The smart foundation of the digital business

Issue 1 2023 IT infrastructure

Just five years ago, the fully autonomous network was a tantalising possibility. Now, the world is moving closer to an era when the autonomous network not only exists, but also becomes a game changer for businesses.

Autonomous networks take an advanced step beyond merely automating components: they use artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning to self-configure, self-manage, and self-heal, ideally becoming better all the time.

Aside from offering compelling efficiencies and improved performance, there is the potential for autonomous networks to take over the heavy lifting when it comes to connecting increasingly complex hybrid multi-cloud environments. A truly intelligent autonomous network would dynamically adapt according to user needs and available resources. For example, understanding factors such as the importance of particular applications, and optimising network performance for those applications. It might automatically adapt in line with performance requirements, governance and risk priorities, and cloud budget.

Network evolution underway

The network is the foundation of digital services, channel and application in use by businesses today. In line with the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model adopted in the 1980s, there are seven layers that computer systems use to communicate over a network, and the network layer and transport layers serve as the foundation of the stack. Without that, nothing else works.

Legacy network architectures simply cannot deliver the performance and agility modern businesses need, which is why we now see a mass migration away from legacy to next-gen, from traditional MPLS services to software-defined networking (SDN) state.

One of the key advantages of this is zero-touch provisioning (ZTP), which means provisioning of circuits can be done in a matter of hours instead of months. SDN also allows organisations to achieve a single pane glass view and start making use of the AI and machine learning capabilities embedded in the technology, to take corrective action within the network itself as any anomalies are identified.

What these developments are leading towards is an autonomous state of networks.

AN becomes a reality

ETSI, a European Standards Organisation, noted in a white paper on autonomous networks that “the demands placed on networks are increasingly driven by end users. Whichever type of user is considered, they all require a combination of fast and context-aware network and service configuration, flexible new service generation, dynamic and efficient resource allocation, and ultimately, accountability.”

Autonomous networks will deliver this. However, fully autonomous networks are still a work in progress.

Huawei’s white paper ‘Striding Towards the Intelligent World’ explains, “Achieving full network autonomy calls for tremendous breakthroughs in key technologies (such as hyper-converged awareness, large-scale real-time simulation, and associated cognitive decision-making), as well as close collaboration among industry players in terms of technical architecture, interface standard, evaluation system, and business model.”

This month, a global Autonomous Network Summit in Bangkok heard that after three years of development, the technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) sector had reached a consensus on the vision, architecture, level standards, and core concepts of autonomous networks.

TM Forum is an alliance of over 850 global companies working together to break down technology cultural barriers. They recently released their fourth Autonomous Networks (AN) white paper, noting ahead of the summit that autonomous networks would enable operators to unlock over $700 billion of new revenues from industrial 5G and B2B2x opportunities. These would require automation to manage the billions of devices connected to the internet, as well as deliver on the ultra-low latency and high reliability many 5G use cases require. TM Forum also said autonomous networks would enable CSPs to deliver a ‘Zero X’ (zero wait, zero-touch, zero trouble) experience for users and leave complexity with the providers.

For businesses, fully autonomous networks are expected to bring a paradigm shift. Forbes has described autonomous networking as being critical to overcoming cloud complexity. Many businesses believe autonomous networking will also have the power to assure uninterrupted business, improve productivity and efficiency, and accelerate digital transformation and innovation.

Finding the right IT service provider with a team of experts can help organisations redefine their network infrastructure, from remote end-user, through software-defined LAN and WAN, to a software-defined data centre, and can prepare a roadmap to a future autonomous network state.

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