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The key to unlocking the utility and novel revenues of 5G lies in differentiated, programmable networks

Tim Kline

 posted immediately following MWC 2024 in Barcelona. You can reach Tim by e-mail at tim.kline@noviflow.com or via LinkedIn here.           

London, Madrid, and Barcelona. I spent from February 12th to March 2nd, including a week at MWC2024, talking to many hundreds of people about what NoviFlow is doing with programmable networking, and how this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s amazing how clear a message can get after repeating it hundreds of times, and maybe even a good idea to write it down. Please let me know what you think.

NoviFlow solves networking challenges that are too expensive, too complex, or impossible to solve with products from traditional network vendors. One lesson I learned very early in my career is that “the impossible only takes longer and costs more”, but with NoviFlow even that truth is challenged. We have a history of delivering solutions to seemingly impossible challenges both economically and in record time.

How do we do this?

The three foundational pillars of IT are Compute, Storage and Networking. Two of these, compute and storage, have been programmable with high level languages since the 70s, from Fortran to C++ and beyond. Software is easily and quickly produced and changed in hours, or weeks for complex things. Unfortunately, networking has always been a different beast. A switch or router from your favorite vendor may have 100s of features, but adding even one new feature takes several years after the vendor commits to that feature in their roadmap, and the organizations purchasing such network devices have no way to change the way that network device works in any way.

With recent technological advances in networking processor design this limitation on networking can be overcome, but it’s apparently still a secret since most people in networking are still unaware of this seismic change in the ground they are standing on. All the major networking chip manufacturers now have fully programmable chips: Intel offers the Tofino (originally from Barefoot Nertworks), AMD has the Pensando, Cisco has Silicone one, etc. Network appliances built with these chips are price competitive and have equivalent throughput and latency to any non-programmable networking chip. Their main difference is that they can be programmed. We can now make a network do whatever we want it to do without slowing down the network, and new or unique requirements can be met in software development timeframes.

Cloud Service Providers have been building and deploying network appliances with this programmability into their networks for years. These appliances have been available through white box vendors for almost as long, and every advanced computer science program in any university is already living in this brave new world.

Now it looks like the secret is starting to leak out. One of the largest networking companies in the world publicly just went “all in” on programmable networks. Some quotes from Fredrik Jejdling, Head of Networks at Ericsson, and Ericsson CTO Erik Ekudden from an article in telecoms.com (15 Feb 2024) as part of the lead up to MWC2024 in Barcelona:

  • “The key to unlocking the utility, and thus novel revenues, of 5G lies in differentiated, programmable networks”
  • “Programmable network is inevitable and the best hope for the industry.”
  • “5G is about an attempted paradigm shift for the mobile industry. The ‘Gs’ are an increasingly unhelpful concept. There have only really been two generations: voice and data, and now we’re attempting the next one. It’s still at such a preliminary stage that we don’t even know what to call it yet, but it’s all about making the network programmable.”

What makes NoviFlow unique is that we fully embraced this paradigm shift a long time ago. The move to programmable networks is not just a future development for us and our clients, because we never waited. We have deployed programmable network solutions into Tier1 CSPs in Canada, the US, Africa, and Australia, and these solutions apply beyond CSPs to anyone with a large or complex network.

Each project tends to start by NoviFlow meeting an “out of the box” thinking person who has a challenge that solutions from traditional network equipment vendors would be too complex, too expensive, or is considered impossible (I especially like the impossible ones). Occasionally the person knows about the concept of programmable networking. Others we manage to convince that what we
have is not magic.

The next step is a Proof of Concept (PoC) for an initial project, which is a little like giving candy to a child for the first time. One experienced, there is no way the craving for the candy or the ideas for new projects stop. It changes the rules of what a network can be. Some projects ask us to do extremely exotic things with networks, but what is interesting is that most of the solutions we have been asked to build and turn into carrier grade solutions/products have been for obvious current networking challenges.

NoviFlow solutions/products generally work on three groups of use cases:

1) Modernize Service Chaining Infrastructures:

  • We reduce the complexity (fix the plumbing) of the service chains all organizations have, especially at each network edge.
  • One solution for a Canadian CSP targets an eventual 90% reduction in OpX and CapX for network services across the entire CSP.
  • We reduce cost, complexity, latency, attack surface, and Time to Market (TTM) for new service deployments, while increasing network reliability

2) Modernize Network Visibility Infrastructures:

  • We reduce the complexity (fix the plumbing) of getting network traffic to out of band analytical systems for network management, troubleshooting, legal intercept, micro marketing, etc.
  • Current deployments have had a 90% reduction in the number of mapping rules from taps to tools compared to any other existing vendor in this market.
  • We have changed the role of the network analysts and have had a direct impact on improving CSP network performance and availability, while reducing the cost.

3) Take Action in the Network Fabric, like Volumetric DDoS Mitigation

  • We make it impossible for a DDoS attack to overwhelm any downstream services, including security detection and mitigation infrastructures.
  • The NoviFlow solution blocks any size of volumetric attack, protecting the downstream security infrastructure, allowing it to be downsized to only handle non-volumetric attacks, and eliminates the need to divert traffic to expensive scrubbing centres.
  • We reduce cost, complexity, latency, and attack surface while increasing network reliability and availability. We make the network smarter.

Our customers tell us that the end result is a simplified, more agile and more secure network with a direct path to enable faster realization of intent based networking!

I, and the team at NoviFlow, would love to talk with you if:

  • You have a large and/or complex network, and you plan to continue to own and manage that network.
  • You believe in innovation and that there can be new and different ways to solve problems.
  • You want to share with us what keeps you up at night because you are worrying about network challenges or because you are dreaming of Beautiful New Ideas (BNIs)
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