Many of you will probably have heard of a new film that is currently being shown now called “The eye of the storm”, which relates the story of a small town hit by enormous storms one after another including tornadoes and hurricanes. For those of us that may think that there´s a mistake in the post, yes; this is still about technology. But seeing the film the other day, I noticed some facts that somehow reminded me of the routing business we are in.
The film has nothing new to offer. Especially for those of us who may have watched a similar one called Twister in the 80s (and still remember the flying cow!). The interesting thing is that I watched the film in experience mode. This means the theater had set up huge fans and water sprinklers that were coordinated with the different scenes. Thus, when the hurricane hit the people on the screen, the system turned on the fans and a strong wind with tiny water drops would hit your face and body – practically all through the film. So, by the end, and since the film is all about hurricane scenes, when lights turn on you are chilled and wet. I cannot think who thought this would be a good idea! Let´s see:
First of all it doesn´t help a bit to get into the film. You keep wondering when the fans are going to turn on, the strength of the air, and other things that have nothing to do with the story. And by the end you only want to run off to get a towel and a warm drink. Secondly, I am sure that the theater made a great investment in a system that the customers might not like, or is not a real improvement in the experience of just watching the film. And the third point, it´s more expensive to go and see. So many customers would just prefer to save their money.
And here is where this links with the Routing Business (yes, I mentioned this was about Technology). To begin with, we all know that Network Technology right now is exactly in the very eye of the storm. NFV, SND, Security, Mobility needs and such are expected to bring important changes in the way that service providers consider the current network business. But apart from the obvious word games, let´s see why I saw similarities between a vendor manufacturer, the film and the theater experience:
- Efficiency: The necessities of customers when it comes to network equipment are well known. However, many vendors pack their equipment with lots of features that, a) the clients do not need and b) end up draining resources thus lowering the performance of their routers in key features that the customers pay for. In the same way as the film, where the story starts to lose all interest due to the endless storms.
- Investment: When a vendor designs a product roadmap, the return of investment is one of the key factors. So, they invest in features that suit the needs of the majority of their customers or in special features that are demanded from a niche market or special customers. Contrariwise, the investment is useless. Throughout the film, I kept thinking. “Apart from a hurricane film, what is all this investment in this infrastructure valid for?” Because it cannot possibly be reused for any other films (or only for a very small number of them).
- Price: Is the customer ready to pay extra for what you are offering? We live in a world where budgets are tighter each year. And customers try to save as much money as possible in things that are not really necessary. So is it reasonable to charge extra (and risk rising above the market price) for features that the customer may not need, want or even appreciate?
As you can appreciate, I didn´t find the film very interesting (with or without fans), but I reached the conclusion that it makes sense to avoid some extraordinary, even appealing and marketable features, that only raise the cost and do not help to more effectively solve the customer requirements (in this case, the obvious need was watching a good film).
This is what we have in mind in Teldat when we design our routers. How to solve the customer needs as efficiently as possible, at a lower cost. Consequently the first thing we do is to find out what these needs are and stick to them, without adding a lot of features and functionalities that we charge our customers for, but do not necessarily add a significant value. For us in Teldat, this is what competitiveness is all about.
Lola Miravet: Telecommunications Engineer, is the Head of Teldat’s Corporate Marketing Department.
Or, is there? Had you ever thought about it? Is it important? Maybe not, but I bet you that a vast majority of us have at least lived a moment in which we have strongly wished the alphabetical list by which we were being called was in a different order. Or that our surname began with a different letter, which is more or less the same.
As in this example, there are a lot of things in our everyday life which we do for unknown reasons, or even worse for reasons which might not be the most adequate. In the first case, it is clear that humans are routine animals which tend to standardize a behaviour, with which they feel comfortable, and then they stick to it. After all, this seems to be the most efficient model and due to our lack of time and multiple occupations, it might make sense (or at least, we convince ourselves that it does).
The second case is more complicated, because sometimes thinking outside the box, or defending a different position, requires even extra effort, time and sometimes personal engagement. Thus, sometimes we forget the reasons behind the true objective in favor of others, equally valid but with less impact in what we should be achieving.
This happens every day and to every one of us. Why we all keep checking emails at off-hours, when nothing (besides spam) is expected? Because it is our normal routine behaviour. Even though we have a strong commitment to “this time we definitely get in shape”, why do we remain sitting on our sofas instead of rushing to the Gym? Because we are able to find millions of “valid” reasons that prevent us from reaching our objective in the best ever possible way. Instead, we would rather end in a more comfortable and less effortless position.
The consequences of making thoughtless decisions in ICT environments
These, are examples taken from our real life, and have no greater impact on other people or organizations other than ourselves. But the real problem comes when we take the same behaviour model to our professional life. Here, and specially in the ICT area, which is the platform upon which company processes are built, every decision has a direct impact on people’s performance, on organization effectiveness and on the business bottom line.
Honestly, think for a minute: How many ICT purchase projects are influenced by some behaviours that might lead to a second-best solution for our project? Of course, time and resources are a big issue here, so sometimes we (all) tend to go for the most recognized manufacturers, or to the sales guy which is constantly pressing to get a deal, or to the solution that makes us safer (because that is what everybody does and so, I will not be blamed if it fails), or simply to the one that we are most comfortable with.
Maybe in this way we are losing opportunities to change, to innovate, to improve and to find solutions that better solve the organizations. There are lots of not-so-big companies with excellent technology and superb customer support that due to their size and flexibility can provide specific solutions that address the explicit needs of different sectors. In most cases general purpose vendors with a one-size-fits-all business model, can´t afford to deliver too small functional details and so, the organization ends up lacking a solution that saves them worries, time and money, with the due impact on the business bottom line.
Specific solutions adjusted to specific routing needs
Of course all this effort, is not for free. This requires tests, time, dedication, and also assuming a bit of risk. But if it works, the results are excellent and a huge value is delivered to the companies. We know every step of it because we have seen it happen in almost every customer that we have around the world. From the disbelief, to the skepticism, to the surprise, to the utmost loyalty for years.
So we know how to help any organization to eventually get the (really) best solutions for their routing needs.
Coming back to our alphabet title. Has somebody figured out how to avoid the problem of those whose surname began with letter A B or C, always being the first in the line. The solution was so simple, as to draw out which would be the first letter to begin with. This proves that it is possible, and easier than one might think to change the established order. We have been doing it for a long time, and we can help you decide if for your routing needs, maybe T would be the first to consider, rather than A. Or B. Or, as usually happens, C.
Lola Miravet: Telecommunications Engineer, is the Head of Teldat’s Corporate Marketing Department.
NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) is a new network architecture that proposes to extend the virtualization technology used in the traditional IT environment to the different network elements, to create more flexible networks and services, easier to deploy and operate, for a reduced cost. While RAID and virtualization meant a revolution on the storage technology and on the computing and operating systems technologies respectively, SDN and NFV propose an equivalent transformation on the communications networks. Cloud Computing would not have been possible without the former technologies and SDN and NFV, in turn, rely on Cloud Computing technologies to deliver their promise.
SDN (Software Defined Networking) is also an emerging network architecture that centralizes the view and control of the network, separating the forwarding decisions (control plane) from the network elements that in fact forward the packets of information (data plane), moving, in this way, the intelligence to the “center” of the network from the previously remotely distributed networks elements, like switches or routers.
SDN and NFV can exist independently of each other, but they are, in fact, complementary technologies that reinforce themselves when used simultaneously.
The interest of network operators in NFV technology
NFV is being pushed and promoted mainly by network operators, in the fight with the “Over-the-Top” service providers, which use network operators’ networks as “dumb pipes” to offer value added services and applications to the end users. With NFV, network operators seek to reduce the time to market of new services generation and provisioning, lower the required investment (CAPEX) and the operating and maintenance cost (OPEX) and expedite the innovation by favoring open-source initiatives.
NFV (and SDN) can theoretically be applied to any network element, network part, or function. For instance, it could be applied to the Mobile Core Network of a mobile operator or to the load balancer gear of a data center.
In more or less degree, part of the functionality of these network elements is subject to be virtualized and offered, for a lower cost, in a central location, using traditional low-cost COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) servers running open-source based software, instead of proprietary hardware and software from established vendors. Or at least this is what many network operators are chasing, promoting and starting to test or even trial in the real world.
But, how does all this apply to the enterprise branch office access router, that is the main network element or “function” that Teldat provides? Does this specific network element have any peculiarity or characteristic that could influence or condition the way it can benefit from the NFV and SDN technologies?
Does it make sense to virtualize the access router?
A rigorous analysis falls out of the scope of this post and one will find both advantages and disadvantages when virtualizing a network element such as the access router or CPE. But regardless of the amount of functionality that might be virtualized, let us first say that we see tough to create “smarter networks” by using “dumber routers”. This does not mean that NFV does not apply to the enterprise branch office access router, but that from all the potential benefits of the NFV and SDN technologies, the CAPEX reduction is probably the less interesting one, or in other words, the toughest to obtain.
Some market initiatives, like the HGI (Home Gateway Initiative), founded in 2004, promote a model that increases the functionality of the CPE by embedding on it a “Software Execution Environment”, able to locally execute several applications or functions. This is the opposite of the NFV model regarding where to put the “intelligence”. Both architectures will probably coexist in the foreseeable future, since both have advantages and drawbacks depending on the specific use case.
The “last mile”: A challenge for NFV application
SDN benefits are rarely questioned on the datacenter and specifically on the datacenter switches. Nevertheless, the access network and in particular the “last mile” is a much more heterogeneous environment and the bandwidth, in roughly all the cases, cannot be considered “unlimited”, as you could “model” in a Terabit/s datacenter infrastructure. Clearly this has strong implications on the NFV possibilities for a CPE.
The more complex the network element or function, the more potential NFV has to introduce benefits for the network operator. But also, the more heterogeneous the network element environment, the more complicated is to provide an equivalent “homogeneous” virtualized scenario. The last mile is a quite complex element, with non-trivial requirements such as security, quality of service, redundancy and resilience, different media adaptation, etc. On the other side, the last mile is also a quite heterogeneous scenario, especially for integrated or converged network operators that offer a broad range of access technologies.
Before a widespread adoption of SDN and NFV can occur, a crucial issue must be solved: Interoperability must be guaranteed, so that network operators do not find themselves locked into a specific vendor solution. Carriers should be warned by their experience in the GPON world with the OMCI “proprietary” management, just one fraction of the complexity NFV can imply. The open-source oriented path the network operators are proposing can be very beneficial for them, but it will not solve this interoperability problem per-se and an “integrator” figure is needed. And “integrator” or “vendor” in this regard is pretty much the same thing.
Smart routers that suit any challenge
At Teldat we follow the SDN and NFV trends with interest and we think they will definitely change the networks for good. Being a vendor that focuses on the customer premises side of the communications, we have always needed to interoperate with the network and use and promote the use of standard-based communications. Our coming devices and many of the existing ones are future proof and SDN/NFV-ready. We do this by designing smarter devices that can create smarter networks. Although some network functions can be virtualized, the enterprise branch office network in the cloud-computing era is complex enough to benefit from a powerful future-proof access router.
Eduardo Tejedor: Telecommunications Engineer, Teldat V.P. Strategic Marketing
It is quite obvious to say that corporate communications have evolved. Not so long ago, a few decades ago, “dumb” terminals were connected to a mainframe. A significant evolution followed with the introduction of X25, Frame Relay and ISDN. We could say it had the same level of importance to corporate communications, as the discovery of fire had within prehistoric man. However, more recently, IP networks then totally changed the communication landscape again. So much so, that this could be compared to the invention of the wheel in history. Of course, high-speed connections such as DSL and fiber in recent times can be said to be “the Industrial Revolution” of the network communication, making broadband accessible anywhere at all. Finally, today’s trend toward “Cloud Computing” is in some way returning communications to where they started, as the intelligence is once again being centralized within “the Cloud”.
The “Cloud Computing” and its implementation in companies
Cloud Computing is at an initial stage as far as corporate communications are concerned, but nobody doubts that it will grown significantly in a short period of time, as it has grown and is still growing within residential user communications with applications such as Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365 or Dropbox. Moreover, it should not surprise anybody that the residential market is more advanced than the corporate market in ICT and communications. This already occurred with ADSL, FTTH and 4G connectivity. The question is whether corporate clouds will be public, private or hybrid and the pace of corporate migration to the Cloud. However, it is clear that virtualization is here to stay as the advantages that this offers are obvious so what are the benefits of virtualization in companies?
- Reduced CAPEX and OPEX in the network periphery because of hardware and software resource are being centralized in the Cloud.
- A clear improvement in the control, security and reliability of data and applications
- Flexibility in resource allocation.
- License control
Problems which you can find in virtualization
The evolution of applications towards the Cloud is not necessarily problem free. Firstly, connectivity requirements for a proper user experience are more demanding than those required when local processing and storage are in place. So special attention should be paid to issues such as redundancy, security and network optimization. Secondly, some applications that create a large amount of data volume traffic at local level, such as Digital Signage or Content Management, do not scale well in the Cloud and the problem is that we no longer have a local server for those tasks at the local site. The same occurs when non-IP devices such as printers, alarms, access control, web cameras, etc. … requiring a USB o perhaps even a serial port are taken into account. Obviously these require a local interface and local processing to be conducted, so they are adapted to the Cloud. Regardless of all the above, there is a device in the middle of all that has been mentioned above, that needs to be maintained and if all the above is taken into account, it is of utmost importance; that is the router.
The “router” as solution to various problems in Cloud Computing
The router at the branch office is what connects users and applications, so that user experience is entirely dependent on the router’s efficiency and stability. However, what role is the router going to play in the new Cloud Computing scenarios? At first sight, a minimal amount of involvement could be valid, but … could the router expand its role to evolve into a more efficient player within Cloud Computing scenarios? Certainly, this is the way forward. Due to the router’s strategic situation connecting users to applications, it is able to provide the extra security and optimization required in these scenarios, and because of its positioning within the branch office, it could be the extension of Cloud Applications to interact with local devices. Now, the remaining questions are: Does it have the ability/power to run applications? Does it have the storage capacity required by certain applications? Does it have a management tool to safely conduct local processes? In the past, these tasks had not been necessary to be conducted by a router, so the previously mentioned features in routers were not available or were very limited. At most, some artificial solutions were integrated using additional hardware (mini-PC) into the router chassis. Today, fully converged solutions based on multicore processors are possible, integrating in one physical device two virtual devices, Router + Server, each with its own software and Operating System including HDD or SSD and USB interfaces for local devices. These new “Cloud Ready” routers support applications that are not able to run anymore on local servers, such as security (Antivirus, Antispam, SIEM Probes, Content filtering), optimization (Webcache, Videoproxy, Cloud-Replicated-NAS and Virtual Desktops Repository), Local Audit or digital signage (DLNA based). Teldat is specialized in “Cloud Ready” routers, supporting the above mentioned applications which are currently available in our portfolio. What is more, without placing any restrictions on possible applications, as the router has a standard Linux operating system, allowing the development of client or third party apps.
Marcel Gil: graduated in Telecommunication Engineering and Master in Telematics (Polytechnic University of Catalunya), is a SD-WAN Business Line Manager at Teldat.