The Softwareisation of Everything
06 May 2019 | Mattias Fridström
“Software is eating the world.” Marc Andreesen’s often-quoted phrase, which was originally published in 2011, is still true today.
However, software has not had such an easy time eating the network. There were a number of challenges that had to be overcome before software could consume the large, unruly beast that is the internet backbone – and some still remain.
In many ways connectivity remains a physical asset that requires human labor to install, provision and manage. When you request broadband service, a cable still needs to be physically connected by an engineer to a box somewhere, whether it’s in a home or a data centre. Legacy systems connecting disparate carriers with some cumbersome, non-automated routines still persist. However, it is now possible to do things in software that were previously seen as unrealistic.
Network softwareisation offers tangible benefits for backbone providers to enhance operational efficiency and service quality, enabling carriers to do things faster, more easily and with improved quality assurance. Soon, everything that can be software-based will be, causing further uptake of SDN adoption in backbone networks as the industry moves toward an environment where it becomes a common component of core network infrastructure.
Digitalisation and Virtualisation, Let’s Get Un-Physical
The digitalisation of business requires a backbone that can keep pace with the elastic, flexible and self-service nature of the cloud. Thanks to a mix of SDN and NFV called software defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), softwareisation is finally a reality for the larger network.
SD-WAN enables the public internet to provide the security and quality of service that were previously perceived as only being available via dedicated MPLS contracts. While MPLS was the preferred method for connecting enterprises to their own self-hosted apps, it was ill-suited for connecting to the public cloud.
With the need to support hybrid public and private clouds, more enterprises are turning to SD-WAN-powered internet connectivity and away from costly, long-term dedicated MPLS contracts that can take months to provision. This is transforming the market and blurring the lines between the previously well-delineated wholesale and enterprise services markets.
New Capabilities Add Benefits
SDN and NFV also offer tools for enterprises to slice up networks and other cloud resources to meet flexible and peak-season business demands and enable new services. Innovations among open-source software and white box vendors enable engineers to flexibly and rapidly customise their own networks and provide CAPEX and OPEX savings to carriers and enterprises alike.
Software-based automation will improve existing services and enable new services such as bandwidth on demand, allowing customers to control their own destiny in how they distribute their broadband while delivering new scalable, on-demand and self-service applications.
Softwareisation also offers another benefit, greater visibility into the network.
Data Transparency Drives Automation
Now, more than ever the backbone needs to become automated and data driven to meet carriers’, enterprises’ and consumers increasingly flexible requirements. Luckily, softwareisation enables greater visibility into the network and allows this data to be shared more transparently with end users and other applications.
Advances in data analytics, AI and machine learning can make network data more understandable and deliver insights for improved planning, usage and to more rapidly resolve issues. More importantly, these can deliver on the long sought promise of network automation including self-healing, self-discovery, zero-touch self-provisioning and self-configuration capabilities, among others.
Automation is critical because it eliminates human errors, reduces costs and time to service, and enables valuable IT staff to focus on strategic business matters that deliver greater ROI.
Failure is NOT an Option
Unlike the “fail fast” philosophy employed by startups and in software development, failure is not an option for network carriers and operators.
In addition to many familiar consumer uses, the backbone often supports emergency services such as 911 in the US, 999 in the UK or 112 in the EU as well as hospital, police or other critical communications that can literally mean the difference between life or death if they go down. Similarly, the internet supports mission-critical applications for enterprises and web-based businesses where just a little down time during peak season can mean missed earnings, lost customers and angry investors.
For network operators and their end users, all solutions must be thoroughly tested and vetted to find any potential problems before they are implemented live in a production network. Doing so ensures that, while software is eating the world, we don’t all wind up with a case of severe indigestion.
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