In the ruthless quest to squash the use of buzzword-based marketing speak in business communications, phrases such as world-class, best practices and paradigm shift are rarely seen any more – which is actually a step in the right direction given how abused these phrases were just a few years ago. However, there are times when these phrases capture exactly the right idea and should be used to describe a new trend or idea.


This is one of those times. Within the context of current technology trends and transitions occurring within the telecommunications and enterprise networking worlds today, I want to bring paradigm shift out of the buzzword dog house and use it to frame today’s ideas on Network Convergence.


In basic terms, a paradigm shift is a change from one way of thinking to another.  To really abuse the marketing-speak buzzwords, in high-tech a paradigm shift is a technology-driven shift from one set of best practices to another set to achieve world-class performance. (I apologize!). The reason I like the phrase is that it implies that this shift is revolutionary, not evolutionary.  When there is a paradigm shift in high-tech, new essential technologies emerge, business models are changed, old skills have to be updated, familiar players have to re-invent themselves and new players emerge.  We’re talking big-time change in a 5 to 10 year period of time.


So what’s happening to the Network Convergence idea?  It’s been around for decades.


Back in the 90’s, Network Convergence in the telecom world referred to the consolidation of the separate voice, video and data communications networks into a single network used to deliver all forms of communications services. Today, we simply refer to this era as the ‘transition to IP-based communications’ or something like that. Instead of working really hard to build bridges between the different networks, we finally decided we had to replace them all with a single network.


At the same time, in the enterprise networking world, Network Convergence had a similar impetus.  To simplify their networks in order to lower their costs and improve manageability, companies started to replace the myriad of vendor-specific networking technology, such as IBM’s SNA, Novell’s IPX/SPX, Apple’s AppleTalk, Digital’s DECnet and Microsoft’s NetBEUI to name a few, with the Unix-based TCP/IP protocol, the transport mechanism of the Internet.


Today, while the internet is ubiquitous, the networking world we live and work in is characterized by two ‘best-practices’ that helped us through this 1st era of Network Convergence.  First, the carrier-grade telecom networking world is still vastly different from the enterprise or IT networking worlds and far too frequently one camp wants nothing to do with the other. And second, the networking infrastructure of both worlds is still hardware-driven based on proprietary technology.


These last two holdovers from the past are starting to outlive their usefulness.  Simply put, the CAPEX and OPEX costs associated with building and maintaining today’s highly secure mobile and cloud computing network infrastructure are staggering.


Today, the paradigm shift that is Network Convergence (2nd Era) has 3 key pieces:

  1. To lower CAPEX and OPEX costs, the transition from proprietary hardware to commodity multi-core platforms is essential.  In fact, this transition is already highly visible with much of the LTE infrastructure in the mobile world and cloud computing infrastructure being based on standard server platforms. The new Intel® Platform for Communications Infrastructure is a great example of how the latest multicore processor technology is being optimized for both application and communication processing.
  2. The ‘hardware-driven’ network will transition to a software-based network. Still in the early stages of study and pilot implementations, the ideas, protocols and products behind Software Defined Networking are just starting to emerge. Increased flexibility and improvement in resource utilization are the drivers here. And with a significant group of network operators, equipment vendors and network technology providers behind the effort, SDN will only gain momentum.
  3. The telecom network world and the enterprise (or Data Center) network world will become one-and-the-same.  Why? Again, very simply stated, they are both are moving to highly virtualized software-based networks built on standard server model.  The differences between the implementation approaches are vanishing.  One interesting question is ‘will the organizational (some would say political) differences vanish too?’


Network Convergence paradigm shift – absolutely, a revised definition of the concept. Revolutionary – absolutely, big-time changes that will be endorsed (and resisted) on many fronts. Essential to continue to create increasingly capable (and essential), cost-effective networks – absolutely.


Eric Carmès, CEO of 6WIND has shared some of his thoughts on the network convergence paradigm shift in an interview for SDNCentral. Check it out.