When you become CIO, almost instantly everything that you know will quickly start to become out-of-date. Just to make things even worse, as the CIO one of your jobs is going to be to accurately predict the future. Just how are you going to go about doing this? It turns out that when you need insights into what the future of IT is going to look like, it helps to sit down and have a talk with the guys who are busy creating it…
Meet The Yodas of IT Networking
Where can we find such researchers who spend their days peering into the future of IT networks? Well, it helps when they come together. This happened when the U.S.-Japan Workshop on Future Networks was held in Palo, Alto CA.
The purpose of this workshop was to allow network researchers from both Japan and the U.S. to sit down together and discuss what the future holds. Those of you who want to eventually become the CIO should pay attention.
The future remains murky to even these guys, the best and the brightest of the research community. However, they’re smart enough to acknowledge this and so the purpose of the workshop was to identify both the research challenges as well as the areas for collaboration between the two countries. In the end, they identified three major areas where CIOs will be seeing the greatest changes.
I think that we can all agree that IT networks are complex systems. If that was all we could say, then we’d just have to call them chaotic systems. However, due to a property that IT networks exhibit, called Emergent behavior, it turns out that how all of the smaller parts interact defines how the entire network behaves. The researchers identified five areas that need to be studied to learn more about this type of network behavior:
1. What methodologies can be applied to future network designs. The thinking is that the fields of electromagnetics, biology, economics, game theory, etc. also have complex models that may hold the key to better network behavior understanding.
2. What metric can be used to define the “goodness” of a network model? Anyone can predict how your network behavior is going to change when you make a change to it, but who is going to be most correct in their predictions?
3. How can we do both network design and performance modeling at the same time? Today’s networks are too large and too important to use yesterday’s “build it and we’ll see what happens” approach.
4. How can a common language be created that will allow us to describe all of the inputs, outputs, and metrics for our large complex IT networks?
5. Will we be able to use self-organizing systems to create IT networks that have desired behaviors?
Network Architecture Design
If there are any sacred cows in IT, then they probably live in the domain of the network architects. We’ve been building networks pretty much the same way since we started and it’s only now that the researchers are starting to take a look at things and ask some probing questions about how we’re doing it.
1. Is layering really necessary? From the days of the OSI model onward this has been the accepted approach to creating a network architecture. However, has the time come to start to do things a different / better way?
2. What network design principals and abstractions do we really need? Things like identify management are causing us to rethink the way that we’ve done things before.
3. Is the end-to-end argument still the way to go? If it isn’t, then what changes do we need to make in order to support tomorrow’s network-centric applications?
4. What will the impact of emerging technologies be? Wireless is changing the world everywhere. How will tomorrow’s IT networks operate in that world?
Socio-Economic And Environmentally-Aware Network Services
Like it or not, when you are CIO you are going to have to live in a world that is much more “green-aware” . This means that your IT networks will have to be designed to live in that world also.
1. How are today’s ongoing social, legal, and economic changes going to impact the overall design of tomorrow’s IT networks? The arrival of Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. has changed networking forever and you are going to be impacted.
2. What changes need to be made to such things as network protocols, network services, traffic management, etc. in order to make your IT network more environmentally friendly? Reducing the power that your IT network consumes is a good first step, but what will your next step be?
What All Of This Means For You
Bad news, there is no magic wand or crystal ball that you’ll be handed when you become CIO that will allow you to accurately see what will happen in the future. Instead, you’re going to have to find ways to stay on top of what changes are coming your way.
The best way to do this is to tap into the research community and track what they are working on. What exists in university labs today, will be in your networks tomorrow.
The recent Japan – U.S. future networks workshop is a great example of what you need to be following. This group of researchers have identified three major areas where they believe the greatest amount of change will occur in your networks in the future. Study what they will be working on and you’ll have your best snapshot of what future IT networks are going to look like.