25 years of networking: The past, present and future
Network technology is the foundation of today’s digital world. From ordering food, sending videos to a friend, connecting and empowering students and educators, or running a business remotely - networking has revolutionised the way we operate and communicate. Within the past year alone, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for digital innovation investment. As Extreme Networks nears its 25th anniversary, I thought it was fitting to look back at a quarter of a century of innovations in the network space and cast an eye into the future to see what trends will shape the next 25 years of our industry.
A look to the past - The introduction of wireless networking
Let’s start in 1997, one year after Extreme was founded when the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) created the 802.11 standard that we now know as Wi-Fi. Simply put, Wi-Fi is the technology that allows a PC, laptop, mobile phone, or tablet device to connect at high speed to the internet without the need for a physical wired connection. Wi-Fi works based on the same principle as other wireless devices, using radio signals to transmit information between your Wi-Fi enabled devices and the internet, allowing the device to receive information from the web.
Wi-Fi quickly became widespread, and internet access is now considered a must-have by people from all walks of life. Today, wireless connectivity is built into just about any device that generates or uses data, whether in homes, offices, shopping centres or public spaces. In fact, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance, there are more than 15 billion Wi-Fi products in use around the world - all designed to make our lives simpler, quicker, safer, and more enjoyable.
The flexibility of software-defined networking (SDN)
As a result of the monumental growth in cloud computing, the increase in mobile usage, and the continued desire to reduce business running costs, many organisations sought out a way to revolutionise network design and operations. To achieve just that, in the early 2010s, software-defined networking (SDN) gained momentum as a popular approach to achieving a flexible and agile network.
SDN enables the user to design, build, and manage networks, separating the control and forwarding planes, removing the underlying infrastructure for applications and network services and making the control plane directly programmable. Through SDN, IT teams can manage the entire network and its devices consistently, regardless of the complexity of the underlying network technology. Via a properly configured SDN environment, it is easier and more cost-efficient to distribute computing power to remote sites, moving data centre functions to the edge, adopting cloud computing, and supporting the Internet of Things (IoT) environments.
The emergence of Wi-Fi 6
Debuted in 2019, Wi-Fi 6 is the latest iteration of the standards and was designed from the ground up to increase robustness, and reduce power consumption without hindering performance - particularly for IoT devices. Delivering up to a 30x speed improvement over its predecessor and further enhancing support for device-dense environments, Wi-Fi 6 promises to enable new use cases for IoT, AR/VR, online gaming, and video streaming.
Beyond speed, Wi-Fi 6 is Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), enabling bandwidth to be segmented within channels. The advanced multi-band connectivity capabilities of Wi-Fi 6, allow it to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously using the right frequency for each device, to reduce the strain on the network and safeguard performance.
Looking ahead - Autonomous networks driven by AI
Looking towards the future, the demand for rapidly deployed networking services is beginning to outpace an IT team’s availability to execute on those requests. By tapping into the capabilities of automation and AI technology, processes can be streamlined, meaning that IT staff can focus on more strategic projects and tasks. This allows teams to automatically monitor network data, garnering real-time insights, providing the team with insights into which devices and applications are consuming the most bandwidth, and speed up troubleshooting.
As networks grow larger, faster and more resilient, the autonomous network will be realised - moving beyond basic automation capabilities to become entirely self-operating. In addition to analysing system data and extracting knowledge from it, it will self-learn and help identify and exploit hidden patterns. For example, an autonomous network could help get a heart transplant where it needs to be on time for surgery, power next-level robotics, and find missing persons with IP cameras on roads and motorways.
The rise of Network-as-a-Service
With the fallout of the pandemic likely to put greater strain on business resources and result in budget cuts, Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) business models will emerge as a key trend. NaaS is an emerging model that enables users to easily operate the network and achieve the outcomes they expect from it without owning, building, or maintaining their own infrastructure, through flexible operating expense subscriptions - inclusive of hardware, software, management tools, licenses, and lifecycle services.
Offering organisations a cost-effective solution to strong and reliable connectivity. This will provide businesses with the flexibility to expand and reduce network services on-demand, based entirely on business needs. By removing the pressures of operating the network, as well as the inherent costs, the organisation can place the responsibility into the hands of a trusted third-party partner. Ultimately, thanks to the NaaS model, businesses will have the choice between investing in physical networks or outsourcing partial or entire network operations and management.
The future of networking
No organisation should be shackled or constrained by how their people, applications or devices connect. As a result of the ongoing pandemic and the related increase in remote work, businesses have recognised the importance of networks more than ever. In the coming years, networking technologies will be one of the main beneficiaries of digital transformation investments. With the various technologies set to streamline network operations and empower IT teams to focus on more strategic, transformative projects, the next 25 years are set to be just as - if not more - exciting as the last.
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by John Morrison, SVP of International Markets, Extreme Networks .