How iPhone and Android Are Changing the Network

pradeepsindhu

If you want to run into Pradeep Sindhu, co-founder of Juniper Networks, your best bet is one of Palo Alto’s many cafes. Chances are, if you spot Sindhu, chairman of a $23 billion (in market capitalization) company, he is likely pondering about the future of the infrastructure of the Internet and the next-generation of networks.

A few days back, I caught up with him, hoping to understand how the Internet is going to evolve especially as we have entered the age of anywhere computing. “The iPhone is doing to the mobile world, what the browser did to the wireline world,” Sindhu told me. The iPhone and Android-based smartphones are changing everything, including how his company thinks about network infrastructure and how it will refine the network architecture in the future.

Why Should You Care?

Many who are developing apps and services for mobile devices don’t pay much attention to the innards of the networks themselves, barring moments when our network behaves like me running up a hill. We should be paying attention to all the underlying networking technologies, mostly because it helps us think about what these front-end services can do.

Sindhu explains that today the “networks” are the enabling technology, instead of super fast, energy hogging microprocessors. As the performance of the network increases, so does the performance of everything connected to that network, and by extension, the apps built on those device platform.

The Apps Make The Platform

“When the platform becomes general enough, it doesn’t matter as much as the apps built on top of that platform.” Sindhu pointed to IBM 360, the PC and the web-browser as platforms that became gigantic because of apps built on those platforms. The PC spawned app companies like Microsoft, Intuit and Adobe. The rise of the browser as a platform helped spawn apps such as Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo and Facebook, all worth many billions of dollars.

The iOS and Android-based Internet connected mobile devices are the new platform, Sindhu argues, except, they are with us all the time, allowing us to use apps built on top of these platforms, anytime, anywhere and as much as we want. This is a brand new type of usage behavior that is going to have a profound impact on the demands put on network infrastructure, and how the traffic flows across the network.

Sindhu points out that the establishment of platforms is becoming faster and faster. Apps, he argues, form the positive feedback loop for a platform – the more applications, the more demand for the platform. What has changed is the network (aka the Internet) which acts as amplification for the feedback loop.

Cloud + Mobility = New Information Infrastructure

Sindhu believes (and many agree) that the rise of mobility, which I like to describe as “anywhere computing,” is going to change the whole notion of information infrastructure. Most of us want “to consume information and information services anytime, anywhere, with no limitations, and preferably in the same way across all devices,” he points out.

In order for this to happen, you need “cloud” based computing. “You need an architecture where storage, especially long-term, persistent storage, needs to be absolutely centralized, logically centralized, in large-scale data centers,” Sindhu argues. And it goes for heavy computing, which needs to be in the cloud as well. Perhaps that is why in this new world of eyeball-oriented computing, mobility and cloud, should be viewed as two sides of the same coin.

For this new environment, you need devices that have just enough local storage but can tap into the cloud for everything else and are graphics intensive. The cloud clients of tomorrow are not thin clients or fat clients, Sindhu says. Instead they are all “fit clients.” And you need fit clients because for the near foreseeable future, the network performance is going to remain quite variable. “You want the device to operate well, even if the network has variable performance,” Sindhu argued.

The Network Under Pressure

It also means that the fundamental shift to anywhere computing will increase the economic pressures on the network. He argues that it is time to stop thinking in terms of silo networks–a network for voice, a network for radio, a network for broadcast television, an enterprise network–and instead think it terms of a single network.

“The silo networks actually destroy value because the value for a network is maximized when it’s a fully connected, any-to-any network. In other words, anyone can reach anyone else,” says Sindhu. It’s like Metcalfe’s Law for the cloud computing and mobile age. Sindhu argues that it is time to stop thinking in terms of boxes, wires and pipes. Instead, we need to start treating the network as a living, breathing platform and build infrastructure for it.

When I asked Sindhu to predict the traffic patterns of the Internet, he declined to be specific because he thinks that we tend to underestimate how creative people find ways to leverage the network. Instead he offered three observations:

  • The bandwidth requirements globally are only going to accelerate.
  • The traffic is going to get a lot more stochastic in nature.
  • The traffic is going to become more dynamic.

Sindhu argues that we shouldn’t distinguish between a wired or a wireless network, for in the future the network traffic is going to be more unpredictable, with demand coming from any client device, from any app at anytime.

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