Why Real-Time Comms Needs a 'Third Network'

Driven by competitive demand, modern business changes rapidly. Companies add and delete applications more quickly than ever before, knowing that what does not work fails faster than ever. Cloud services can help them keep up with these rapid application changes -- and so should the network. We have infrastructure-, platform-, software-, and UC-as-a-service options... why not network as a service (NaaS), too?

I was introduced to the concept of the "Third Network" at the fall MEF16 conference, and read up on it in the whitepaper, "An Industry Initiative for Third Generation Network and Services," produced by the MEF and others in response to the flexibility and agility demands of customers.

What Customers Want
Keeping up with application and marketing changes means supporting traffic changes, network capacity, traffic prioritization, and network resource allocation, and requires rethinking the network infrastructure. The hardware is becoming commoditized. Software makes the difference (see related No Jitter post, "Is NaaS the End of Networking or the Beginning?").

Those providers supporting enterprise networks want to tailor their network resources so they can respond to the rapid changes in real time. Ordering a network change and then waiting weeks for its implementation is no longer satisfactory. That era is over.

The Cloud Inspires
Cloud services growth has created a market need for reliable and flexible connectivity among data centers and users. The public Internet does not offer the security, predictable behavior, or guaranteed business performance required by businesses today, nor does it support the control of data governance and regulatory compliance. Carrier Ethernet (CE) services, which provide cloud service interconnection by delivering improved access control conforming to service-level specifications, provide an alternative.

On-Demand Services a Must
Orchestration of compute and storage resources have enabled the ability to change to a new cloud service or modify existing cloud services on demand. Network services need to evolve so they can emulate these rapid cloud service allocation and activation times. The value to network providers is faster time to revenue. This places pressure on delivering on network service orders and activation times in minutes, not weeks.

All Delivered With Quality
Customer experience is a significant factor when selecting a network service provider. As users tap into cloud-based applications, they expect consistent performance, whether they're in the office, at home, or traveling. Network service quality and performance must conform to the needs of both the applications and users.

Is the Expense Worth It?
Applications have become a business focus by delivering value. The network is not really visible, but it can impact the application experience. Many applications are networked, such as those designed especially for tablets and smartphones. Users do not want limited operation of their applications, and the network should not inhibit support and performance. Some companies buy broadband Internet connections in bandwidth tiers, thus lowering the value of network connectivity compared to applications. By using flexible network services, they can effectively allocate resources as needed, streamline capacity, and optimize the budget for network resources.

Network Evolution
In the past, network capacity was often a dedicated, fixed path resource, based on physical connections, with limited resource granularity and operational visibility. This was acceptable because most businesses had relatively static network requirements and could manage long lead times.

Today, most applications share a common network infrastructure. This shared infrastructure introduces resource conflicts that create service degradation and result in delivery problems for real-time voice and video applications that run on IP phones, conferencing systems, computers, tablets, and smartphones connected over the best-effort Internet.

The Third Network is designed to mitigate these quality issues while also delivering services on demand. The network infrastructure needs to transform so it facilitates cloud service delivery in a way that connects users and devices in real time, on demand, with an assured quality of experience. This transformation has started with open APIs that enable Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) systems for existing networks with software-defined networks and network functions virtualization delivering programmatic control and automation of the underlying network resources across multiple service providers.

The Future: Third Network
Next-generation network connectivity services must provide:

The Third Network vision is based on the NaaS concept of delivering network services to endpoints with a set of flexible and dynamic service capabilities. The Third Network will automatically adapt to an application's requirements. A unified communications session could start with voice and then dynamically extend into a multiparty conference including high-definition video, whiteboards, and data sharing. These would be supported by the necessary classes of service triggered in real-time by the UC application.

In next week's post, I'll cover implementation considerations for The Third Network.