Can Open Platforms Slash Networking Costs?
Smartphones have conditioned us to expect access to digital content anytime, anywhere. Slaking our insatiable thirst for music, video and data puts strain on networks that must continually increase capacity. Because many systems are proprietary, adding that capacity can cost network operators big bucks, but it doesn't have to be that way, according to an Intel executive.
"A big problem in networking technology today is that it is very proprietary," said Rose Schooler, vice president of the Intel Datacenter and Connected Systems Group and general manager of the Communications and Storage Infrastructure Group. "This drives cost up. There's a big opportunity to drive reduction in capital expenditures within networking."
By shifting to open platforms for networking equipment, telecom and cable companies could seize that opportunity, according to Schooler, and make digitally connecting people easier, faster and less expensive. The Intel veteran has been with the company for more than two decades and is leading the company's efforts to bring the benefits of Intel architecture (IA) and open platforms to the telecommunications world.
In a recent interview, Schooler discussed how software, more than hardware,
has come to define network infrastructure, the difference between "hot data"
and "cold data" and what she sees as the false premise of work/life balance.
Communications and Storage Infrastructure Group is an impenetrable sounding name.
What does your group do?
We provide the guts, or the technology, that allows people to make cell phone calls and use the World Wide Web to connect with the infrastructure. It allows you to connect when you sit down and dock your PC at work every day. It provides the guts of the systems that make your cell phone calls work all over the world.
As for storage, consumers today have so much content: music, video, work data
and a great deal more. We work on Intel architecture-based solutions for each of
those domains so we can make sure that data can be stored efficiently, securely
So when I make a mobile phone call, where is Intel technology in that process?
Here's what happens when you make a call with your cell phone. As you're making a call from the passenger seat in a car, you look to the left and you see a cell tower. At the bottom of the tower or pole there's typically a box, and inside that box there's a base station. The base station receives the analog signal from the phone and converts it to a digital signal and routes it to its final destination.
Up until now, there hasn't been a lot of Intel architecture inside the base station. It's typically been digital signal processors from, say, Freescale or Broadcom or Qualcomm.
This year we're starting to see some initial deployments of our reference architectures with companies such as Samsung in Korea, which will be the first deployment of Intel architecture inside that base station to enable that next generation of wireless access.
We also sell technology that is used in high-speed networking switches that direct network traffic. We recently announced that we are offering a complete network platform switch reference design based on Intel processors, Intel Ethernet switches and Intel communications chipsets. These reference designs will help accelerate the adoption of IA platforms in the communications ecosystem, while allowing the service providers to differentiate on top of these platforms using software.
Shifting to open platforms for networking equipment can reduce capex for telecom and cable companies.
What's the pain point for network providers?
A big problem in networking technology today is that it is very proprietary. If you're a network operator and you want to add network capacity, meaning the ability to move more data, you call your OEM and they literally send out a guy who comes out with their proprietary box in order to give you more capacity.
This drives cost up because you need a trained set of professionals to deliver that service. Since it's proprietary, it doesn't interoperate well with other equipment. You can't move new applications or workloads onto it. So there's a big opportunity to drive reduction in capital expenditures within networking.
By using multi-purpose Intel CPUs we can move the industry to an open platform, and change the network infrastructure so that it's defined more by software than by hardware. That saves the operator, the enterprise IT guy, the CIO, a lot of money. Then, when you have new workloads, you can use tools like virtualization on these "known" platforms to deploy new services using Intel technologies.
Why is network storage important for mobile phones?
Your cellphone is no longer just a phone, right? It's a computer. So, say you want to do something other than make a call, like download a video from YouTube. And a bunch of people in your neighborhood are also looking at that same video. The Internet provider might want to make sure those people can load the video quickly. So it decides to cache a copy of the video at the edge of the network closest to the YouTube viewers, so that it loads faster. That requires storage.
People in the business call things like popular YouTube videos "hot data" because it's in demand and being accessed a lot.
But there's also a huge amount of "cold data." Like I might be out having dinner and I'll tell your friends, "Oh my gosh, you should've seen my hair in the '80s." And this is a real example - I had the biggest hair. Completely permed, right? And my friends will say, "No you didn't, Schooler. You didn't have big hair!" And I'll say, "Here, let me show you from my Facebook page." And I'll access a picture that I posted five years ago. That's cold data. You're not accessing it frequently.
So we provide platforms and architectures that can optimize storage for those two different use cases. You might not want to spend as much money storing old pictures as you do storing a YouTube video that people are accessing hundreds of times a day. Or you might want to store that "hot data" in a high-performance storage solution.
You've been at Intel more than 20 years, why did you join the company?
I was at Penn State University. It was December, and it was cold, and I wanted to go West. I went to the career fair, and there was this cool company called Intel. At the time, Intel was primarily located in California, Oregon and Arizona. I had family in Arizona, and I thought if I could work in Arizona that would be great. They also had this great "open door" policy where they said you could talk to anyone in the company no matter what their position.
I was materials science engineering major, and I actually got to watch on a senior field trip Corning engineers "grow" a silicon ingot. I had read a fair amount about Intel and their technology, I thought the material science aspects of building semiconductors was pretty cool, the weather was great and they had a cool work environment.
How do you manage your time, your work/life balance?
Actually, I hate the word "balance," especially in the context of work-life balance because it doesn't exist. A balance assumes that your scales are even. And just the way that our lives are conducted day-to-day, the scales are not even, right?
So what I try to do is over the course of the year is make sure that I don't lose focus on my job one, which unequivocally is being the best mother, wife and friend that I can possibly be.
So there are times when you have to make trade-offs. Sometimes they are for work, sometimes they are for personal activities.
Another thing I do to try to keep true perspective is to run as often as humanly possible in the mornings before work. I run with women who do not work at Intel. So it's a great external validation of me as a human being, and it gives you an external perspective. It's a time where you can share with no downside.