Mobility already has driven profound changes in how we use the Internet, and it's in the process of driving changes in how enterprises empower workers. If we add in things like the personal digital assistants -- Siri and Cortana, for example -- and the Internet of Things (IoT), it's hard to see more than a shadow of the "old" days of browsing and searching for content. If things are really changing that much, does that mean the model of networking itself has to change? Are things like software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) going to make today's networking and the Internet "better" or are they going to end up replacing them with something else?
The Internet was a success in no small part because it became what many called "data dial tone," a fabric of connectivity that let any user access any resource. This connectivity has been essential to the World Wide Web and to evolving content and social-media applications. It's also been the source of hacking, denial-of-service, security and compliance headaches; address space problems; and declining operator profit per bit.
We can build the new contextual services, personal agency, and all of what I've called "information populism" on the Internet model, and hope that the benefits of open connectivity aren't overrun by the problems and risks. Or we could try something else. That might sound farfetched given how mature IP and the Internet are, but SDN and NFV do in fact open a new model and this is the time to ask how far the new model could take us.
Think outside the tunnel
We already know that NFV can build service features by deploying components onto what effectively are private subnetworks created via SDN. Think of an NFV deployment as a set of features inside a residential LAN -- you can create a gateway in and out but what's inside isn't accessible from the outside. That's essential if we're to keep hackers from attacking pieces of a critical service. It's also useful in building applications.
Imagine a data center with SDN/NFV-based applications, each on its own little private VPN. Now imagine branch offices from which users get tunnels to the application-specific networks they need. They get only what they're allowed to have, and the applications and their data are not accessible except through those little controlled tunnels. A lot of security is now intrinsic.
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