Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, February 22, 2024

Net Virtualization Gets Real in 2017 

via Shutterstock

Despite a slowdown in global investment in networking technology, particularly in Asia, 2017 is seen as the year when network virtualization came of age.

Meanwhile, industry groups are rolling out open networking platforms aimed at accelerating deployments in the coming year.

In a year-end review of the global telecommunications sector, market watcher IHS Markit also posits that the shift to software defined networks (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) is being driven in part by the rise AI and machine learning. "Data is the new oil, and AI is the engine," asserts Michael Howard, executive director of research and analysis for carrier networks at IHS Markit (Nasdaq: INFO).

Despite the steady shift toward optimizing networks to manage big data, Howard said overall capital spending on network upgrades actually slowed during 2017. IHS forecasts a 1.8 percent decline in global telecom capital expenditures due primarily to a 13 percent year-on-year dip by Chinese telecom giants.

The top three Chinese service providers—China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom—scaled back spending plans for mobile infrastructure. Instead, IHS reckons, large carriers are rethinking their investment strategies with an eye on network virtualization. "Call it precision investment, strategically focused investment or tactical investment," added Stéphane Téral, executive director of research and analysis at IHS Markit.

Those investments are focused on deploying SDN and NFV capabilities as service providers deploy new network architectures ranging from distributed broadband network gateways to what IHS calls "distributed mini-datacenters [within] smart central offices." Those and other services have fueled deployment of virtualized networks over the last year, prompting the market watch to dub 2017 "The Year of SDN and NFV."

Deployments of network automation capabilities are being used to support initial forays into big data analytics, particularly AI and machine learning, the market researcher said Wednesday (Dec. 20).

"Forward-thinking operators are experimenting with how to use anonymized subscriber data and analytics to create targeted services and broker this information to third parties such as retailers and Internet content providers like Google," Téral added. “Service providers need to rethink their roles in the new age of information and reset the strategies needed to capitalize on this opportunity."

The surge in SDN and NFV deployments also reflects efforts by major carriers and hyper-scalers such as Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) to promote open network architectures as central office connections are rebuilt as mini datacenters. An open networking initiative announced earlier this year includes by Google, AT&T (NYSE: T), China Unicom (NYSE: CHU), Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and others.

"SDN is a chance to re-architect how networks are built, and while so doing, presents the perfect inflection point for open source to take on a pivotal role," noted Urs Hölzle, Google's senior vice president for technical infrastructure and chairman of the Open Networking Foundation.

The group released the latest version of its networking platform in early December that leverages SDN and NFV technologies. Called CORD (Central Office Re-Architected as a Datacenter), the platform can be customized for specific operator deployments.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).