|Issue:||North America 2012|
|Topic:||Cloudy Forecast: No Need for Rainmakers|
Prayson Pate is CTO of Overture Networks. Mr Pate brings more than 24 years of experience developing software and hardware for networking products to Overture. He began his career in 1983 at FiberLAN, moved to Bell Northern Research (Nortel) and joined Larscom in 1992. He has extensive hardware/software design and management experience, and served as Director of Engineering at Larscom before co-founding Overture. Mr Pate is active in standards bodies such as the MEF and IETF, and he was chosen to be the co-editor of the pseudowire emulation edge-to-edge (PWE3) requirements and architecture documents (RFCs 3916 and 3985). He has assembled a team of experienced engineers at Overture with a strong track record of developing innovative carrier class products.
Prayson Pate holds a BS in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University and an MS in electrical and computer engineering from North Carolina State University. He holds nine patents.
The Cloud hovers over the intersection between public Internet and business computing, thus straying into the battlefields of Net Neutrality. The US FCC rules to prevent discriminating traffic apply (so far) only to fixed networks and to consumer market but could they be extended further? Cloud and Content delivery requirement of higher QoS spec and guaranteed performance goes against Net Neutrality. What’s more, if access networks that share delivery of Internet and Business traffic will also fall under the Net Neutrality rules, content distribution will not utilize access nodes, which optimizes delivery and further investment in infrastructure will not be recoverable. If such extended regulations are imposed, innovation will be chocked, not encouraged, as intended.
The advent of cloud computing has provided end users with the benefits of economical and scalable applications and infrastructure. The constant reduction of the cost of computing power and storage along with the increasing bandwidth in the network combine to open the door to applications that were not even on the horizon a few years ago. Popular services like Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon and Salesforce are built on behind-the-scenes support: Fast networks, powerful servers, inexpensive storage and virtualization. Together, these tools comprise the basis of what is now called cloud computing.
Why the explosive growth in this area? One driver is that the open and collaborative nature of the Internet supports rapid innovation. Another driver is that users value these cloud services, and are willing to pay for them. Today payment is both direct (subscriptions to Netflix, pay per song on iTunes) and indirect (advertising on numerous websites).
Service providers are competing actively for these customers. The providers are making large investments in computers, storage, networking equipment and facilities to support the demand, demonstrating that an open market for a valuable service provides an ideal environment for innovation.
Major telecom service providers and cloud providers recognize the opportunities to improve the user experience by cooperation. This cooperation may be contractual between independent entities, or through vertical integration. In either case, the value is achieved through the recognition of the special requirements for cloud services, and the optimization of the offerings to match these demands.
At the same time, the same service providers are struggling with the best-effort services provided to consumers. The bandwidth demand for these services are high, but the prices that consumers will pay is limited. In addition, there is movement towards increased scrutiny and regulation under the banner of network neutrality, which governs certain aspects of network access (more on that later). There are arguments for and against regulatory intervention, but there is general agreement that the current target is the battle over public Internet access used by consumers.
While the battle over network neutrality is focused today on consumer applications, there are broader implications for service providers. The intersection of public internet access with cloud computing (especially in the area of Content Delivery Networks or CDNs) provides an opportunity for the various parties to leverage lobbyist “rain makers” to influence otherwise commercial agreements.
The large revenue involved with cloud applications creates a temptation to try to apply legislative or regulatory pressure to broaden the applicability of network neutrality, and to tilt the playing field in favor of particular players, who are usually large and established in their markets. The prospect of onerous regulation not only complicates current applications, it endangers further innovation and competition.
Rules of the road
Any such cooperation must be carefully considered in light of Network Neutrality. There are numerous definitions of Network Neutrality and what it means, but the most important one in the U.S. is the view of the FCC. The FCC’s “Open Internet” rules (http://www.fcc.gov/guides/open-internet) are straightforward:
1. Transparency: Broadband providers must disclose information regarding their network management practices, performance, and the commercial terms of their broadband services;
2. No Blocking: Fixed broadband providers (such as DSL, cable modem, or fixed wireless providers) may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices. Mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services;
3. No Unreasonable Discrimination: Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service.
The scope of these rules is currently limited to fixed providers and consumer access. However, the needs for cooperation and optimization in the network, along with the numerous adjacencies of technologies and services open the door to expansion of these rules.
Trend 1: Dynamism in the Cloud
Cloud computing has become so important that the U.S. National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) has issued a definition:
Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.
The current cloud offerings are certainly ubiquitous and on-demand. However, the typical access service offerings provided today are static, and the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are defined in terms of black box parameters. Going forward, telecom operators see an opportunity to optimize these services for particular applications, as well for variable usage and bandwidth on demand.
Particular opportunities for value-added collaboration include:
• Better coordination of high bandwidth and low latency required by the dynamic properties of virtual machines
• Better alignment of SLAs and QoS models with the requirements of network access to cloud services
• More efficient handoffs between data centers and access networks
All of the above collaboration areas require knowledge of the supported services and preferential treatment of the associated network traffic.
Trend 2: Distribution of data
The rising popularity of cloud services contributes to increased demand for high-bandwidth access. This demand can be addressed in several ways:
• Deployment of faster access technologies in the last mile
• Increase in the bandwidth available in the metro and backbone networks
• Optimization of the delivery of popular high-bandwidth services
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are a particular example of the last item. CDNs provide a way to distribute large amounts of data throughout the network, reducing the latency for accessing the data as well as the backbone bandwidth that would otherwise be required. Examples of applications that make heavy use of CDNs are video sites, eBooks, online music, etc.
The distributed nature of CDNs means that they can benefit from optimization in concert with the connected data networks. There are good opportunities for placing CDN servers further out in the access network, optimizing the experience of users of the supported services.
Despite the apparent simplicity of the FCC Open Internet rules, there are many hot debates in the courts and in Congress over issues of fair access and who pays for what.
• Backbone internet providers carry a lot of value-added traffic to end users and get no incremental income from it. Any effort to impair that traffic would run afoul of the FCC rules.
• Providers of local access networks can charge more for higher bandwidth, but any effort to give preference to their own content or services would likewise draw unwanted attention from the feds.
• Application providers and high-use web sites get the benefit of the fast backbones and access networks, but don’t pay for the privilege. Their view is that the cost of these networks should be borne by the subscribers.
The FCC Open Internet rules make no mention of access to enterprise or backbone services, so they would seem to be isolated from the dynamism and distribution trends described above. Interestingly, that is not the case: the rules have an impact today because of the ubiquitous interactions in our connected world. It is easy to see how they could expand to cover more areas, especially if prodded by rainmakers lobbying on behalf of interested parties. For example:
• One of the original drivers of the Open Internet rules was the lack of competition in the access networks. Now many subscribers have a choice of two or three providers using DSL, cable, fiber or fixed wireless. The rules have no recognition of this evolution, and are likely to grow in scope to cover areas that have always had competition.
• The nature of CDNs means that it is beneficial to push them further and further into the access network. This provides a natural opportunity for access providers to partner with or own CDNs to optimize the user experience. Does the local presence of a CDN server give the owner an unfair advantage? Would Congress or the FCC take the view that the CDN servers should be unbundled and available to competitors?
• Business services today are usually segregated from public IP services. This separation enables the required high-performance SLAs required by businesses. However, they often share the same access networks. Could the FCC broaden its view to encompass these business services?
• Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Virtual Machines (VMs) require fast access bandwidth to the user and high-speed, low-latency pipes between data centers for optimal migration of VM sessions and load balancing. Since these servers are often providing a public service, does preferential treatment of this data open the door for regulation?
Let the (Cloud) market sort it out
There are numerous opportunities for continued innovation in the area of cloud computing and services. This innovation is a prime example of how the collaboration and openness of the internet has fueled the growth of businesses and enabled new services for users. All of this is predicated on the notion that freedom allows people to try new things, and to reap the rewards when they provide value to their fellow citizens.
The prospect of broader regulation related to cloud computing and network access slows the pace of innovation, and deters the investment of capital – both monetary and human. All of the parties involved should think twice before changing a competitive market to a controlled market.