Balanced computing: Intel's vision of our networked future

Intel is a sponsor of November's Telco 2.0 event. Its Embedded and Communication Group/Performance Products Division will provide their view on the future of the Telecom business model and technology. Intel's approach to the telecoms industry stretches across the whole value chain end-to-end, from handsets and PCs to radios, switches and servers. Intel has a unique and commanding viewpoint across the whole digital communications ecosystem. We spoke to Intel's Director of the Service Provider Sector within the Intel Digital Enterprise Group, Kevin D. Johnson about this.

Q: Intel has traditionally been associated with manufacturing microprocessors, but increasingly is focused on networking. What's causing this change?

A: The network is becoming more important to Intel as network access becomes a key enabler for many businesses to grow. In a few years, most client end-user devices will be connected. While this started with PCs, there are more and more embedded applications, such as IP multimedia devices, in-car entertainment, automated energy management, home security monitoring, in-home media entertainment devices, even displays on refrigerators, requiring always-on connectivity...
Intel offers high-performance, power-efficient processors and components for all parts of the network, from service hosting with Intel® Xeon® processors to client devices with Intel® Atom™ processors and Intel Centrino® processors. We know that there are many opportunities to make these components work together more intelligently across the various platforms. Some examples include automated provisioning for ease of set-up, power management for battery life and energy savings, trusted computing for data and user integrity, and balanced computing for optimized end-user experience. We want to emphasize that Intel cares about the network as an end-to-end Service Provider technology ecosystem. Our job is to make the necessary technology investments for the Telecoms industry to flourish into the future.

Q: So what's Intel's unique value proposition to a Telco?

A: We're very focused on energy efficiency and going 'green' from Data Centers through network infrastructure to consumer and business devices. We have a long history of driving down transistor sizes and lowering power dissipation. This technology conveyor belt will continue to deliver products long into the future. Yet there's more to be done. We have a Data Center of the future initiative that goes beyond standard applications.

This means taking a fresh look at our products and how we integrate and offer features and functions for telecom workloads. For example, we may use system-on-chip technology for the Data Center as a way of reducing chip count and power consumption. Rather than throw big iron at every problem, we are working on smarter ways of managing computing power, such as more parallelism, virtualization, network distributed computing, balanced workloads, etc. To make this work, you need more than just an addition of a software layer to general purpose CPUs. The solution needs to be baked into the processor itself.

Another major initiative is embedded security for networks. Security management is going to be a key issue. With 15 billion connected devices and "tridgets" in the next 10 years, there is a huge risk forming. The network must help filter and block the bad things.

In a sense, this is a counter to the ideas in the famous white paper by AT&T research scientist David Isenberg, "The Rise of the Stupid Network." This paper argued that Telcos should be "dumb pipes" because that creates the maximum innovation since no applications are tied to the assumptions of previous network designers. This view, however, appears too narrow in scope since it believes in goodness of the endpoints.

The network doesn't have to become smarter to change the business model of service providers at the signalling and applications layer. Rather, it needs to handle risks of malicious use, or even just unintended behavior that is trying to slow down the network performance, potentially leading to significant business impact. It becomes important for the network to understand the nature of the traffic; we call this trusted computing.

There are also challenges, such as video delivery, that require a smarter network service architecture for increased quality of consumer experience and satisfaction with the content-service-device interactions.

Q: What does this mean in practice?

A: We see a need for processing capabilities in every node of the network, including the edge, and for these components to work together as part of a whole approach to an intelligent network. Network services such as Deep Packet Inspection, intelligent traffic management, network firewalls, VPNs, in-line transcoding, Ad insertion, and context aware location-based services work best when the parts of the network cooperate with one another - just as Internet Protocol is a means of allowing co-operative behaviour between networks.

For example, transcoding can be done in the device, in a base station, in some content delivery network node, or some central server at the Data Center. The best approach is a complex balance that considers network capability, delivery latency, device battery life, and capital expense. A company like Intel in cooperation with its extensive ecosystem can help solve these kinds of problems and provide a profitable path to your next generation network.

This is the new "balanced computing" model for the network; Adapt the service or balance between server and client, depending on the client's capabilities and network intelligence. Maximizing the QoS for the end-user is typically a processor-based performance issue of the device itself. Think of it as the networked equivalent - and evolution of - the MMX multimedia extensions that processors acquired in the 1990s.

Now, the focus is on distributed computing - done on the fly. The network interactively provides the right service in conjunction with the device, depending on screen size, memory, processing and even conditional battery capabilities. The difficult job is to manage and finesse the non-functional device issues - performance, battery life, and security.

Any new class of user friendly, smart consumer devices will under-perform when the network is not optimized to work with it and vice versa. For example, the current user experience with a Smartphone could have badly formatted web pages, resulting in a poor navigation experience. Various software approaches have been proposed, as a network-based service that resizes images per the device before transmission.

Some of this kind of control may be in software, but capable processors will definitely shape the future optimizing this performance on the fly, thereby maximizing the end user's "Quality of Experience" (QoE).

Mobile Internet Devices (MID) offer the network the open PC model, the PC performance needs, and PC user behavior models. When you buy a MID device at a retail store, you expect the usual PC broadband model of working 'out of the box'. Without these technologies, consumers may be disappointed by the experience they receive.

So on one side we need to prevent bad things from happening through the network , and on the other enable business model evolution through distributed computing technology built into the network and devices cohesively. We do that by enabling intelligence in the network.

A good example might be an IPTV switch, equipped with one or more blade servers that allow the Service Provider to add local services. For example, personalized Ad insertion, a lucrative revenue generator for SPs, creates new challenges in running business logic from multiple sources, ensuring a secure and high-performance system, and managing QoE across the technology stack.

We are also looking at possible new tiered service architectures. For example, there could be a prepay module on the client, as opposed to embedded in the network, which provides a customer entry level service agreement. The end user could opt for additional services on a pay per usage tariff if desired. Service providers would be very interested in that, given a more flexible cost structure for their billing system.

Q: And what about your business model?

A: Our message is that Intel cares about the network, services, IT (BSS/OSS) and devices. An intelligent network means accelerating the vision of broadband for all - both wired and wireless. Smarter and better connected devices equates to more prosperity. In doing this, we need to start thinking about two-sided market models for the enabling capabilities. This could open up various future revenue models as the network intelligence increases to provide a portal to new lifestyles and new levels of service to business owners. Our end goal is to get everybody connected with a rich and convenient device experience wherever you are and whenever you need it and the network obviously is a critical factor to that.