At last week's MEF19 conference, Spectrum Enterprise teamed up with some other vendors on a proof-of-concept for intent-based networking. The proof-of-concept (POC) focused on using artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and data from IoT devices to predict network demand, but the bigger picture is using all of the above for intent-based networking en route to building network-as-a-service architectures.
Instead of making networks reactive and predictive, Spectrum wants to make networks proactive using AI and ML, according to Satya Parimi, group vice president, enterprise data products, Spectrum Enterprise.
"Eventually the end goal is that you're kind of consuming network on demand dynamically, and as-a-service," Parimi said "Those capabilities require intent-based networking so you can proactively dial up bandwidth flows with certain SLAs. But network-as-a-service is more than just the bandwidth. It's also being able to talk to the other layers about when to trigger things."
As an example, the MEF19 POC used a stadium setting with an intelligent and autonomous, software defined, wide area network (SD-WAN) that was dynamically flexed, using an AI/ML-based network analytics engine. That engine continuously ingested data from IoT devices and other network sources to predict the network needs of various services across the venue.
While a stadium event provides some indication of network connectivity needs based on ticket sales, there are other events, such as tailgating, going on around the stadium that impact WIFI services.
"Automation and orchestration are absolutely critical for any of the dynamic services like SD-WAN to kind of scale across the across user boundaries," Parimi said. "So the example of the use case we did is we used a number of IoT sensors. The primary one to make the case was a video camera that was counting cars and people coming in. Primarily through the cars, we can predict how many people are going to come in. Before they get on the network, you have a few minutes, basically, to flex the network accordingly.
"Also based on the demand that's coming on the Wi-Fi network, you could also turn on new APs (access points.) It's all software-based."
Being able to dynamically provision the connectivity, as well as security and application performance, improves the customer experience and frees up the IT staff from handling all of those processes by "turning knobs," according to Parimi. With the platform using AL and ML, it also learns about events over time in order to flex up connectivity as needed.
If there's a VIP suite at the stadium, Spectrum could contact a company such as Equinix, which took part in the POC, along with Nefeli Networks, Nokia and Vitria Technology, to turn on gaming services in the hospitality suites.
Parimi said the POC use case is currently in labs as Spectrum works on deploying it in real world environments with the correct components. Parimi said the key was to have the correct components to serve legacy networks and next-generation networks.
"The key is to build these capabilities on a go forward basis, and then kind of tie them together to enable these services," Parimi said. "Over time, you start to migrate them over to this new platform, or this new paradigm."
Parimi said the POC was an incremental example of driving towards large-scale network-as-a-service architectures, all of which need AI/ML, automation, orchestration and intent-based networking.
"We're also trying to think about how comfortable enterprises are with internet-based networking," Parimi said. "That level of sophistication, that level of value you give to the enterprise can really make us be, I think, as, as a telecom industry, more participatory in the transformation that's going on. What we're currently doing with SD-WAN gives them flexibility control."
With the MEF SD-WAN standards and certification effort in place, service providers will be able to offer SD-WAN across each other's footprints, which is the first step to providing intent-based, network-as-a-service offerings that stitch services together dynamically.
"When the network flexes, it cannot just do it on its own right," Parimi said. "It has to be talking to other services or applications running on top. Once you have that north/south interaction that's when you truly get to network-as-a-service. The proof of concept was a great way to illustrate that."