The 6 key attributes of the network of the future: all science, no fiction!


When pondering about the future, it’s tempting to resort to Clarke's three laws, especially the most widely cited one: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But why make up sci-fi stories, when tomorrow is the natural extension of today? Get a tangible view of what networks will look like and be capable of in ten years, based on our shared vision with Living Tomorrow!

Time is a curious thing. First people didn’t live in caves for centuries. It was millennia; thousands of years in the same place, making the same wall paintings. When Gen X were kids, the world changed every decade. These days it can change every few months. Just consider what the Internet and smartphones have done for us as a society, or the unprecedented boom of AI that we see today, for that matter!

This also affects the way modern networks are built, deployed, and operated, but most importantly – the outcomes they’ll enable for our cities, offices and homes in about ten years. The Office of the CTO at Extreme Networks, along with our partners from the Living Tomorrow Innovation Campus, have come up with six key attributes of the future networks that will translate into new possibilities and plausible scenarios. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, so let’s dive into the actual use cases and requirements!

1. Hyper-Personalized

Say you create professional videos for a living. If you’re rendering an animation with some fancy smoke and fire effects, you probably need a fast processor, a big load of memory, and a really ripping video card to get the job done on time. And for software engineers, some projects with a large number of source files can take so long that it becomes a true impediment to rapid development. What do these two cases have in common? Both need a lot of computing power and both require certain mobility, especially in the post-covid world of remote and hybrid working.

Now, let’s imagine that in the future, you’ll be able to go wherever you want to go and do whatever it is you need to do, while working comfortably on your slim laptop. This hyper-personalized context that you're used to will always be traveling with you, and you’ll enjoy the same experience as you do on your beefy PC. How, you may ask? The computing power that you rely on so much will be made available through the cloud, either by instantiating a server or data center essentially wherever you are or seamlessly enable access to all resources wherever they are!

2. Hyper-Connected

If you go out on a busy street, you probably won’t be able to walk a block without seeing someone with a smartphone, smartwatch, or some other connected wearable (smart earrings, anyone?). Then, we have our cities, offices, hospitals etc. filled to the brim with intelligent IoT devices and sensors that transmit and exchange staggering amounts of data.

In ten years, the sheer number of connected devices and the real-time data they generate will accelerate to never-before-seen levels, ushering in the new era of hyper-connectivity that brings new challenges and even more new opportunities with each participating device.

3. Intelligent Edge

In order to support the increasing demand for experiential content, including virtual reality and augmented reality, future network engineers are going to need some help. That’s where the intelligent edge will come into play, allowing them to utilize edge components like switches, routers, access points as computing and storage resources for distributed applications. Think of it as running a virtual data center across the entire network with your microservices deployed wherever you need them!

In other words, imagine a local Starbucks pinging up with information in your smart glasses, as you walk past it. Or better yet, having a virtual, holo-doc AI assistant locally deployed, guiding you through the first aid procedures in case of an emergency. The device itself may lack sufficient computing power, but the intelligent edge around it will certainly be able to run it. Sounds too cyberpunky? Well, just remember that if we’d go back in time to 2013, the Oculus Rift wouldn’t have seen its commercial release for another three years…

4. Enabling Value From Data

The evolving use and omnipresence of connected, smart devices means that the networks of the future must become smart as well, enabling even more automation than today. Since the network of the future is connecting everything, especially things like IoT devices and sensors that are coming in en masse, we will be able to build and automate things on a scale that has not been possible before, unlocking new possibilities for businesses and organizations to leverage.

For example, in ten years, we may see intelligent sensors pick up the sound of a car crash or some other accident, and automatically send out the distress signal to emergency services, drastically reducing the response time. The network itself will automatically prioritize this data stream, making sure that there's enough bandwidth reserved for that critical service to send the data. Our vision is that the network becomes a platform that really fosters and enables cooperation of applications and services, rather than just being the connecting tissue in between them.

5. Interactive and Outcome-Driven

One of the biggest challenges many companies and organizations are facing is finding trained and skilled manpower for the operation and maintenance of their IT and the networks. One way to go about it is to lower the entry threshold and make the complex parts as understanding as possible, meaning a more efficient way of communicating things to machines so that they can learn and enforce it through configuration.

Instead of opening the command line and configuring VLANs on ports, traffic shaping and all that stuff, we’ll just say “hey, my virtual assistant, this application is important to me. Please make sure that whatever happens, it is prioritized over anything else,” without the extensive knowledge of the underlying mechanics. The way we interact with IT and networks in ten years will be much more interactive and outcome-driven.

6. Cognitive and Autonomous

Most importantly, the network of the future will become cognitive and autonomous, meaning that it’s capable of reflecting upon itself and coming forward with certain suggestions, options, and changes to drive desirable, real-life outcomes. Like, in case of the aforementioned accident, enabling first aid, reducing response time, and ensuring better intel for the emergency services.

For example, the network of the future not only may suggest deploying an autonomous drone to the site to gather full information, but it will also adjust the power levels of the wireless device to secure the coverage across the area in question so that there are no blind spots. In case of AI deployment, we’re back to the question of computing and storage. The network will show that the computer resources are clustered in zones for different parts of the city, and say: “each zone reserves enough computing power to run AIs for up to 10 simultaneous accidents happening in this city block.” Pretty neat, huh?

So, Where Do We Go From Here?

Unless you’re Hari Seldon from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, chances are you can’t fully predict the future. However, based on what we know, see, and work on today with our partners from Living Tomorrow, we can comfortably say that the next big step in the evolution of networking is imminent and it’s not within the realm of science-fiction to see the new and exciting outcomes becoming part of our daily lives within the next ten years. Because the network of the future is vast and infinite!

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About the Author
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Daniel Schieber
Innovation Lead, Office of the CTO

Daniel Schiber is an innovation lead at the Office of the CTO at Extreme Networks.

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