People often ask, “where is technology headed?” A good place to find the answer is at the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG) meetings. NANOG is where telecommunications and internet giants like Verizon, NTT, Google, Verisign, Telstra, Comcast, Netflix and Microsoft send their best engineers to network and trade ideas and best practices.
NANOG 70 recently concluded June 7 in Seattle and the future of technology and telecom was on full display. What were some of the big themes from last week?
As the self-driving car continues to drive its way to the future, it was no surprise that the crowd at NANOG was discussing the self-provisioning and self-maintaining network. Thinkers like Kireeti Kompalla, key author of the MPLS VPNs known as “Martini Tunnel,” presented his ideas on network automation that both challenged and inspired the audience. Attendees heard about a combination of standards based models, big data mining of new telemetry signals emanating from the network, along with artificial intelligence that will form the basis for the self-driving networks of the future. These new models require little human intervention. If it does happen, the folks at NANOG will be the ones to design and build it. However, like automation throughout the economy, they also worry that their success may endanger many jobs within the industry. Even so, these people don’t let parochial concerns like job security stifle their creative efforts.
Multiplexing on Optical Networks Gets a Review
There is no end to our collective demand for bandwidth. Therefore, it was a topic frequently discussed at NANOG, including an in depth discussion about wave division multiplexing, 100G lasers and undersea cables. Len Bosack, a founder of Cisco, discussed how statistical multiplexing is implemented throughout the network. From chip technology, and queueing algorithms in switches, to resilient design of ultrahigh bandwidth optical transport, to the amount of power needed to run the internet 20 years from now, the audience heard about a wide range of topics relating to the growth and sustainability of optical networks all arising from the concept of statistical multiplexing.
Hackathon and Peering
Telecommunications networks are evolving and the concepts pioneered in corporate IT departments and large internet content providers are permeating the world of telecommunications. No serious group of technologists can meet without a Hackathon and true to form, NANOG offers up the chance to show your coding chops or contribute to a solution to the open source community.
The collegial atmosphere at NANOG encourages attendees to interact. There are at least two social events at each meeting. An important aspect of NANOG is the relationships developed by attendees. This is intentional because peering among the large group of service providers is a critical part of improving connectivity. Peering is the arrangement by which telecom and internet service providers connect and exchange traffic. Peering enables them to directly hand off traffic between each other’s customers, without incurring charges. Since every service provider has customers they must reach outside their own service area, it is critical to maintain healthy peering relationships and NANOG is designed to create personal relationships among the key engineers responsible for peering. This atmosphere was demonstrated by a panel discussion on Wednesday. The panelists on “Finding Your Next Gig” were all personnel department employees of their respective companies and they discussed how to find a new job. They offered practical advice for an audience more used to writing software than eloquently discussing their problem solving skills. The irony is that many of these engineering skills are so in-demand that the panel may have been equally important as an advertisement for the employers as about improving prospects for the job seeker.
The growth of the Internet worldwide and at NANOG in North America has spawned the creation of similar organizations in other regions. Europe has the EURO-IX and Latin America has LAC-IX. No matter what you call it, or the language in which the conference is delivered, one thing is certain; NANOG is where you can get a glimpse of the future.