2015 will be remembered in the networking world as the year in which the Internet of Things began its move into the mainstream. While the concept of “IoT” has long been predicted, it became an unavoidable part of tech parlance in the past 12 months with an estimated 4.9 billion “things” worldwide connected to the network in 2015. The increase is not expected to slow anytime soon, with analysts now forecasting that anywhere between 25 billion and 38 billion “things” will connect to the network by 2020.
We now know that the continued adoption of open architectures, software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) will significantly improve the way networks operate in the age of IoT, and progress was made in the past year toward realizing that ideal. We saw cloud hit critical mass, and we saw cybersecurity defense systems continue to ramp up.
So what does the second half of 2016 hold?
Whatever evolution we do see will undoubtedly have a software flavor, and our service and Internet content providers will take a pragmatic approach to architecting the network and their offerings. The continued demand for mobile and Over-The-Top (OTT) services will ensure that the network will be more important than ever. And, IoT will continue to be a key driver of innovation as we see even more services introduced thanks to this phenomenon.
Below are some key trends I expect to see.
1. Software will take a foothold in, well, everything. The shift toward software-defined networking will be as dramatic a shift as that of the move from analog to digital. Service providers will become pragmatic in moving toward this ideal through the use of orchestration, as a complement to SDN/NFV, to more quickly manage and provision across multiple network domains and across a mix of physical and virtual devices. Orchestration will ultimately allow service providers to more elegantly step toward more virtualized, on-demand networks.
The emergence of software will make networks more open, lead to more on-demand services, eliminate vendor “lock-in,” and increase competitive offerings. Additionally, we will see downtime issues decrease thanks to software. Take a fiber cut on a metro network: in the past, locating the point where the fiber was cut was a downtime nightmare. But intelligent software has emerged that can pinpoint the exact location of a cut, without the need for multiple truck roles and a site-by-site investigation on the ground. It can be located remotely and in many cases, traffic rerouted from the comfort of a Network Operations Center.
2. New Web-Scale business models will continue to emerge thanks to software-based networks. Software helps create new business models, such as the ability to offer a unique service like Uber without owning the network, the cars, drivers, or the maps. All these new businesses need is the ability to connect customers to suppliers via a powerful network that knows the location of both parties. They use APIs to query devices, locate them on a map, enable the customer and supplier to interact, and process a transaction without ever owning what is being supplied or even physically or verbally engaging the customer.
It’s hard to argue with Uber’s success, and easy to see why most start-ups that came to market in this arena dubbed themselves the “Uber of [Insert Business Issue].” In 2016 we can expect to see more companies enjoy similar success with the same approach.
3. Information security will move beyond the walls and out into the network. More companies are prioritizing information security and continue to encrypt their at-rest data and protect it behind a combination of firewalls, identity and access management, unified threat management and intrusion detection systems. But criminals still want that data and with all the different types of information it’s hard to know what’s been secured and what hasn’t.
We will see businesses begin to invest in new models of security to protect all of their customers’ information as it traverses the network between end points. Bulk encryption at the optical layer is one such technique that service providers and enterprises will adopt as it provides a strong and effective safeguard, offering an additional level of protection to enable end-to-end security regardless of the data format or type of traffic flowing on the network.
4. Forecast for Cloudlet forming in 2016. With 4K video poised for growth via OTT services such as Netflix, and with IoT devices on the verge of mass proliferation, we can expect to see increases in the need to move content out to the edge to improve the user’s experience. As a result, OTT providers are investigating ways to bring the content caching closer to the edge of the network.
With this in mind, 2016 will see early innovation into what are being dubbed “cloudlets”; small scale data centers that sit closer to the end user. These cloudlets will then give rise to a “service station” style of cloud that enables the distribution of compute and storage requirements closer to the edge. These cloud services stations could reside in your local central office / data center, at the foot of a mobile cell tower or even an actual service station.
5. IoT to drive everything – but what will drive IoT? The research suggests that connected “things” will outnumber people on the planet by as much as fivefold by 2020. But we knew that already. What will emerge in 2016 are the services that will develop around IoT. We will see services evolve to manage everything from Bio-sensors in IoT wearables, to the connected refrigerator to the Wi-Fi enabled microwave.
Additionally, for IoT to truly succeed, data must move across the network freely and securely. Take the pending emergence of smart cars and driverless cars: data is constantly being received and analyzed by onboard systems that provide alerts for everything from faulty headlights to low tire pressure. And once driverless cars become practical, interactions will need to be near real-time to prevent collisions. Sufficient levels of bandwidth must be made available to send data between “things” as well as from the “thing” to the data center, as well as between data centers due to distributed computing and storage architectures. Therefore, investments to and between data centers will become even more critical as we exit 2016.
We are firmly in the IoT era, and there is no backing away from it. The emergence of the “connected world” will drive every aspect of networking innovation: from securing devices and the data they produce, to storing the data, distributing the data, analyzing it and ensuring it is transported and stored securely. What is equally clear is that software will be the key ingredient in the IoT cocktail – and those service and Internet content providers looking to stay ahead of the curve will ensure innovation in software hits its stride this year.
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