Network administrators will have a lot to watch this year.
As in video. We’re all watching tons more of it, especially on mobile devices. According to a brand-new forecast from Cisco, “mobile video will have the highest growth rate of any mobile application” during the next four years. Cisco predicts that by 2020, more than 75 per cent of the world’s total mobile data traffic will be video.
How will enterprise networks handle this surge in mobile video traffic?
Via network virtualization (NV) and mobile edge computing (MEC), according to Analysys Mason. The U.K.-based telecom research firm spelled that out in its list of top 10 predictions for 2016:
“Network virtualization technology will enable distribution of content delivery elements much closer to the mobile edge to improve customer experience, even as video traffic grows,” said the firm.
To find out how all of this might work (and benefit Canadian enterprises), I dug into a report co-authored by Dana Cooperson, director of research for network-focused software at Analysys Mason. Then she generously answered my questions from her Boston office.
What is mobile edge computing?
MEC is a type of IT architecture that moves cloud and computer processing capabilities to the edge of cellular networks, in closer proximity to mobile customers.
How can MEC help enterprise networks with mobile video?
By moving computer processing closer to the mobile end-user, MEC lessens network congestion, speeds up transmission and improves the quality of content (including video) that gets delivered.
“MEC is very much driven by this demand for video,” Cooperson told me. Using MEC, mobile video “should be of higher quality if the content can be moved closer to those customers.”
Where does network virtualization come in?
NV basically allows admins to add new applications, capabilities (like MEC), flexibility and scalability to a network without completely reconfiguring its existing architecture or virtual machines. It also automates the network and divides it into strategic segments so its runs more efficiently.
How can enterprises deploy NV?
The three major ways to deploy network virtualization are cloud computing, network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networks (SDN), Cooperson said.
Cloud’s been around for a while so we won’t drill too deeply into that. NFV adds a deeper layer to network virtualization by giving admins a simpler way to add things like intrusion detection, load balancing or firewalls to very specific parts of the network as they’re needed.
SDN is a way to change, provision and manage a network using programmable software switches. SDN is a bit more involved than NFV because it requires admins to separate the network’s control plane from its data plane.
How can network virtualization and MEC work together?
Simply put, network virtualization helps enable MEC by cutting down on the need to purchase and install new hardware, making MEC deployment simpler, faster and cheaper.
“Many MEC applications were economically impractical because a special appliance or other piece of customer premise equipment would need to be put on-site, and then once there it required a truck roll (ie. service call) to configure or reconfigure,” Cooperson said.
“Virtualization opens the (mobile) edge to new applications without the need for truck rolls and allows third parties to provide applications.”
What are some challenges to deploying MEC and NV?
There are no technical standards for MEC yet but the industry is working on developing some. Also, “enterprises could deploy this network (virtualization) themselves, but most probably they would use a communication service provider (CSP) to deploy and manage the equipment,” Cooperson said.
In addition, many CSPs will maintain a hybrid model of traditional physical networks mixed with newer virtualized networks. “The question of … how to manage the hybrid network will be an evolution, a work in progress,” she said.
Ultimately, the need for speed — to deliver faster, higher-quality video to customers on their mobile devices — is driving organizations to move toward mobile edge computing. Network virtualization could help them get there sooner and more affordably.
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