Security, standards hold back network innovation

Industry insiders, including Allstream COO Ray Lahoud, gathered at the 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit to discuss the promise of IT networking — from virtualization to microcontainers and intent-based networking — and the greatest challenges to its progress.


With technology moving at the speed of … well, real time, it’s tough to keep up with all the latest innovations in any IT sector.

Thankfully, the 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit gathered industry insiders for a panel discussion on innovation. We’ve combined moments from that on-stage chat with recent research headlines to sum up the current buzz on network innovation — and the biggest challenges to its progress.

The innovations …

NFV and SDN: Panel moderator John Antonio, chief strategy officer at Interdynamix, kicked things off by noting that “virtualization and software-defined everything seem to be everywhere right now.”

Indeed, much of the discussion that followed was dominated by network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN).

“With NFV, now I can offer (customers) on-network or off-network. And they can now use all their network intelligence, their scale, their reach to offer more to their own customers,” said panelist James Buchanan, senior VP and GM at ADVA Optical Networking, a German-based maker of carrier network equipment.

As for SDN, it’s gaining some deeper traction. According to RCR Wireless, a recent Verizon/Longitude survey of 165 senior global IT leaders found that 15 per cent are now “piloting or deploying” SDN, with that figure expected to leap to 57 per cent in just two years.

Microcontainers and the edge: Though panelists called microcontainers and the ability to scale to cloud at the edge the next phases of NFV innovation in action, it was noted that the telecom sector as a whole is not quite there yet. Why not? See potential culprits listed below under ‘The challenges to innovation’ section.

Intent-based networking: Gartner has already red flagged this as one of its top 10 infrastructure and operations trends for 2018. Cisco is among a handful of vendors now offering intent-based network systems (IBNS), which combine machine learning (ML) and automation to manage — not just monitor — networks in a strategic, nearly real-time way.

As described in NetworkWorld, ML software is programmed to ‘learn’ the network’s ideal operational state. Even as the network responds to constant change, automation immediately triggers any corrective action required to maintain the network’s ideal state in almost real time.

Although Gartner VP Andrew Lerner predicts IBNS won’t really go mainstream until 2020, that’s pretty much just around the corner, right?

The challenges to innovation…

Integration and standardization: Although NFV and SDN are two of the most promising network innovations, a report by Cartesian says their implementation is being hindered by a lack of open source options and industry standardization.

In the study (based on its survey of more than 100 telecom sector pros), Cartesian suggests “better integration between VNFs (virtualized network functions) from different vendors is needed — along with the adoption of open standards — to accelerate NFV adoption.”

Panelist Buchanan vouched for that, telling the telecom summit that today’s customers are starting to demand more openness and interoperability from carriers and service providers.

“We’re seeing CIOs now really digging in their heels and saying no, this is not what we meant — we really want ‘open.’ Being able to provide open interfaces for people is important. With good SDN, for the first time, the layers all speak English. We have to be able to speak the same language and support it.”

Lack of automation: Echoing Gartner’s bullish outlook on IBNS, panelist Ray Lahoud said further automation of networks is needed to transform them into fully intelligent systems.

“Automation is important,” said Lahoud, COO of Allstream. “The volume of bandwidth and artificially intelligent data we’re able to collect is great. But if you don’t automate it and link it to self-assessing situations, that’s not useful for us. We need to move from just monitoring the network to intelligently managing services.”

He also sees automation as playing a key role in confronting another barrier to network innovation, the challenge of …

Security: As perhaps the deepest wrinkle in any network manager’s brow, security “is definitely front and centre,” Lahoud continued. “It’s a very important part of the puzzle. With a lot more data available, a lot more risk is there and we need an automated way to manage risk.”

Lack of customer focus: While it’s easy to innovate Just Because You Can, innovation should primarily be driven by the needs and desires of customers, said panel member David Fell.

“Not everything that’s connected should be connected. Just because you can connect it doesn’t mean you should. So much of what we see is supply-side driven. But there’s a huge opportunity for all our partners to talk to customers and find out what they really need,” said Fell, CEO of the Eastern Ontario Regional Broadband Network.

“That,” he added, “will spur innovation faster than anything else.”

Image: iStock

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