Intel Nick McKeown: 5G means more than smartphones

The main reason your smartphone can go from egg timer to real-time language translator to augmented reality game console is its programming capabilities. This feature turns your wildest ideas into “an app” that will help you reach your goals.

The next killer application of 5G will open the floodgates of innovation for businesses.

Intel Nick McKeown: 5G means more than smartphones

Intel Nick McKeown: 5G means more than smartphones
Nick McKeown, senior vice president and general manager of the Networking and Edge Group at Intel Corporation

The main reason your smartphone can go from egg timer to real-time language translator to augmented reality game console is its programming capabilities. This feature turns your wildest ideas into “an app” that will help you reach your goals.

Modern computing infrastructures such as cloud data centers, Internet and cellular networks, edge computing, etc., make your mobile phone rich in functionality. But one part of this infrastructure is not yet fully programmable, and that is the network itself, which means users can’t bring their wildest ideas to life.

So what is the reason? When the Internet industry began to grow in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was caught in a predicament of too many standards and regulatory stakeholders and too much complacence for the Internet industry. The Internet industry, which was supposed to be open, simple, fast-moving and agile, has instead become sclerotic — developing at an extremely slow pace. Of course, although the speed of the Internet has become faster, due to the limitations of standards and chips, the Internet cannot provide users with more reliable, secure and practical services.

For fifteen years, I have been eager to solve this problem, improve the status quo of the Internet industry, make the network faster, and achieve faster development. When I refer to the Internet, I mean networks in a broad sense: the networks in our homes, cellular networks, Wi-Fi networks, corporate networks, the public Internet, and networks within cloud data centers.

Before I joined Intel last year, this desire drove me to become a professor at Stanford and start several successful networking companies. My goal has always been to challenge the networking industry to think more of the software side to drive infrastructure development.

In the past, all functions of the network were limited by standards and equipment manufacturers with little incentive to change. They believe this is the only way for the network to achieve the desired performance, control costs and guarantee power efficiency. But now, things have changed.

Today, Japan has a living example. A recent study of 5G networks found that the providers with the fastest download speeds — more than 40 percent faster than others — used a network built by Intel customer Rakuten. Rakuten’s virtualized network runs on Intel Xeon processors and utilizes our FlexRAN software.

It is worth noting that Rakuten Mobile is not a telecommunications company, but an e-commerce and internet services company with 1.5 billion global members. But Rakuten is able to build a 5G network using software, based on its existing infrastructure, which is mainly used to provide dozens of online services.

Many companies with warehouse-style data centers — such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft — are also turning to programmable networking. The main reason for these companies’ transformation is the need for greater speed, but the transformation has also given them greater flexibility in programming.

Let’s take a closer look at the intense need for speed in today’s businesses. As a simple example, if we draw a vertical line in the United States to look at all public Internet traffic from left to right and then right to left – the size of the Internet capacity in the United States (this is also known as the Internet’s dichotomy). French bandwidth), which means that this scale will be less than the traffic between a few hundred servers in a modern data center, which often contains tens or hundreds of thousands of servers and is very large (so these companies Often referred to as “hyperscale companies”).

If one of those companies wants a data center that’s faster, more reliable, and more secure than the competition, it can’t just buy the same old fixed-function network box. To introduce innovative ideas and differentiate them from competitors, each company needs to program these devices themselves.

So naturally, the next option for these companies is to use chips that are customized to their own needs, make them programmable, and have differentiated features. I have been involved in developing network chips with this goal in mind. Over the past decade, I’ve observed that as companies want to have more control over how individual packets are handled, they do interesting, innovative, and sometimes crazy things I never thought of — And neither will their competitors. Today, networks within different data centers work differently as they add their own differentiating features to gain a leg up on the competition.

If you look a little bit, you can see that the whole system – computers, storage, networking – is becoming a large distributed system that you can program to do what you want.

Our job at Intel is to provide our customers, especially their software developers, with the world’s best programmable platform. As infrastructure moves to software in the cloud through the Internet and 5G networks, and all the way to the intelligent edge, our work is focused on making it as easy as possible for these developers to develop with our hardware to implement their new ideas.

By liberating hardware-side functionality to software-side, our customers and developers can improve the functionality itself faster than ever. Because once the function is fixed by the hardware carrier, innovation will not only be slow, but also inevitably limited by the imagination of the hardware manufacturer.

However, moving it to the software realm would open it up to a wider audience, which means that a large group of developers can experiment with their own ideas. What’s more, you’ve put the keys from the hardware makers to the people who make a living owning and operating large network systems. Only they know how to operate at this scale; only they can write software to determine how their systems should work.

As the global computing fabric finally takes a programmable path, it will change everything — and open the way for countless innovations.

For example, my colleague Raja Koduri recently pointed out that the metaverse could be the next major platform in computing after the World Wide Web and the mobile internet. To achieve this vision, we need orders of magnitude higher computing and communication capabilities for lower latency access across multiple device modalities. All of this is easier to achieve with a more composable and programmable infrastructure.

Fully programmable infrastructure will also lead to wider distribution of intelligence. For example, it brings the power of data processing closer to where the data is produced or consumed, what we call the edge.

At the network edge, our customers are already deploying massive amounts of AI inference at their premises, analyzing video from cameras to monitor inventory, measure footfall and identify anomalies in production. Applications of reasoning are already widespread and will grow rapidly, and we will see dramatic changes in factories, retail stores, and hospitals. As AI inference advances, developers will need open, programmable models so they can achieve whatever they want with their innovative new applications, rather than being limited to a single solution. For this reason, we have seen rapid growth of our very successful OpenVINO inference platform. For its combination with 5G, we think this is the next killer app.

I can’t wait to see what new ideas, especially crazy ones, come up next.

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