It might have brief, but we had a picturesque Christmas morning. It soon melted, but not before providing some holiday cheer. Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Wireless networking has transformed the way enterprises do business and serve customers, but until now, virtually all enterprise WLANs use short-range unlicensed Wi-Fi as for connectivity. However, as organizations become more distributed and require expanded wireless range, capacity and security, they run into the limits of Wi-Fi technology that require more equipment and complex designs to overcome. Even then they still can’t deliver the range, convenience and portability of a cellular LTE or 5G connection. In this column, I detail how the situation is about to change via the nexus of Private 5G radio spectrum and a new class of managed network services.
Until recently, the problem for organizations hoping to tap the capabilities of cellular networks has been the unavailability of unlicensed or so-called lightly-licensed radio frequency (RF) spectrum. In 2015 the US FCC and other regulatory bodies worldwide set a path towards wide enterprise accessibility to high-quality mid-band spectrum by establishing the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), which the FCC says “created a three-tiered access and authorization framework to accommodate shared federal and non-federal use of the band.”
Although CBRS has been designed to reduce the hurdles to enterprise adoption, it doesn’t eliminate them entirely, making it difficult for all but the largest, most sophisticated IT organizations to implement. Enter AWS Private 5G.
The design, integration and operational overhead of private 5G is a severe impediment to most organizations, making it ripe for a managed service. AWS seized the opportunity at re:Invent 2021 by introducing a Private 5G product that provisions the necessary “small cell radio units, servers, 5G core and radio access network (RAN) software, and subscriber identity modules (SIM cards).” Configured via the AWS console, the service automates network setup and capacity scaling to accommodate new devices and increased traffic.
The column details the capabilities of AWS’s new service and ideal usage scenarios. In sum, the era of Private 5G connectivity is near. Despite the hype around faster phone connections, 5G evangelists have long contended that enterprise applications would be the long-term beneficiaries of the abundance of internal technical improvements provided by 5G. Although adoption is necessarily slower than the consumer market, as Martin Banks summarizes here, “over the next five or so years, it will be a rare business that is not affected by 5G and what it can provide.“
A chief enabling capability for these business applications is private 5G connectivity using mid-band CBRS spectrum.
In a recent column, I discussed how the recent AWS outage(s) and Log4j security holes should lead to enterprises drawing some broader lessons about dealing with complexity and dependencies in modern IT environments. Indeed, the Log4j vulnerability is a sad reminder that far-reaching supply-chain security holes have become an unfortunate tradition of the holiday season (have we forgotten the SolarWinds imbroglio already?).
As I detail, the AWS outage Service Event™ demonstrated that even the largest and most sophisticated hyperscale operators aren’t immune from mistakes that cascade into a multitude of other problems. While the AWS outage was spotty, leaving many customers only minorly inconvenienced, the vulnerability in the Log4j software library is broad (affecting millions of software and service users), deep (lodged within countless commercial and open source applications) and likely to be lengthy (with ramifications lasting well into next year).
Together these events illustrate the fragility of modern IT systems and the ‘digital transformation’ strategies utterly dependent upon them. Unfortunately, there aren’t easy answers to these problems since businesses and developers have flocked to cloud services and open source code for good reasons — convenience, cost model, steady flow of features and updates — and have been willing to live with the occasional outage or urgent security patch.
The bigger problem is that enterprises have gradually, often unknowingly, deepened their dependence on such software and services to the point where an unexpected major incident can significantly impair revenue, damage customer relations and increase support costs. However, like the proverbial frog stuck in a pot of water that’s slowly been brought to the boiling point, it’s too late to jump out.
I conclude with some steps organizations can take to proactively monitor and mitigate such issues. In sum, don’t trust, always verify and have multiple contingency plans.
The bane of every successful company, athlete or artist harkens back to the vaudevillian phrase, “What do you do for an encore?” A company like AWS that pioneered cloud infrastructure services and still dominates the market, despite many big-name competitors, forces itself to answer that question every year at its widely-anticipated re:Invent conference. I take a critical look at the big themes from a re:Invent 2021 that largely validated my pre-show predictions, but included a significant focus on product packaging and usability.
The centerpiece of new CEO Adam Selipsky’s keynote was a discussion of the business problem of our age: collecting, organizing and analyzing the vast and expanding sources of data produced by devices, customers, transactions and business processes. AWS organizes the problem into four categories:
- Databases for collection and organization
- Data lakes for aggregation and consumption
- Analytics and machine learning for summarization, extraction, analysis and visualization.
However, AWS is shifting from raw capabilities and features to usability and manageability via several new ‘serverless’ products that I detail in my Diginomica column. I conclude noting that re:Invent was unusual this year because AWS used it to roll out both new products and a new CEO. On the former, the company did an acceptable, although given past performance, exceptional job. Unfortunately, the latter was lackluster, akin to opening a bottle of flat champagne after enjoying some Perrier-Jouët.