The Future of 5G Network Infrastructure and Edge Computing

Dan Rodriguez, Author at IT Peer Network
Intel’s Dan Rodriguez (Intel)

On this episode of The Six Five – Insiders Edition Patrick Moorhead and I are joined by Daniel Rodriguez, Corporate Vice President for the Network Platforms Group for Intel. Dan is leading the global organization that aims to drive network transformation through both 5G network build-out and edge computing — both are hot topics right now as the demand for faster networks and easier access to data increases across enterprise organizations.  

Our conversation covered several aspects of the current status of the 5G network infrastructure including the role Intel has played in laying the foundation for the rollout of agile and scalable infrastructure. We are at a pivotal point in network transformation, as Dan calls it, because we are going to see the pervasiveness of AI through the cloud, the data center, and other areas. Communication service providers will deliver traditional network functions but new AI-based edge services. The opportunities in several industries will be exciting to watch. 

The State of 5G Network Infrastructure

Our conversation with Dan also revolved around the following:

  • Intel’s role in Access Core, RAN and Far Edge.
  • How 5G is expanding Intel’s product portfolio from the data center into the network and out to the edge. 
  • The role 5G is playing the full breadth of Intel solutions including ASICs and FPGAs. 
  • Real world examples where 5G proliferation has taken hold.

Where We Go From Here

We are watching enterprise organizations expand their use of technologies like AI and IoT which are in turn creating a massive amount of data. This is where the true value of 5G networks and edge networks lie. Organizations need to be able to store data closer to the source to be able to process and utilize it faster. Intel realizes this, and is building solutions that deliver just what these organizations around the globe need. Every time we talk to Dan, we are continually awed by the speed at which Intel is releasing these new technologies and the progress they are making in the field. It will be interesting to see where they go in 2021 and beyond. You know that we will be watching. If you’d like to hear more about the advancements that intel is making be sure to listen to the episode. 

Watch our interview with Daniel here:

The original version of this article was first published on Futurum Research.

Transcript:

Daniel Newman:           Welcome to The Six Five Podcast, Insider’s Edition. I’m your host today, Daniel Newman with Futurum Research joined by my esteemed cohost, Mr. Patrick Moorhead. Patrick of Moor Insights & Strategy. How are you doing today, buddy?

Patrick Moorhead:        I’m doing great. It’s a Monday, but I’m energized. I’m ready to take on the week here. I’m just glad to be here with you, Daniel.

Daniel Newman:           Oh, that’s so nice of you. And I’m so glad to be here on a Monday, but whether it’s a Monday or a Friday where you are, when you’re listening to this edition of The Six Five Insiders, we hope that you’re excited to have a great conversation with executives from around the world, from the leading tech companies, talking about what’s going on in the tech industry.

                                    Now a quick reminder, the Insider’s Edition different than our regular Six Five, is where we bring in thought leaders and senior executives from some of the world’s most exciting tech companies. And today, Pat, I’m thrilled to tell our audience that we have Dan Rodriguez of Intel. At this moment, Pat, if no further ado, why don’t we bring Dan onto the show?

Patrick Moorhead:        Let’s do it. Boom.

Daniel Newman:           And there he is. Let’s put him in the middle of the square. Dan Rodriguez, welcome to the Six Five Insider’s Edition. How are you doing today, sir?

Dan Rodriquez:             Oh, that’s great to be with you and Pat, it’s always a pleasure and I look forward to having a little fun today on the show.

Daniel Newman:           Does it look like we have fun here?

Dan Rodriquez:             We do. We do. I definitely feel a great vibe in the air.

Daniel Newman:           Yeah. For anybody that’s tuned into us long enough, they know we are serious about technology, but we do like to have fun. Otherwise, what’s the point in doing all this? And I’ve had you on, and if you’ve listened to our Future In Tech podcast, you’ve probably heard from Dan Rodriguez before. But he was such a good guest on our show. We thought, Hey, let’s get him on The Six Five. And this is a platform where we really do bring some of the biggest and best in tech. And you certainly fit that category. And before we jump into our show, we’ve got some great topics for you. Some tough questions on 5G, the future of network infrastructure and 5G for enterprise, but I guess it’s probably fair we give you a chance to introduce yourself and set your creds. So let everybody know what you do, Dan.

Dan Rodriquez:             All right, so hi, again, it’s great to be here on this show. So I’m Daniel Rodriguez. I run what is known as a Network Platforms Group at Intel. Essentially it’s a global organization that has the aim to drive network transformation, supporting both 5G build-out as well as edge computing.

Patrick Moorhead:        That’s excellent. Thank you. And I’m going to dive in here if I may, Daniel. So we’re hearing a ton about 5G but it’s been a lot of hard work getting there. And we hear a little bit about it from the device side, we hear a little bit of it about the infrastructure side. We heard a lot about it last week on the device side, but can you talk about the state of 5G network infrastructure today?

Dan Rodriquez:             Yeah. So we’ve spoken about the journey that Intel’s has been on with the communication, and it’s really over the last decade. And our goal is really to transform the network to define agile and scalable infrastructure. And this has proven to be a very valuable and important foundation to support the rollout of 5G.

                                    So now we’re starting to see is we’re seeing what we’d call maybe the next wave of network transformation, which will really benefit from the perfect storm of 5G edge build out, as well as the pervasiveness of AI. You’re going to start to see that not only in the cloud and the data center, but throughout the network and in many different vertical markets. Soon, the future of 5G comms service providers will deliver across many multiple network locations, not only the traditional business of that network or the network functions as we may call it, but also all sorts of new AI based edge services across this variety of network locations.

                                    And I guess maybe one other thought on it, I was just thinking through this, is that when you think about kind of where we’re at, I do believe we’re kind of at a pivotal moment and really a tipping point in the industry when you think about this network transformation. We’re seeing a rapid kind of transition to virtualization. Rapid, or I’d say maybe [inaudible] of transitioning to cloud native technologies and build out of the edge computing. And when you think about virtualization just for a second, it’s pretty amazing to think that this year there’s going to be roughly 50% of all core network workloads being virtualized. Impressive.

                                    And then when you start to think about the comm service provider’s mindsets to cloud native, you can think about how they’re trying to drive greater operational efficiency, greater agility, and just roll out services much faster. And then the last thing I mentioned was the distribution of all sorts of computing much closer to the user to really bring out all sorts of innovative services that comm service providers can deliver as well as other direct kind of industrial participants across a wide variety in vertical markets.

Daniel Newman:           You guys are moving really fast, Dan. And I remember probably 18 months ago, even two years, I worked with you and the team on a network function virtualization piece. And we did a big paper on hardware to software, and we’ve seen that sort of become universally accepted. That the future of this whole network is going to be virtualized. It’s going to be software driven. And I think Intel really saw this as a moment that it could lean into this opportunity and scale the business. And I’ve seen some of the releases you’ve come out with and you’re making some big bets on having a big contribution, having a significant market share, which of course is the way Intel always likes to play.

                                    And you’re making some big bets overall on 5G. So it’d be great for our audience, because we have some really technical folks and of course, some business folks that want to understand the marketability and the scale and scope here, Dan, is if you could provide a little overview of Intel’s role in Access Core and RAN and Far Edge.

Dan Rodriquez:             Absolutely. As you know, we have a real strong history of collaborating with a wide and kind of broad ecosystem. We helped build out the data center and the cloud, and also drive network transformation. And in this journey in network transformation, we’re evolving our strategy, evolving our partnership with ecosystem to drive the evolving high-performance needs of a 5G network, really from the Core through the Access. And again, to that build out of the Edge. And as we’ve seen with implementing cloud-based architectures, we do believe it can bring the same sort of server economics that transformed the data center into the world of networking. We’re already starting to see that. We’re seeing comm source fighters or network operators, really all shapes and sizes starting to embrace this. And this has been critical because we’re starting to see again that evolution from fixed function appliances to more general purpose servers that can drive, that can support all sorts of software workloads, whether it’s network services or new compute services on the edge of the network.

                                    And this journey of course started really in the Core Network. You heard me reference that data point a moment ago. We’re also seeing a lot of excitement as the industry is starting to transition or starting to think about moving to virtualization in the world of radio access networks or the base station market.

                                    And then the final focus area, I would say in our 5G strategy is really again, to partner with the service providers, comm service providers, cloud service providers, direct industry verticals, if you will, to help drive new workloads, new use cases, new services that can benefit from 5G. So essentially we do believe all sorts of new compute, what we build out at the edge of the network. And we’re really excited to participate in that portion of the market as well.

Patrick Moorhead:        Yeah, it has been impressive, your run on this. I did a research study a couple of years ago, talking about the economic opportunity. Where’s the revenue going to be for 5G? And it kind of blew people away that I said, “Sure, the end point is one thing, but the big nut was data centers, edge and even the RAN. So super exciting there.

                                    Would you talk a little bit about how your team is bringing the full value to 5G, to extend the product portfolio from the data center into the network out to the edge.

Dan Rodriquez:             Absolutely. So when we think about how we’re bringing the full value and what Intel can really bring, and again in participation always with the ecosystem, we really think of three key things. So first we always bring a full suite of Silicom and we really have a strong top to bottom scalable roadmap from Adam class CPU’s up through Xeon D, up through Xeon scalable processor in addition to all sorts of software tools to help our customers get the most out of Silicom, but also get to market very, very quickly.

                                    And then second, we also work hard to foster and really help develop a very mature ecosystem that can deliver strong commercial offerings, supporting both 5G as well as edge build out. And then finally with kind of our history and our expertise we’ve developed over time in helping innovate in the cloud in the data center, but also over the network over the past decade, we’re oftentimes seen as a trusted advisor for people building out networks of the future.

                                    So you might’ve noticed that just a few weeks ago, we did introduce all hosts of new innovations to really support network transformation. And maybe I’ll just kind of recap a few of them just to get the audience a flavor for what we have upcoming.

                                    You know, the first is of course it starts with Silicom. We talked about our next generation Xeon scalable processor. It’s of course code name, iSlate. There’s going to be network optimized products there utilizing that processor. In addition to this, we talked about our new Xeon D, which has not launched yet, but we did introduce it. It’s code name of course, iSlate D. And you can think about Xeon D as working really in parallel as a sister product with Xeon SP as you can scale this product into tighter form factors of the required, maybe greater performance per watt, or have a lower power profile.

                                    We know within comms there are some very tight form factors out there. But in addition to that Silicon, we also did introduce new features in our Flex RAN software, which is a reference library, if you will. It will run base station workloads very efficiently on general purpose servers. We introduced new Massimina Features as well as URLCC features, which is outstanding. And I am quite proud of the fact that we have over a hundred licensees of that Flex Rand software.

                                    In addition to this, to kind of go along with that Xeon, go along with that, the Xeon NSP, the Xeon D and that Flex RAN software, we introduced a new V-RAN dedicated accelerator. And essentially this accelerates what’s known as a Ford error correction part of the base station workload, which is very compute intensive. So it accelerates that, but the good thing is, it’s accelerator works in conjunction with that software and works with in conjunction with that Xeon and Xeon D products. So it’s a very, let’s say seamless, system experience.

                                    And then the final thing we talked about is that Intel has been innovating with ether net for a long time. You probably heard about our new 800 series adapter, codename Columbiaville. So we have a new select solution that brings about that goodness, but able to support 5G networks. And that thing is packed with features to really optimize the network as well.

                                    So all in all, I’m very excited about our current offerings and really that full suite from everything from Silicom software to ecosystem.

Patrick Moorhead:        One thing that’s really impressed me. Most of all, Intel has been very clear that heterogeneous computing is more of its future, but in your business you’ve been combining CPU’s, FPGA’s and ASIC and then wrapping software stacks around it before it was cool at Intel. So I feel like your group were the rabbit for that. And we just see a 5G base station, you’ve got a Xeon and a couple of ASICs in there if you’re doing an encryption and then add the FPGA to better facilitate kind of future versions, software upgrades. It’s really been impressive.

Dan Rodriquez:             Yeah, it’s interesting is that we have utilized the full breadth of Intel solutions. And I think that’s one of the things that differentiate us. If you just take that V-RAN case for a second, we had the Xeon scalable processor, and then currently we’re using the FPGA, which can do the [FEC] acceleration as well as help with the front haul part of the workload. And then longer term, or the thing we just introduced, is something that was codenamed Mount Bryce, which utilizes the eASIC. And we put that FEC in there since it is very high volume, to be able to again improve the overall power and cost of the system. So again, using the whole portfolio to be agile with our customers to best meet their needs.

Patrick Moorhead:        I’m so glad you worked eASIC in there. Daniel and I were riffing a couple of days ago on eASIC acquisition and what did it mean? But I didn’t know you’re actually using eASIC in your area already. So, Hey, this is cool. I’m learning stuff as we move forward.

Dan Rodriquez:             That’s great.

Daniel Newman:           Which, by the way, it says something about the type of guys that we are, that we just tried to say that it is cool now to combine these different mix of chips, the AV guy is now cool as well, I hear somewhere. But no, I think you make a compelling case to how the company is leveraging both its deep and rich experience in Silicom with its good understanding of where directionally the network is heading. I mean, this has to be done with software. It has to be flexible. It has to be able to be handled and managed a lot like the cloud. I mean, it is. Right? I mean that’s what’s happening here, Dan.

Dan Rodriquez:             Absolutely. Yeah. And maybe I’ll just take a moment, if you think about, some of the innovations that we’re driving, even though Intel is definitely a silicon company, we’re not just a silicon company. We have to invest significantly in software. That’s what the market needs, that’s what our customers expect, and that’s one of the things that really sets Intel apart. And obviously, you think back to Intel’s journey in software and networking, you think about the days of data plane development kit, and that’s incredibly still relevant today and still the lifeline of the really general purpose computing industry that runs packets in telecom. And now we have newer franchises. We have the Flex RAN software. We’re also innovating on something called Openness, which is essentially a great set of software to enable edge developers, to develop all sorts of innovative applications on top of them in distracted networks. So, it’s a big part of our strategy and I really think our customers are benefiting from Intel’s investments on the software side.

Daniel Newman:           Yeah. As the edge scales, that’s only going to become more and more important. The removing the rigidness and giving that layer of flexibility and doing it with software. So you hit it on the head.

                                    And one thing that Intel always does, and I really do miss events, Dan, I miss some of the launches and Intel has had some very good ones over the years. Some data center art days. I still remember the last one in San Francisco in downtown. Gosh, I miss traveling, I do.

Dan Rodriquez:             I know.

Daniel Newman:           But it’s great that we can do this. This is a nice consolation, but I always enjoy your events because the company does a nice job of making things real by giving real world examples. The tech itself, I mean, it’s complex. You can be in this business all the time when you hear about these things and all the terminology and vernacular and V-RAN and O-RAN, and RAN-RAN, and I ran and you ran. And the point is, is that’s just one. And then you get eASIC, FPG, I mean, we throw terminology around like crazy, but you guys do a good job of bringing it back to the real world through customer examples.

                                    So I would be remiss to not use this opportunity right now, Dan, to kind of say, let’s make this a little more real. Let’s talk about the ecosystem and customer wins because the library of case studies that you guys have built have often served as the underpinnings of scale. You win these important deals and get these right customers on. And these examples become the foundation of selling more, growing, and gaining that market share. So I hope I teed you up there, but what I’m trying to say is we’d love to hear some cases of where this 5G proliferation is really taking hold.

Dan Rodriquez:             Absolutely. And it’s incredibly important to me and the rest of Intel and really partner and be a trusted advisor of our customers and also in partner with the entire kind of value chain. As we know, not one single company can do it alone. It takes the entire village to really drive the sort of transformational change we’re talking about in the world of networking.

                                    And I do think we’ve been really busy lately, partnering with all sorts of folks, building out 5G, as well as building out the edge. So let me just give you a few of the most latest examples, all coming kind of late summer, early fall. So you might’ve heard, I think it was a couple of months ago, SK Telekom introduced a real formal, strong collaboration with of course Intel, but also HP, as well as Samsung. And the whole aim of this was to partner to deliver and introduce all sorts of new hardware and software technologies in a much quicker fashion. One of the key programs under this banner, if you will, is a program to deliver a Xeon scalable processor base 5G core network. And this of course is going to use our new product. That’s codenamed iSlate. I’m very excited about this as they’ve already done testing on this showcasing how it can support all these interesting 5G, low latency use cases. So it’s really outstanding work from all four parties involved.

                                    In addition, kind of right around that same time horizon, Verizon, I didn’t mean to do a rhyme there, but Verizon announced the collaboration with Intel. Samsung as well as Wind River. And Verizon, so that’s where we completed the world’s first fully virtualized end-to-end 5G data session to enable fast response to customer’s latency and competing needs. So this is really an outstanding collaboration. I look forward to future and more collaborations with Verizon, Samsung, as well as Wind River.

                                    And then of course, one of our other great partners out there is Rakuten Mobile. We all know about their LT launch that they did, I think back in April of this year. But they also introduced their 5G network. I think right at the end of September. This of course was again, a fully virtualized end to end cloud native network that’s really packed with Intel technology, Xeon scalable processors, ethernet, FPGAs. But in addition to the Silicom ingredients, it’s also leveraging our flex RAN reference architecture and also that Openness software development kit I briefly mentioned to be able to support their cloud native offerings.

                                    And the great thing is Rakuten has already started to see across the LT network and 5G is just new, and they’re starting to see this as well, is that they are envisioning significant kind of operating cost efficiencies, and also ability to produce new services in a much quicker fashion. So those are just three quick examples, but it’s really kind of telling about how the entire ecosystem is pulling together in the name of network transformation. And really, again, move into that software defined more agile infrastructure.

Daniel Newman:           Yeah, it’s a solid resume though, Dan, of some very significant players in 5G and service provider space in the accommodations of service provider space. And by the way, you said it takes a village. And I think that’s really an important case that I still remember. You mentioned Rakuten and it had to be Mobile World the last time we physically showed up at one and I probably heard from like seven different vendors about Rakuten. Because it was such a great example though, about how key components of the network were being delivered by a number of providers and you were all working harmoniously. Although if you were an innocent bystander of this, you would really probably have to draw like a map to be like, “Okay, this is Intel. This is where Cisco is playing its role. There’s Nokia or Ericsson.” I can’t remember all of them. So I just remember all of them using rocket sim. And so it’s great to start to see these other examples, starting to scale and become real. Because you mentioned some great things though about speed and about latency. We focus so much societally on devices.

                                    Last week, we saw a company launch their 5G device. 5G is finally here except I’ve had it for well over a year now. But the point is that we think the device is what makes 5G. But realistically, it’s the network, it’s the technology. It’s the core, it’s the software, it’s all of these things. And the device is an enabler, but it’s just one tiny piece. And as the world can see, there are so many companies and Intel being one of the really important ones that is making 5G real. It’s not just the device. And I don’t know, I’m just want to hammer that home though, if you’re listening. It’s not just the device. Having that strength and network and that technology and that software and AI and things inside of it that make it work. That’s, what’s going to make that 5G experience, that gaming, seamless, that movie download instant. It’s not going to just happen because you have a device with a super cool 5G connection.

Patrick Moorhead:        Well, and if you look at the amount of revenue that’s monetized from 5G, I mean, it’s a lot more than the end point. And I see people, a lot of times Wall Street aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, but over time they realize from revenue boosts and profit boosts of where it’s actually coming from. But I do appreciate your comment, Daniel, on 5G finally being here now that we got one Apple. Oops, can I use that word? One vendor who brought out a phone. It was good.

Daniel Newman:           So Dan, thank you so much. It’s been just terrific to gain your perspective, to get a better handle. I feel like each time I talk to you generationally, it keeps progressing. And the technology, it keeps becoming a little bit more real. I love all the parallels to the way you’re building the network edge and the network topology to be a lot like how you’ve built your data center at the core, partnering, softwares, APIs, connectivity, all those things, being part of a story rather than just focusing on, like you said, not just a silicon company. So I hope you’ll come back and join us again soon, Dan.

Dan Rodriquez:             Absolutely. It was great chatting with you and Pat and I look forward to future conversations. And like you said at the beginning, I had a great time. It was a fun conversation. And I do hope to see you guys at an Intel event sometime soon. I’m not sure when that’s going to be, but hopefully sometime soon.

Daniel Newman:           Yeah, I got to get you off camera so we can have a lot of fun talking about what’s going on in the market now. I’m just kidding. But no, thanks again, Dan, I’m going to let you fly.

Dan Rodriquez:             All right.

Daniel Newman:           And we’ll see you really soon.

Patrick Moorhead:        Yeah. What a great segment. And it brings me back to I had a conversation with Bob Swan, Intel CEO. And my big question for him is, “Hey, what do you think people aren’t understanding about the company?” And one of the things he pointed out was I am so excited about networking. Am I okay? Like enterprise is like yes, but also for what we’re doing for carriers. And I think we’re kind of uncovering one of Intel’s gems here and doing this interview talking to one of the guys who leads it, that’s fun.

Daniel Newman:           It’s a lot of fun Pat. And Bob was very astute in pointing that out. It’s a very important business. It’s a growth area. It’s a growth opportunity. Every time we go from one generation to the next there’s big infrastructure, investment, big opportunities. And you know it is both incremental and revolutionary in the sense that there is some big momentary spends, but it also requires consistent incremental. And the more it leans to software, the more it starts to look and operate and function like cloud, the more that revenue stream becomes predictable and growth oriented, which is a great thing for a company like Intel. But it’s also great for the whole ecosystem, for the service providers and the carriers, and of course, for the experiences that will consistently be improved for the users, whether that’s enterprise 5G and our offices are back on that funny device.

                                    But hey dude, we’ve got to go. It’s been a great show, Pat. For everyone out there that tuned in to this episode of The Six Five Insider’s Edition, Pat and I want to say, “Thanks.” Thanks for tuning in. Hit that subscribe button, join us. Just like Dan Rodriguez, we have lots of great guests. We’ve talked to some of the greatest minds in the industry and we’re not joking. Check out some of our past shows. And also of course, tune in to the regular Six Five. Pat and I have a lot of fun, six topics, five minutes each, in-depth analysis.

                                    We try to stay away from the news and tell you what you need to know about the news. But for now, for this show, for this episode, we’ve got to say goodbye. We will see you later. Until next time.