If you ask Kelly Ahuja, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cisco's Service Provider Routing Technology Group what he thinks is driving more business in his respective space, it is really the emerging Internet of things concept. Unlike the good old regulated PSTN-only monopoly, when the only thing that was connected to the network was the home and the phone, the new network is all about the user's ability to connect anything to the network (phones, laptops, and other non-networked devices like electric meters).
FierceTelecom recently sat down with Ahuja to talk about how Cisco is helping its service provider customers respond to that need with a cost effective network architecture.
FierceTelecom: A recent Synergy Research report pointed out that the global service provider router market grew 27 percent year over year. From the Cisco point of view, what's driving that trend, and what are you hearing from your customers?
Ahuja: Putting the Synergy report aside, let's talk about the general trends that are driving the need for more things in the network. The fundamental trends are pretty straightforward, right? The numbers of things that are getting connected to the network is increasing, and the speed at which they are being connected is also increasing. Those two fundamental attributes have not changed over the past decade or so. What has changed is that before the number of things that were being connected to the network were really homes and now people are connecting things to the network.
With that line is more devices. Just for me I have three things connected to the network (iPad, my Blackberry and other devices) I carry around. The other thing is, what are we doing with the things connected to the network? That's also changing because in the past the network was used for connecting people where you and I would do a phone call and talk to one another. Now, it's being used for getting information and in many cases that information is data, but it's becoming more video-based. The other thing is that data can be anywhere in the network. You can go to over the top or in the network. With all that in mind, you have to build a network infrastructure which is flexible, dynamic and adaptable to be able address the unpredictability, but also speed, scale and capacity.
FierceTelecom: So really, what you're saying is the Internet of things is driving up the need to increase network and service capacity?
Ahuja: Exactly. If you compare this to about 10 years ago, the only thing that was connected to the network was the home and the only connection was a phone line. Now, the phone line is only one of the things connected to the network and the amount of traffic it uses on the network is next to nothing compared to all of the other stuff that's on the network.
FierceTelecom: How is the role of the core router evolving to meet the Internet of things challenge?
Ahuja: If you take that backdrop and ask, what is this driving for Cisco? What happens when you attach more things to the network and the speed of each thing is high, you have to have a move a network that has a much more expanded footprint or higher capacity. What does that mean? You have to think about the network not just in a box or in an application, but at an architecture level. The analogy I like to use is the postal industry. In the postal industry you have the postal branches, the distribution centers and the main hubs. The challenge that exists in the postal analogy is you don't know who is going to send the letter to whom. Traffic originating from one person could go anywhere and the other way around.
The same thing happens in the network in that you're sending a lot of information to the network and you're not sure where it's coming from or going to. That being the case, you have to build a network architecture that looks beyond traditional core and edge and pull everything together. That's fundamentally the convergence of networking and computing. What that requires in the core is you have to be able to distribute the packets in the direction they need go to with high capacity switching. In the edges, you have to able to the sorting and put them in other buckets or send them along to the other distribution centers or the main hubs. The key thing is all of these things work together as a system so you can't parse them out to just a core and an edge anymore.
What happens is as there's population growing, you have to open up new distribution centers and new post offices. The other part that's going on is the distribution of the network is growing. What that fundamentally means is two things. One, the footprint of the router network is getting wider and wider. Why? It's because there's unpredictability on where the traffic is coming from and going to. As that's expanding, what we used to call as the core and edge and network and computing part is also coming together. That's where the concept of virtualization comes in.