There’s little doubt that a lot has changed when it comes to network design, specification and build. The seemingly simple goal of carrying traffic from point A to point B might remain, but these days it comes with a long list of options and alternatives to cover a wide range of network architectures, content providers and service types, all of which might have different requirements for bandwidth, latency, and availability.
5G Wireless Technology
Many of these current changes are being driven by the accelerated deployment of wireless 5G technology. In addition, the emerging use of Open RAN technology opens the door to a multi-vendor, disaggregated, network environment where the network hardware and software might come from a range of different suppliers. What’s more, the service provider might also offer new revenue generating services developed and deployed by specialist third party companies focusing on specific verticals such as gaming, healthcare, education, and finance. The number of different vendors, equipment suppliers and devices that can be involved in a single service has grown exponentially in these last few years adding complexity to the network and creating even more demands on network management.
Network Software Automation
Obviously, all this flexibility and disaggregation in the network supply and services chain will mean nothing if you don’t have the tools to manage it and guarantee delivery. Indeed, the very diversity of the services being delivered demands even greater integration of network hardware and software, as well as advances in overall network management and control.
In fact, this new world demands a harmonized approach between network hardware optimized for the service being delivered, and network software automation that understands the requirements so that it can fulfil the delivery.
Looked at another way, this means the services layer of the network has to understand the capabilities of the transport layer and vice versa. The two elements need to be in lock step, synchronized and acting as one in order to maintain agreed service standards for every service being carried. This goes well beyond simple network management as it has been known in the past.
Rather, this level of service delivery requires an orchestration system that provides network and service integration, automation, and end-to-end control. Too often today, the transport, or IP, part of the network has literally no idea of the requirements of the service that it is carrying. It cannot hope to fulfil service specific requirements because it has no visibility of them and is little more than a dumb A to B pipe. That is a network no longer fit for purpose for the services being developed now.
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about software defined networks (SDN). The concept has been that with the greater use of software within networks, new services or upgrades could be rolled out more efficiently and much faster than in traditional, hardware-centric, network environments. Perhaps it is time to re-assess what SDN really means because as software begins to dominate in the delivery of specified services, then maybe what we are witnessing is the emergence of networks defined by the services they are delivering.
Services Defined Networking
Focusing on services provides the context for SDN to deliver network functionality that fits the specific service being carried. Service defined SDN networks are fit for purpose networks. They rely on that understanding between the three relevant network layers – the service layer, the transport layer and the management – or rather orchestration – layer. With a service defined SDN network, creating the network isn’t just about deploying software, rather the goal is to deliver software that is able to adapt to the business needs of the customer with service requirements “pushed” down to the underlying network elements. And while it might demand a cloud-native environment, it is the integration, automation, and understanding between the network layers that ensures the services are delivered consistently and to specification.
It is unlikely that one company will always supply all three pieces of this network puzzle. However, to make it work, you do need to understand all three pieces of the puzzle and be able to integrate them so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We call our approach to this, IP Wave. It encompasses all three network layers and crucially delivers that end-to-end understanding of the services.
The truth is that the network, and the network technology, has changed beyond all recognition – adding complexity, capability and flexibility to the range of services and delivery methods at its disposal. Yet, as the old adage goes, the more things have changed, the more they stayed the same. Today’s networks still primarily focus on – guaranteeing delivery of the service from point A to point B. With IP Wave, we recognize the network has to change, which will require an understanding of the services it is carrying and an integration between hardware, software, and orchestration. In a way, IP Wave changes SDN from Software Defined Networking to Services Defined Networking.