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‘Tis the season for this year’s networking ‘naughty and nice’ lists

Dec 15, 20176 mins
APIsData BreachEncryption

There’s a clear line in the networking sand separating the old and the new, the ‘naughty’ and the ‘nice.'

Miracle on 34th Street
Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

The holiday season is as good a time as any to take stock of what we witnessed in 2017, and from a technology perspective it was a year unlike any other. We saw the value of crypto currencies skyrocket and the opening of a crypto-futures market. The first shipments of 400G technologies into the wide-area-network with AT&T and Vodafone New Zealand, the continued deployment of Software-Defined Networking, a technology we’ve long championed, an early example of augmented reality go viral with Pokémon Go and Virtual Reality start to reshape the way we interact with the world around us – such as changing how we watch live sports.

But every advance in technology, particularly in the networking space, only serves to highlight those that have yet to make the leap forward. In the theme of the season, you could say these legacy applications and technologies are on the ‘naughty’ list.

The Naughty List

Networks that aren’t prepared for the next application to go viral.

Pokémon Go was the early warning sign that networks need to be architected to support not just today’s user experiences, but those anticipated in the future. Unfortunately, many networks still struggle with simple present-day over-the-top streaming services – those who still suffer from buffering issues while watching HD and UHD video can attest to this. It means these networks are unprepared for the next Pokémon Go i.e. the application that comes out of nowhere and suddenly chews up all available bandwidth.

Security gaps resulting in vulnerabilities and breaches

We’ve seen many high-profile hacks and breaches of big-name companies dominate the landscape in 2018. And while a lot of focus has been on protecting data while it’s at rest – i.e. on servers or in the cloud – not enough focus has been placed on protecting data in flight. Hackers are able to tap into a fiber run in mere minutes with the right hardware and as defenses become more sophisticated, attackers will increasingly look to steal that data while it’s on the move.

Closed architectures with missing or unpublished APIs

Despite the rise of software-driven network elements and the start of the virtualization of network functions, we still have some ways to go before our networks are truly open. Closed network architectures make it almost impossible to adapt networks in a timely manner (say nothing of on-the-fly), and ensure that our networks are constantly behind the 8-ball as the rest of the world develops technologies and applications that legacy hardware can’t keep up with. Closed networks also prevent best-in-breed network designs by preventing choice.

Inefficient, power consuming networks

Aside from the obvious environmental impacts, power-consuming networks are costly and only getting costlier as the price of electricity continues to rise. And we aren’t doing anything to slow it down: to wit, the energy needed to mine for bitcoin is “consuming power at an annual rate of 32TWh—about as much as Denmark.”

Thankfully, there’s a new wave of ‘nice’ list technologies and architectures that will serve to render those on the naughty list all but obsolete.

The Nice List

5G is just around the corner

Network operators are starting to get their ducks lined up on the 5G front, with MNOs around the world beginning initial 5G network trials, which will continue and expand well into 2018. Why is this important beyond the obvious speed benefits?

Because 5G has the potential to deliver end-user experiences that haven’t been possible with today’s networks.  To give you a sense of what 5G is targeting, when compared to today’s 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. 5G will also unleash game-changing applications like virtual and augmented reality while bringing broadband service to geographies that previously simply could not afford it.

Encrypting data in-flight

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 can now provide a strong and effective safeguard, offering an additional level of protection to enable end-to-end security. 

Open Architectures that leverage APIs

As hardware on the networks reaches end-of-life or needs an upgrade, you will see less proprietary technology on our networks and more open, software-defined networks that leverage APIs and commodity hardware. Further, the rise of Virtualized Network Function (VNF) ecosystems means networks can adapt far quicker with, say, a new firewall solution or router, that can be downloaded to hardware rather than the legacy rip-and-replace method, which is time-consuming and costly.

Energy efficient networking technology

Network providers will soon begin to address operating costs with the incorporation of energy-efficient networking technology. 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. 

Network automation

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 – and networks are being built to adapt to these requests as they occur, not days or months later.

There’s a clear line in the networking sand separating the old and the new, the “naughty” and the “nice.” But that line is beginning to blur as the technology adapts and network operators shift toward the new age. Hopefully we’ll look back on this list in 12 months’ time and struggle to come up with a naughty list at all – and with the rate at which technology is advancing, that’s almost within reach.


With more than 20 years of telecom experience, Mr. Alexander is currently serving as Ciena’s Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer. Mr. Alexander has held a number of positions since joining the Company in 1994, including General Manager of Ciena's Transport & Switching and Data Networking business units, Vice President of Transport Products and Director of Lightwave Systems.

From 1982 until joining Ciena, Mr. Alexander was employed at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, where he last held the position of Assistant Leader of the Optical Communications Technology Group. Mr. Alexander is an IEEE Fellow and was the recipient of the IEEE Communications Society Industrial Innovation Award in 2012. He is currently an Associate Editor for the IEEE / OSA Journal of Optical Communications and Networking. He has served as a member of the Federal Communications Commission Technological Advisory Council, as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Lightwave Technology, as a member of the IEEE / LEOS Board of Governors, and was a General Chair of the conference on Optical Fiber Communication (OFC) in 1997.

Mr. Alexander received both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has been granted 18 patents and has authored a text on Optical Communication Receiver Design as well as numerous conference and journal articles.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Steve Alexander and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.