In­ter­net braces for the com­ing of bil­lions of ro­bots

As cloud com­put­ing be­comes the norm, new mar­kets open for nim­ble tech firms


There’s a tsunami of in­ter­net-con­nected de­vices com­ing — lit­er­ally bil­lions of sen­sors, con­trollers and ro­bots — and the fun­da­men­tal ar­chi­tec­ture of the in­ter­net needs to change in order to make room for them all.

That’s both the chal­lenge and the op­por­tu­nity in front of com­pa­nies such as Cal­i­for­nia-based Ju­niper Net­works, which make the high-ca­pac­ity gear that makes the mod­ern in­ter­net work.

While Ju­niper may not be a house­hold name, if you’ve used a smart­phone or logged onto the in­ter­net to­day, CEO Rami Rahim said there’s a 99.9 per cent chance that your data has gone through Ju­niper equip­ment some­where along the line.

Over the past decade or so, the ar­chi­tec­ture of the in­ter­net has been shift­ing mas­sively away from per­sonal com­put­ing, where data and pro­grams mostly ran on a de­vice, and to­wards the cloud.

“Cloud is the big­gest, most tec­tonic shift that has hap­pened — not just in the net­work­ing in­dus­try, but across all in­dus­tries — and we have shaped our en­tire strategy around cloud,” Rahim said.

But this trend is still in its open­ing act.

Rahim, orig­i­nally from Toronto but now based in Sil­i­con Val­ley, spoke with the Fi­nan­cial Post about the chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated with the shift­ing shape of the in­ter­net while he was back in his home­town this week.

“With net­work­ing, the real com­plex­ity is the scale,” Rahim said.

“Cre­at­ing con­nec­tions be­tween bil­lions of people, and more so these days tens of bil­lions of de­vices, is ac­tu­ally ex­po­nen­tially harder.”

Build­ing off cloud plat­forms, the world is now see­ing a pro­lif­er­a­tion of in­ter­net-con­nected de­vices to collect data and al­low op­er­a­tors to con­trol sys­tems re­motely.

This evo­lu­tion poses some­thing of a tech­ni­cal night­mare. Rahim said these days net­works are mostly geared to­wards de­liv­er­ing tons of data quickly to your de­vice — so you can stream an HD movie on your phone — but for a sys­tem where bil­lions of de­vices are both send­ing and re­ceiv­ing in­for­ma­tion, the big switches and routers need to be de­signed dif­fer­ently.

So far, it is a field without too many play­ers, be­cause it’s so tech­ni­cal and com­plex. Ju­niper Net­works isn’t small, with a mar­ket cap­i­tal­iza­tion of $9.7 bil­lion and rev­enue of $1.2 bil­lion last quar­ter, but it’s dwarfed by its main ri­val, Cisco Sys­tems.

Rahim said mak­ing this kind of equip­ment is hard be­cause some­thing like a core router needs to be blaz­ingly fast, sort­ing and send­ing mil­lions of data pack­ets ef­fi­ciently 24/7 without ever crash­ing and re­quir­ing a re­set.

And as the flows of data change, the way these nodes and switches are de­signed needs to change to han­dle them as ef­fi­ciently as pos­si­ble.

Harder still is the emerg­ing field of “edge com­put­ing ” which will be

We need too many rocket sci­en­tists to­day ... and we be­lieve that is truly the next big problem to solve.

nec­es­sary for in­no­va­tions such as aug­mented re­al­ity and self-driv­ing cars.

If a car is cruis­ing down the high­way at 100km/h and some­thing goes wrong, it doesn’t have time to send a sig­nal to a cell tower, and then route that mes­sage on to a data cen­tre some­where. The car needs to change lanes im­me­di­ately to avoid an accident, but it also needs ac­cess to the col­lec­tive learn­ing of every self-driv­ing car to make the right move.

The so­lu­tion is “edge” com­put­ing — so-called be­cause it takes place far from a net­work’s core servers — which com­bines de­ci­sions made in­side the car’s com­puter, in nearby data cen­tres and in large big, cen­tral­ized servers.

Man­ag­ing all this com­plex­ity, Rahim said, is a ma­jor op­por­tu­nity for Ju­niper Net­works. The com­pany will re­lease its mul­ti­cloud plat­form “any day now” which cuts out a lot of tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise needed for com­pa­nies who op­er­ate across many dif­fer­ent cloud net­works.

“We need too many rocket sci­en­tists to­day to keep net­works up and run­ning, and we be­lieve that is truly the next big problem to solve in this in­dus­try,” he said.

“We have put a stake in the ground to say that this is our job. It’s re­quired for us, it’s good for busi­ness, and it’s good for the in­dus­try.”


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