The age of autonomous IT networking is fast approaching, and we, along with several industry insiders, expect that we can achieve this feat before 2030. However, this ambitious goal requires not only the integration of various machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies but also a digital twin strategy as a key building block. In this blog post, we will delve into the importance of digital twins in IT networking today and tomorrow - and how they can contribute to the realization of autonomous networks.
The concept of the digital twin dates back to NASA's Apollo program in the 1970s, where replicas of space vehicles were built on Earth to mirror the condition of the equipment during the mission. Since its inception, digital twin technology has undergone significant advancements and has found successful applications in a variety of fields. In intelligent manufacturing, digital twins are used to optimize processes, identify issues, and reduce the need for physical testing. In aerospace and defense, they play a role in the design, predictive maintenance, and performance evaluation. Utilities and telecommunications companies utilize digital twins to monitor and optimize power grids and communications networks, such as 5G. In healthcare, digital twins facilitate simulation and testing of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, while smart cities employ the technology to optimize transportation, infrastructure, and energy usage. This widespread adoption of digital twin technology demonstrates its versatility and impact across multiple industries.
Since 2017, research on digital twin technology in the realm of communication networks has steadily increased. Academic investigations have focused on the utilization of digital twins in areas such as 5G mobile edge computing networks, edge networks for mobile edge computing systems, and intricate 5G networks. Various organizations and consortiums have been working on developing standards and best practices for digital twin technology in general. For instance, the Digital Twin Consortium is an organization that aims to drive consistency in digital twin technology by actively influencing the creation of new standards and best practices. International workshops dedicated to digital twin technology in enterprise networking have also emerged.
Digital twin technology, which goes beyond simple emulation like GNS3 and involves complex modeling of networks, users, devices, and applications, is an emerging field in enterprise networking where Extreme Networks has taken an early lead. This technology is predicted to become an essential component of future network systems, enhancing planning, construction, maintenance, optimization, and increasing automation and intelligence levels.
For enterprise networking vendors like Extreme Networks, to truly realize the vision of building autonomous networks, developing and implementing a digital twin strategy is imperative. A digital twin in enterprise networking goes beyond merely duplicating the network infrastructure in a virtual environment. It encompasses an end-to-end representation, including client devices at the edge and extending all the way to the cloud. Consider a digital twin as an all-encompassing emulation of network user experiences, meticulously tailored to address the unique business needs of enterprise customers and MSPs. This technology empowers a deeper understanding of how a proposed networking solution will perform within the context of each customer's specific operational requirements, ensuring the best possible alignment with their business needs. By thoughtfully integrating digital twins into enterprise networking over the coming decade, we can expect to see three major outcomes:
Harnessing the power of digital twins can revolutionize how enterprise networking vendors operate, offering numerous internal benefits that can dramatically enhance product development and overall performance. From refining designs to detecting bugs and reducing time-to-market, digital twins provide valuable insights and capabilities that can ultimately give companies a competitive edge in a fast-paced industry. Additionally, these benefits can lead to streamlined internal processes, fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration that further strengthens the company's market position.
Another way digital twin technology will transform the enterprise networking industry involves a significant overhaul of how vendors engage with prospects and customers. This will be beneficial for vendors, managed service providers, and clients alike. By leveraging digital twins, networking vendors can enhance customer experiences, anticipate service-level agreements, and evaluate user experiences before the actual sale and deployment. Additionally, they can provide novel "try and buy" options alongside training and enablement on a system that closely mirrors reality.
Perhaps the most significant impact will be the operational benefits that digital twin technology will bring to enterprise customers and managed service providers (MSPs). Digital twins - transforming change management and utilizing machine learning and artificial intelligence for modeling, optimization, and causality - have significant potential to revolutionize network operations and enhance user experience. The ability to validate changes, such as configuration updates or the rollout of new applications and devices, prior to implementation, coupled with making optimization suggestions and continuously verifying the accuracy of prior predictions, will be a game changer in this space.
We strongly believe in the vision of achieving autonomous IT networks by 2030, and to reach this goal, the industry must wholeheartedly embrace digital twin technology. By harnessing the power of digital twins, companies can optimize product development, revolutionize the selling process, and refine change management procedures. As digital twin technology continues to advance, its role in IT networking will grow increasingly significant, ultimately contributing to the realization of truly autonomous networks.