May 27, 2016 Internet of Things

The Software Defined Technology Wave

By Mychal McCabe


Change in the technology industry is a cliche; we take for granted the forward tension that comes with our future orientation and a culture obsessed with innovation. So it’s tempting to dismiss the current moment as routine rather than extraordinary. Having lived through years of hype surrounding the Internet of Things, Network Functions Virtualization, and Software Defined Networks the impact that they are beginning to have on mature markets and established value chains seems slow rather than revolutionary.

Still there’s every indication that we’re at risk of outpacing ourselves. Not two days after a video captured a car’s autopilot kicking in to avoid a potentially lethal accident, Fortune published an article highlighting glitches in the software of a car produced by the same manufacturer. In the Fortune piece, one owner described having to literally hold his door shut during operation, i.e. while driving down the road. Yet car companies, tech titans, and start-ups are laser-focused on delivering a particular experience: transforming transportation into a service, with autonomous vehicles available on demand.

The rapid progress in autonomy is generating headlines and social media that technology enthusiasts follow with enthusiasm typically reserved for Apple product launches; and yet the relationship between autonomous vehicles of all kinds and our existing, aging infrastructure is poorly understood.

If infrastructure comes up at all, it is described as something we’ll need to address eventually, along with things like policy and ethics. The broad outline of a world where we have dedicated lanes for autonomous vehicles is easily drawn, the devilish details less so. What sort of network availability and performance will be required? How will active or passive enforcement be managed? How will all elements of the eventual system be certified, maintained, and updated? Made safe, made secure.

Autonomy is not alone. The relationship between infrastructure and more visible technologies shaping how the world will live and work over the rest of this decade is of interest primarily to companies that will need to ensure our next generation infrastructure is at least as dependable as current infrastructure even as the world around us accelerates toward the future.

Dedicated, highly-specialized hardware in the networking and storage domains is gradually giving way to Software Defined approaches that will move some of the capabilities of such hardware into applications running on generic hardware. A similar transition is underway in the Industrial market, especially in the oil and gas segment, where the control functions that have historically been managed by highly-specialized and redundant are beginning to give way to Software Defined Industrial Systems.

Delivering equal or superior performance, reliability, safety, and security as capabilities migrate out of hardware and into applications, as logic migrates from controllers and actuators to fog and cloud, as the number of connected devices skyrockets and the network itself becomes increasingly virtual is non-trivial. It requires deep expertise in the OT, networking, and device domains; and given that these areas of expertise are all Wind River sweet spots, we’re excited to be a part of this Software Defined technology wave.

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