Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why Software Defined Networks and WiFi 2.0 are critical to future of Internet

[Here are two excellent articles on Software Defined Networks (SDN) and WiFi 2.0.
As the article on SDN points out, the big advantage of SDN, whether it is OpenFlow, UCLP or similar technology is that it empowers customers to create their own network solution. Empowering users enables innovation and creates new business opportunities. Empowering carriers, on the other hand, stifles innovation and results in attempts to extract revenue through monopoly rent e.g UBB. This is why these two technologies are so important for R&E networks – because their primary mission should be empowering researchers and educators to enable new modalities and innovation in delivery of their primary mission of research and education. R&E networks that act and look like carriers, are not fulfilling their primary mission, and to my mind are ultimately doomed.

SDN is so important these days, because unfortunately most large Internet equipment manufacturers, over the past few years, have been captured by the large carrier mindset and are seeing far less innovation in this marketplace. Carrier mindset capture is not a good thing – we have seen the tragic consequences in Canada. Most of Canada’s high tech companies like Nortel, RIM, Alcatel-Lucent (Newbridge), etc are struggling or have gone under because they pursued this market. While the carrier market is extremely lucrative, once inside the door, it puts blinders on the companies serving that market. Nortel is a classic example. Despite being a multi-billion dollar company it really only had 5 major customers – all incumbent telcos. The whole organization revolved around satisfying the needs of these 5 large customers. Despite many failed attempts to make a right hand turn towards the Internet, the demands of these 5 customers distorted all other values in the company. A classic example of this perversion of values is Nortel’s infamous “Web tone” strategy. That one simple phrase, to my mind, says it all in what is wrong with serving the carrier market. And despite over 20 years of Internet growth, things have hardly changed.

RIM now is going down the same path as Nortel. It too has based its entire business strategy of marketing through the carriers. Only belatedly it is now attempting to follow Apple and market directly to end users. But after a decade of working closely with telcos it is hard to imagine they will be able to change their corporate culture sufficiently enough and fast enough in order to survive.

This cozy relationship between equipment manufactures and carriers in Canada, was largely driven by Canada’s restrictions on foreign competition in the telecom marketplace. As a consequence of Canadian legislation restricting foreign carriers, Canadian carriers have remained the most profitable in virtually all of the OCED countries. Telecom equipment manufacturers that wanted to grow and survive in this market therefore had to cozy up to these wealthy oligopolies. For a while this was a very successful strategy, when the rest of the world was also dominated by monopoly carriers. But when the rest of the world open up their markets to competition Canadian manufacturers failed to adapt because Canadian carriers had to face very little competition and to this day remain very profitable in comparison to their international counterparts. It was not only equipment manufacturers who suffered, but Canada’s academic research community as well. Because the telcos, and their captive suppliers, were the only ones who had the funds to support academic research, combined with a big emphasis by Canadian funding council on industrial partnerships, most academic research unsurprisingly focused on telecom issues. Canadian academia largely missed the boat on academic Internet research, and to this very day still remains a bit player in terms of Internet network research issues.

This finally brings up the issue of Wifi 2.0. As the article below states, Wifi 2.0 and Next Gen Wifi is clearly focused on the carrier market and the Hotspot operators are being largely ignored in these developments. The R&E network community is demonstrating there is an alternate architecture for this market that empowers end users. The SURFnet WifI/LTE/Eduroam pilot is a good example. Other NRENs such as NORDunet, AARnet and JANET are also doing some interesting work in this space. R&E networks I think have the opportunity to once again demonstrate, as they have done with the development of the original Internet, the web, customer owned fiber, etc that network strategies that empower users such as SDN and enterprise centric WiFi are ultimately the ones that enable innovation and create new market opportunities.
For those who will be attending Internet 2 Joint Tech’s in Baton Rouge, I will be elaborating more on this theme in my keynote talk. – BSA]

Hotspot 2.0 and the Next Generation Hotspot

Hotspot 2.0 and the Next Generation Hotspot initiatives are possibly the most exciting areas of wireless progress occurring in 2012. For starters, these developments have a worldwide scope of influence. The technologies that come to market as a result of these programs will directly affect a large portion of the world’s population. If brought to market with extensibility, they could revolutionize the hotspot ease-of-use and security landscapes. These programs deserve the spotlight.
The Initiatives
Hotspot 2.0 and Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) are highly complementary initiatives, but they are different in scope. Hotspot 2.0 is the Wi-Fi Alliance’s certification program that will include a technical specification defining the Hotspot 2.0 technology. Following the Wi-Fi Alliance’s core purpose, Hotspot 2.0 will also be a device certification, based on product interoperability testing, that allows vendors to implement the protocols in a common way.
Hotspot 2.0 is designed for Wi-Fi clients and infrastructure devices to support seamless connectivity to Wi-Fi networks.
Unfortunately, the Hotspot 2.0 program is still largely focused around telecom carriers and mobile network operators instead of public hotspot operators, which is where we need change. Hotspot 2.0 should pave the way for this change over time, but it is less of a focus in the short-term future.

How does Openflow and SDN help Virtualization/Cloud
Introduction to Software Defined Networking and OpenFlow
Often time I hear the term Openflow and Software Defined Networking Networking used in many different context which range from solving something simple and useful to literally solving the world hunger problem (or fixing the world economy for that matter).
Openflow creates a standard around how the management interface or Controller talks to the equipment so the equipment vendors can design their equipment without worrying about the management piece and someone else can create a management piece knowing well that it will manage any equipment that support Openflow. So people who understand standards ask whats the big deal? I still can’t do more than what the equipment is designed to do!! And that is the holy grail around any standard. By creating the standard, you are separating the guys who make equipment to focus on their expertise and guys doing management to make the controllers better. This is in no way different than how computers work today. Intel/AMD creates the key chips, vendors like Dell, HP etc. create the servers and Linux community (or BSD, OpenSolaris, etc) creates the OS and it all works together offering a better solution. It achieves one more thing – it drives the H/W cost lower and creates more competition while allowing a end user to pick the best H/W (from their point of view) and the best controller based on features, reliability, etc. There is no monopoly, plenty of choices and its all great for end user.

Specially in the networking space where innovation was lacking for a while and few companies were used to huge margins because users had no choice. One trend that is driving the fire behind SDN is virtualization. Both Server and storage side (H/W and OS) have made good progress on this front but Network is far behind. By opening up the space, SDN is allowing people like me (who are OS and Distributed Systems people) to step into this world and drive the same innovation on network side. So Openflow/SDN are great standards for the end user and people who understand it see the power behind it.

R&E Network and Green Internet Consultant.
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