In an earlier post I argued that CDNs are the killer app that will pull the cloud to the edge of the network. The storyline is straightforward. The explosion of video is causing operators to deploy caches deeper in their networks; those caches are best deployed on virtualized commodity hardware; and once deployed, that same hardware will be in position to deliver a host of other network services, each running in their own VM. But complementing this application-focused perspective are two other equally compelling storylines.
The first is technology-focused. Commodity processors that can be virtualized to simultaneously run multiple services will inevitably find their way deeper and deeper into the network. The case for riding the cost/performance curve of general-purpose commodity processors is well understood. What virtualization brings to the network is the ability to safely co-locate multiple services on the same hardware – each running in a different virtual machine – thereby giving operators the ability to dynamically activate new services and re-allocate resources among existing services as demand dictates. Time-to-market for new services is dramatically lowered, and costs are reduced through more efficient resource usage.
The second storyline is network-focused. At the same time traffic demands are driving traditional data center services like CDNs towards the edge of the network, traditional network-level services already running at the edge can also benefit from virtualized commodity processors. This seems particularly relevant to AccessNet-to-Internet junction points (e.g., PDN-GW, B-RAS, and CMTS), where the opportunity to manage and customize subscriber sessions seems almost limitless – mobility, security, quality-of-service…
Considering all three storylines as a whole – application-level services to the edge, virtualized commodity processors to the edge, and customizable session management at the edge – it is easy to see the possibility of a perfect storm that changes the foundation of how network services are delivered. There are, however, three keys challenges that must be addressed.
The first is tuning virtualization technology (both software and hardware) to support both application-level services and network-level services on the same platform. It’s not clear that virtualization techniques optimized for compute-heavy applications can be applied directly to I/O-centric environments. The second is providing a service management system that gives operators a coherent way to activate and configure a wide range of application-level and network-level services. Avoiding management silos will be necessary to keep operational costs in check. The third, and most interesting, is to leverage the opportunity to integrate application-level functionality with network-level functionality to create new value in the network. This is a fertile space for innovation.