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.”