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How digital twins are transforming network infrastructure, part 1

Digital twins and network infrastructure

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Designing, testing and provisioning updates to data digital networks depends upon numerous manual and error-prone processes. Digital twins are needs to play an essential role in automating more of the process to greatly help bring digital transformation to network infrastructure. These efforts already are driving automation for campus networks, wide area networks (WANs) and commercial wireless networks.

The digital transformation of the network infrastructure will need place over a protracted time period. In this two-part series, well be exploring how digital twins are driving network transformation. Today, well consider the present state of networking and how digital twins are assisting to automate the procedure, and also the shortcomings which are becoming seen with the technology.

Partly 2, well consider the future state of digital twins and the way the technology may be used when fully developed and implemented.

About digital twins

At its heart, a digital twin is really a style of any entity kept current by constant telemetry updates. Used, multiple overlapping digital twins tend to be used across various areas of the look, construction and operation of networks, their components, and the business enterprise services that operate on them.

Peyman Kazemian, cofounder of Forward Networks, argues that the initial Traceroute program compiled by Van Jacobson in 1987 may be the oldest & most used tool to comprehend the network. Though it neither models nor simulates the networks, it can help understand the behavior of the network by sending a representative packet through the network and observing the road it requires.

Later, other network simulation tools were developed, such as for example OPNET (1986), NetSim (2005), and GNS3 (2008), that may simulate a network by running exactly the same code because the actual network devices.

These types of solutions are of help in operating networks since they offer you a lab environment to test new ideas and changes to your network, Kazemian said.

Teresa Tung, cloud first chief technologist at Accenture, said that the open systems interconnection (OSI) conceptual model supplies the foundation for describing networking capabilities alongside separation of concerns.

This process can help concentrate on different layers of simulation and modeling. For instance, a use case may concentrate on RF models at the physical layer, to the packet and event-level within the network layer, the standard of service (QoS) and mean opinion score (MoS) measures in the presentation and application layers.

Modeling: The interoperability issue

Today, network digital twins typically only help model and automate pockets of a network isolated by function, vendors or forms of users.

The most typical use case for digital twins is testing and optimizing network equipment configurations. However, because you can find differences in how equipment vendors implement networking standards, this may result in subtle variances in routing behavior, said Ernest Lefner, chief product officer at Gluware.

Lefner said the task for everyone wanting to create a digital twin is they will need to have detailed understanding of every vendor, feature, and configuration and customization within their network. This may vary by device, hardware type, or software release version.

Some network equipment providers, like Extreme Networks, let network engineers create a network that automatically synchronizes the configuration and state of this providers specific equipment.

Today, Extremes product supports only the ability to streamline staging, validation and deployment of Extreme switches and access points. The digital twin feature doesnt currently support the SD-WAN customer on-premises equipment or routers. Later on, Extreme plans to include support for testing configurations, OS upgrades and troubleshooting problems.

Other network vendor offerings like Cisco DNA, Juniper Networks Mist and HPE Aruba Netconductor ensure it is simpler to capture network configurations and measure the impact of changes, but limited to their very own equipment.

They’re enabling you to operate or test thoroughly your configuration, but without specifically replicating the complete environment, said Mike Toussaint, senior director analyst at Gartner.

You can attempt a particular configuration, and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will help you to understand in case a configuration is optimal, suboptimal or broken. However they haven’t automated the creation and calibration of an electronic twin environment to exactly the same degree as Extreme.

Virtual labs and digital twins vs. physical testing

Until digital twins are widely adopted, most network engineers use virtual labs like GNS3 to model physical equipment and measure the functionality of configuration settings. This tool is trusted to teach network engineers also to model network configurations.

Many larger enterprises physically test new equipment at the WORLDWIDE Technology Advanced Test Center. The firm includes a partnership with most major equipment vendors to supply virtual access for assessing the performance of bodily hardware at their facility in St. Louis, Missouri.

Network equipment vendors are adding digital twin-like capabilities with their equipment. Juniper Networks recent Mist acquisition automatically captures and models different properties of the network that informs AI and machine optimizations. Similarly, Ciscos network controller serves being an intermediary between business and network infrastructure.

Balaji Venkatraman, VP of product management, DNA, Cisco, said what distinguishes an electronic twin from early modeling and simulation tools is that it offers an electronic replica of the network and is updated by live telemetry data from the network.

With the introduction of network controllers, we’ve a centralized view of at the very least the telemetry data to create digital twins possible, Venkatraman said.

However, network engineering practices will have to evolve their practices and cultures to benefit from digital twins within their workflows. Gartners Toussaint told VentureBeat that a lot of network engineering teams still create static network architecture diagrams in Visio.

So when it involves rolling out new equipment, they either test drive it in a live environment with physical equipment or do the cowboy thing and test drive it in production and hope it generally does not fail, he said.

Despite the fact that network digital twins are beginning to virtualize a few of this testing workload, Toussaint said physically testing the performance of cutting-edge networking hardware which includes specialized ASICs, FPGAs, and TPUs chips will stay critical for a while.

Culture shift required

Eventually, Toussaint expects networking teams to look at exactly the same devops practices that helped accelerate software development, testing and deployment processes. Digital twins will let teams create and manage development and test network sandboxes as code that mimics the behavior of the live deployment environment.

However the cultural shift wont be possible for most organizations.

Network teams have a tendency to desire to go in and make changes, plus they haven’t really adopted the devops methodologies, Toussaint said.

They have a tendency to keep an eye on configuration settings on text files or maps used Visio, which only give a static representation of the live network.

There haven’t really been the various tools to get this done instantly, he said.

Obtaining a network map is a very time-intensive manual process that network engineers hate, so that they desire to avoid carrying it out more often than once. Consequently, these maps seldom get updated.

Toussaint sees digital twins being an intermediate step because the industry uses more AI and ML to automate more areas of network provisioning and management. Business managers will tend to be more enthused by more flexible and adaptable networks that keep pace with home based business ideas when compared to a dynamically updated map.

However in the interim, network digital twins can help teams visualize and build rely upon their recommendations as these technologies improve.

In another five or 10 years, when networks become fully automated, then digital twins become another tool, however, not necessarily a thing that is really a must-have, Toussaint said.

Toussaint said these early network digital twins are ideal for vetting configurations, but have already been limited within their capability to grapple with an increase of complex issues. He said he loves to contemplate it to be analogous to how exactly we might use Google Maps as some sort of digital twin of our visit to work, that is proficient at predicting different routes under current traffic conditions. Nonetheless it will not inform you of the result of a vacation on your own tires or the impact of wind on the aerodynamics of one’s car.

This is actually the to begin a two-part series. Partly 2, well outline the continuing future of digital twins and how organizations have found solutions to the problems outlined here.

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