As a technology analyst, I spend considerable time with connectivity service providers and infrastructure companies that supply the hardware and software that run next-generation private and public networks. For these companies, lab testing and validation is a critical endeavor to ensure interoperability, compatibility, scalability and high availability, but it can also play a role in incubating compelling new applications and use cases. I have visited labs and test ranges worldwide, including AT&T Labs in Israel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s test and reliability facility in Roseville, California and Nokia’s massive radio frequency testing chamber in Espoo, Finland. I recently spent time with Juniper Networks and its Beyond Labs team to learn more about its mission and investigations, and I would like to share what I find compelling about its efforts.
Beyond Labs mission
Juniper unveiled Beyond Labs in May of this year. Its stated mission is to shape the future of networking and IT industries with pioneering research, pathfinding projects and experimental technology developments. Those are bold objectives, and to achieve its research goals, Juniper is wisely partnering with academic institutions, including the University of California, Purdue and Stanford, and stalwart technology companies, including Dell Technologies, IBM, Intel, Nvidia and others. One could argue that there is some degree of competitive overlap with the latter, but this often occurs in the tech world, as evidenced by open-source initiatives such as the Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) that aims to accelerate packet processing workloads across a large swath of CPU architectures. I like Juniper’s research approach, given that it brings together public and private stakeholders, leveraging combined budgets and diverse resources.
Beyond Labs’ pathfinding project scope enhances and accelerates a minimum viable product (MVP) approach made famous within Silicon Valley startups through the introduction of a minimum viable demo (MVD) for faster validation. Juniper defines four critical stages—ideation, incubation, go/no-go and productization—as its milestones. Initial engagement is also crucial, and Juniper plans to use its executive briefing centers in California, Massachusetts and India, as well as demos at industry events, to fill its engagement funnel with investigations and proof of concept evaluations. It’s an intelligent approach that should identify innovation opportunities and employ a “fail fast” philosophy to root out the less compelling ideas.
Finally, experimental technology developments may sound unconventional for a provider of telecommunications and enterprise gear, hence the “beyond” branding for the labs initiative. The company’s focus on quantum secure networking and communications research could be labeled experimental; it’s a subject I was first exposed to during my visit to AT&T’s now-defunct Foundry program that has since been folded into that company’s broader AT&T Labs effort.
Beyond Labs is focusing its research and seeking innovation in four key areas, including sustainability, 5G telecom and beyond, AI and the previously mentioned quantum communications. Due to today’s intense focus on net-zero and carbon-neutral initiatives across many industries, it makes perfect sense for the company to focus on sustainability. Current telecom investigations include radio access network (RAN) intelligent controller power savings, lower-power network investigations and internet link energy metering. AI is a hot topic, and Juniper is exploring generative AI and large language models (LLMs) that could support disruptive networking applications. Additional Beyond Labs inquiries related to cloud connect, edge services and end-to-end assurance could also bear fruit.
Beyond Labs can already point to some early successes, including Juniper’s 5G RAN Intelligent Controller and the Juniper Cloud-Native Router, both commercially available solutions. The company continues to invest in 5G with respect to Open RAN service management and orchestration as well as private 5G. Juniper is also collaborating with Intel to integrate Intel’s FlexRAN reference architecture. One of my early criticisms of Open RAN was its focus on cost versus performance. FlexRAN promises to address this concern with reference designs that help accelerate the deployment of highly optimized and scalable 4G and 5G cloud-native offerings.
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Technical lab efforts created by corporations are nothing new, but I applaud Juniper’s approach with Beyond Labs to unite academia and industry to streamline research and accelerate innovation. It is still in its infancy, but Beyond Labs has tremendous promise, and its early success points to its longer-term potential.infrastruct