The Undiscovered Country: A Trekkie’s View of the Future of Networking

By Javier Guillermo January 20, 2020

Although this quote is originally from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, referring to the afterlife (“the undiscovered country from which no visitor returns”), it has been interpreted in different ways. One of my favorite versions is from the movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), when Gorkon, the Klingon High Chancellor, meets Captain Kirk and in the name of peace, offers a toast, “ The undiscovered country…the future.”

As we head into a new decade and a somewhat unknown frontier, I’ve been asked to offer some predictions on the future of networking. First, let’s have a little fun and talk about how the movies Star Trek and Blade Runner predicted some of the technologies that came to fruition in real life, while others missed the mark.

So set your phasers to stun and let’s get on our way!

How the Computers from Star Trek Parallel Modern Technology

Remember Bones using his Tricorder and Captain Jean-Luc Picard using his “PADD” (Personal Access Display Device) that looked like an Apple iPad, 20 years before the technology was even conceived? And what about the Enterprise’s talking computers? Years later, our “talking computers” are held in the palm of our hands (cellphones) and conveniently accessed at home via Alexa, Siri and Google. Although these devices don’t touch the capability of the Enterprise’s computer, they still make our lives infinitely easier.

Can’t Rely on Your Memories?

Let me help you. 1982’s Blade Runner, a movie depicting a derelict Los Angeles in the year 2019, got a few things right, like video calls. How many times have you used Skype Video or Apple’s FaceTime this week? But Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner’s screenwriter got pretty much everything else wrong! For example, we have no flying cars (except prototypes) and Hanson Robotics’ Sophia robot can’t hold a candle next to the Nexus 6’s replicants Pris (Daryl Hannah) and Roy (Rutger Hauer).

Source: Warner Brothers Blade Runner, 1982, and MWC/GSMA World Congress 2018

Am I on Point with my Predictions?

With all the disclaimers said about how difficult it is to predict the future, let’s take a look at what I think is in store for networking and SDN.

Dell Technologies Chief Operating Officer and Vice Chairman Jeff Clarke shared his predictions for the next decade, and he set the stage well for my thoughts. “5G connectivity is creating new use cases and possibilities for healthcare, financial services, education and industrial manufacturing. As a result, SD-WAN and software-defined networking solutions become a core thread of a holistic IT infrastructure solution – ensuring massive data workloads can travel at speed – securely – between edge, core and cloud environments. Open networking solutions will prevail over proprietary as organizations recognize the only way to successfully manage and secure data for the long haul requires the flexibility and agility that only open software defined networking can deliver.”

Live Long and Prosper: SDN for the Next Decade

I’ve covered SDN in detail in previous blogs: its origins, architecture, advantages, main SDN controllers/vendors, etc. I’ve also talked about how its global acceptance has been a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, we have a product like VMware’s NSX, which has been consistently experiencing double-digit growth over the past years (NSX implements SDN through overlays) while some other controllers have been slowly fading.

OpenFlow hasn’t become the de-facto southbound standard either. We can argue that its usage is growing, but the adoption has not moved as fast as many of us (including me) expected a few years ago. In fact, we are not even seeing many products for next year’s pipeline using OpenFlow. It is something like Ipv6, in the sense that 10 years ago most experts thought we should have Ipv6 everywhere, but thanks to technologies like CGNAT and overlays, Ipv4 is still the most common IP standard used worldwide.

Even Gartner is talking about the SDN Hype and how SDN and NFV are ”sliding into the trough”.

Do I agree with that assessment for the future?

Not really.

I do agree that the Open SDN implementation has not taken off, however SDN through Overlays is being massively implemented everywhere in the world.

Many of the principles and ideas of SDN are in full swing. What are these core principles of SDN if not automation, programmability, taking the “thinking” outside of the premise’s equipment, service elasticity, agility, ease of management, simplification, programmability, intent and so forth? Most of these core principles are on every network solution being sold today and in the pipeline for the next decade.

In the same way the decade we are leaving behind has been all about digital transformation, the new decade is going to take digital transformation to the next level, more focused on the aforementioned principles, multi-clouds (public, private, hybrids) coexisting and taking more things from the Core to the Edge.

Logic Is the Beginning of Wisdom, Not the End: SD-WAN 2.0

Also let’s remember that SD-WAN is an application of SDN principles to wide area networks. In fact, SD-WAN has been so successful that in less than five years, we have gone from a pretty unknown technology, to pretty much every major network provider, CSP and software company, having an offering of their own. Yes, including Dell EMC. We’ve developed a portfolio of SD-WAN offerings, including the Dell EMC SD-WAN Solution powered by VMware, an all-in-one solution co-developed with VMware.

IDC’s forecast for the SD-WAN market is in warp speed and will reach 6 billion by 2020, and revenue will keep growing to up to 90% each year for the next 5 years. Also, by 2021, it is expected that 50% of enterprises will use SD-WAN on some or all branch offices.

I expect to see continued strong growth of SD-WAN in the 20s, especially the version that is known as SD-WAN 2.0 with a lot of focus on adding security to the standard SD-WAN principles I already covered.

Things Are Only Impossible Until They’re Not: Enter CloudWAN

Another variation of SD-WAN to grow over the next decade is CloudWAN, a capability that will link native cloud services (AWS, Google, Microsoft, etc.) though their gateways to existing branch office routers. One company that may come to shine is Aviatrix, as they are focusing specifically on this technology. Their CEO is none other than Steve Mullaney, who was the CEO of Nicera, before it was bought by VMware and became the SDN product known as NSX.


Dammit, Jim, I’m a Doctor, Not a Networking Expert!

With all of that said along with the projected explosive growth of these technologies, it’s important to point out that it’s not always “smooth sailing” when migrating from MPLS to SD-WAN. There has perhaps been a bit too much hype on the ease of use, (graphical interfaces, pushing policies from a centralized controller to the premises equipment with the push of a button, zero touch, etc.) creating a perception for some that it’s “trivial” to migrate to this technology.

But that’s only true if proper planning and scoping hasn’t been done!

Easing the Challenges with SD-WAN Deployment

Many of the challenges in SD-WAN deployment are in the area of security. There are multiple SD-WAN solutions out there and some have more security features built in that others. In some cases, it may be necessary to add more from third party-vendors who have additional capabilities, such as: threat detection and management, next generation firewalls (NGFWs), intrusion detection, packet inspection, anti-malware.

Reducing Costly SD-WAN Mistakes Down the Road

Some customers think all SD-WAN solutions are equal. This is a very common and costly mistake. Some solutions can be totally virtual solutions, some can be cloud-based, some can be premised-based and there are also hybrids. You can also divide them by operational model, for example, Hosted-OPEX vs Do It Yourself (DIY)-CAPEX. I already mentioned the issue with security. Some solutions have a lot of security built in, some don’t. Cost and licensing may be completely different, some have a subscription-based model, some may charge for devices/users, are all the costs up front or recurring. How scalable is each solution? How flexible? How upgradable? What are the capacities for the orchestration of new services? Throughput, latency, redundancy, resiliency needed, number of users, WAN/LAN usage, etc.?

In other words, you need to make sure you know these criteria before setting out to determine which WAN connectivity options to pursue. Create a map of the different applications, VMs, workload and services to be implemented, research each one of these items and document every step of the way. If you don’t do a proper audit of these items and make incorrect assumptions, problems will pop up like tribbles and you may have to re-architect the whole project. Coming back to the earlier reference about Blade Runner, as Roy Batty very eloquently put: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”.


Summary: Let’s See What’s Out There

The good news is that Dell Technologies can be your Number One as you Lay in a Course for the future and help manage your Prime Directive. Contact your Dell Technologies Services Expert today and let’s boldly begin your networking journey into the future together.

What do you think about my predictions? Agree or disagree? I welcome comments.

About Javier Guillermo

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2 thoughts on “The Undiscovered Country: A Trekkie’s View of the Future of Networking

    • Hello, 5G has been rolled out in many cities in US, Europe, China, South Korea and Japan. I really think mass adoption will happen somewhere between 2021-2023, the latest 5G release (16) is being completed as we speak