to customer premises.
  • At the software level – we provide secure boot and integrity check to ensure the software that is installed is genuine and unmodified.
  • At the network level – we offer MACSec hardware support to encrypt traffic between network nodes as well as scalable anti-DDoS.

Simplicity, scalability, automation and security are key elements in enabling Mass-Scale Networking and helping Service Providers transform their networks and evolve their operations.

If you are planning to attend the MPLS+SDN+NFV World Congress in Paris, please join me on April 11th for the Keynotes Session, where I will be speaking more about reimagining the network.  Also, don’t miss these great presentations:

  • The How, What, Why and When of Network APIs – Carl Moberg, Technology Director
  • Automation Getting Started with OpenConfig – Santiago Alvarez, Distinguished Engineer
  • SR Deployment Experience and Technology Update – Clarence Filsfils, Cisco Fellow
  • IPv6 Keynote – Mark Townsley, Cisco Fellow
  • Leveraging IPv6 while Handling 120M+ Subscribers Growth – Rajiv Asati, Distinguished Engineer
  • Scaling PCE for the Next Generation Network Services – Ranga Maddipudi, Product Line Manager & Sonny Franslay – Product Manager
  • A Journey into Service Provider Use Cases with EVPN – Patrice Brissette, Principal Engineer
  • Combining Open Source and Open Standards – Charles Eckel, Open Source Developer Evangelist
  • Network Telemetry: The Foundation of Big Data Analytics – Kumar Reddy, Director, Technical Marketing Engineering

And if you walk around the Exhibition floor, come and visit us at the Cisco booth, where we will be showcasing some amazing demos on Segment Routing, Automation, Security and SD-WAN.

Hope to see you all in Paris!

@jonathandavidsn

 

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1 Comments

  1. Wonderfully Penned article Jonathan !