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The digital future for the network must be built on trust

10 Feb 2022
Andy Linham-alt

Andy Linham

Senior Strategy Manager, Vodafone Business

Digital tools are becoming more pervasive in our society with each passing day. They are making the world a more user-friendly place and are hastening in an era of technological wonders that were once reserved for Star Trek.

When you go to a fast-food restaurant, you can now order and customise your meal on a touch screen and most cars now contain thousands of times more memory and computing power than Apollo 11 had when it took astronauts to the moon.

The on-board computers in today’s cars perform functions such as detecting oncoming traffic, regulating engine performance, and even steering.

These capabilities are there to make our lives easier as drivers, but fundamentally, to get the most out of them, you have to trust them. There’s no point in having a car that can tell you that you’re about to reverse into your own hedge, if you choose to ignore its advice…

This manner of digital evolution is hugely relevant to the enterprise networking industry and we’re already taking giant steps to autonomise our networks.

AI in the network

Using software-defined networks, we already have added flexibility. Centralising its controls means we can change configuration settings and increase network capacity with ease. Intent Based Infrastructure, or IBI, is the next step in automating the network.

IBI will make SD-WAN better by automatically responding faster to changes because of the awareness it has of the wider environment in which it’s operating. It has the potential to simplify the way in which networks are configured and maintained, basing them around the intentions of the business using the network.

To give you an example, think about an online retailer. One of the primary intents might be that the connections between the ordering systems and stock systems are always available. After all, without these in place, the team can’t process any orders and that’s business critical. IBI will prioritise the health of these connections over others if there’s a priority call to be made.

In the future, IBI will take these simple intents and use Artificial Intelligence to convert them into a series of detailed network configurations. These configurations are then automatically distributed across the sites to build the network that the customer needs.

Machine Learning will be used to update this configuration in real-time based on any number of factors. These could be as serious as an environmental issue such as flooding or very high winds, or something as exciting as a surge in traffic due to a new product being launched.

For instance, imagine that a weather warning was put in place for flooding at a customer site. IBI will understand the impact of this and would be able to switch all the traffic at that site to a mobile connection that avoids any underground cables, preserving service at critical times.

It’s a question of trust

There is a basic need for the technology to be trusted before it can be useful in the real world. In the same way we trust autopilot to land the plane, we need to trust the network to provision the right bandwidth for a site.

Our recent research found that organisations are more optimistic about technology’s role in society than they were at the start of the pandemic, and more businesses are investing in digital services faster than ever before.

As we look to the future of network management, AI will be key to building the orchestration capability needed to create agile and automatic networks that meet the needs of customers in a dynamic way. We need to allow the network to make changes in real-time, informing us after it’s happened, if it is going to become the best version of itself.

Find out more about choosing the right network for you.

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