Like the whole of the IT business, the networking sector saw its share of continuous evolution in 2017.
For example, last year witnessed the first shipments of 400G technologies into the wide-area network via solutions from AT&T and Vodafone New Zealand; the increased deployment of software-defined networking; and an early example of augmented reality go viral with Pokémon Go. New virtual reality applications came into use that reshape the way we interact with the world around us.
As these high-bandwidth applications become further ingrained in our daily lives, the implementation of an adaptive network––one that enables you to avoid network complexity by combining intelligent automation, real-time performance data, and the ability to continuously tune your network––becomes even more important.
It doesn’t appear as if these innovations are going to slow down anytime soon. So Steve Alexander, Chief Technology Officer at network strategy provider Ciena, offers eWEEK readers a look ahead at what network operators need to do to keep up with the pace of innovation in 2018. Here are his five major networking mandates for network operators, as he sees them.
Mandate No. 1: Jump on the 5G Bandwagon
5G connectivity has the potential to deliver end-user experiences that are not possible with today’s networks, Alexander said. When compared to current 4G networks, 5G mobile networks are expected to offer up to 100x higher user data rates, up to 100x more connected devices (humans and machines), up to 5x reduction in latency, up to 1000x more data volume, and a perceived network availability of 99.999 percent. With that, 5G is poised to unleash game-changing applications—such as remote surgeries--while bringing broadband service to geographies that previously simply could not afford it.
Mandate No. 2: Adopt In-Flight Encryption
When it comes to keeping networks secure, swift action is the key. Encrypting sensitive data while in transit is essential to an overall data security strategy, especially with data constantly moving between data centers. Encryption at the optical layer during transport now can provide a strong and effective safeguard while simplifying the need for multiple complex encryption schemes at higher layers, offering an additional level of protection to enable end-to-end security, Alexander said.
Mandate No. 3: Support Green Networking Technology
Addressing operating costs with the incorporation of energy-efficient networking technology is imperative, Alexander said. This includes advances in data center cooling technologies, converged infrastructure solutions and hardware on the network itself such as routers and switches that consume far less energy – in the case of some packet switches, less than half the energy – than legacy alternatives. “Vendors are bringing energy efficiency to the party, and it’s on the network operators to make it a priority,” Alexander said.
Mandate No. 4: Be More Open
As network hardware reaches end-of-life or needs an upgrade, there will be more opportunities to use open, software-defined networks that leverage APIs and commodity hardware. The rise of virtualized network function (VNF) ecosystems also means networks can adapt far quicker with, say, a new firewall solution or router, that can be downloaded to general purpose hardware rather than the legacy rip-and-replace method of just swapping one proprietary network element for another, which is both time-consuming and costly.
Mandate No. 5: Set the Stage for the Adaptive Network
The stage is now set for the next evolution in networking: using hardware, software, analytics and services to make the network run more efficiently, be more responsive and act on operators’ policies faster than ever before. End users are asking for more; networks must be built to adapt to these requests as they occur, not days or months later.
“The race to the adaptive network brings a once in a lifetime opportunity for network operators,” Alexander said. “The next-network will grow smarter, be more agile, and be far more responsive in anticipating and reacting to the voracious appetite for bandwidth of our increasingly demanding customer population.”