Artificial intelligence changing IT game, fuelling age of self-driving networks

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - Future of connectivity, collaboration and communication depends on network modernisation through software

AI-driven networking equipment provider Juniper Networks said it is ready to address the challenge and the inherent complexity that comes with networking in the multicloud era at a time when artificial intelligence is changing the IT game and fuelling the age of self-driving networks.

Kicking off Juniper's fifth annual customer and partner summit - Nxtwork 2019 Emea - in London, Juniper Networks CEO Rami Rahim said the technology firm would take on the new challenges with products, solutions and services that transform the way people connect, work and live.

He said Juniper is reorienting itself toward the enterprise and is relying heavily on the channel to help the former "box company" reach more of those customers with software and services.

"What made us successful in the past is not necessarily going to make us successful in the future," said Rahim during his keynote, adding the company has been making "painful" changes that were ultimately needed to transform it. Rahim, one of the longest-serving Juniper team members, observed that AI is a "used and abused word today".

"In essence, AI is human intelligence exhibited by machines. There's this notion of general AI, which is the stuff of movies. General AI is going to come anywhere between three decades from now, to never. However, narrow AI, the field in which AI is applied to specific tasks and activities has had profound breakthroughs. And very recently is reshaping industries."

He said the future of connectivity, collaboration and communication depends on network modernisation through software, "and to be more specific, highly-automated software defined networks that leverage and tap into the key benefits of artificial intelligence". Opportunities are endless with machine learning, and AI technologies are paving the way for network simplification and modernisation.

"This software-oriented transformation is certainly affecting our industry, but it's affecting many industries. Look at what's happening in the automobile industry where software defined transformation towards self-driving vehicles is not to be underestimated," Rahim said.

With this technology, tens of thousands - hundreds of thousands - of lives can be saved every year. "We will change the landscape of cities, eliminating the need for parking lots, reducing congestion to practically nothing. And just like there's a need for self-driving cars, there's also a very important need for self-driving networks. Networks that can self-discover, self-configure, self-monitor, self-correct, self-analyse, self-optimise. Networks that can deal with the complexity that has been adding to networking over the last couple of decades," said Rahim.

Rahim noted that the key benefits of smarter networks includes dramatic cost savings and increased agility across networks, translating into immense value to the business.

He said machine learning has also had a very disruptive effect on the field of AI and can't be underestimated. "Machine learning is the reason why IBM's Deep Blue beat the world's best chess player. It's the reason why IBM's Watson beat the world's best Jeopardy player. And the reason why Google's AlphaGo beat the world's best Go player, a game that's even more difficult and more strategic than chess. This are mind-boggling breakthroughs that's happening all around us - and it's happening now."

The third important piece of the puzzle is deep learning, he said. "Deep learning is simply a technique for implementing machine learning. And the technique leverages things like neural networks. They are arranged in layers, and each layer of a neural network is responsible for making more and more detailed predictions. The more layers, the more powerful that algorithm is - and the more data you need to teach the machine to make those predictions."

Rahim said while AI isn't new - the first mention of it was at a conference in 1956 at Dartmouth College, which is considered the birthplace - it makes sense to talk about it today.

"Why now? And not five years ago? There's a really good reason for this and that is that there's almost a perfect storm of conditions that have come together and made AI really possible today. It starts with data. We are accumulating an insane amount of data and we are recognising how important it is. Data has actually become the most precious resource - more valuable than oil."

"Everyone that runs networks are sitting on a goldmine - you just haven't tapped into the goldmine just yet. Ninety per cent of the world's data today was accumulated over the last two years. Data can be stored sensibly, affordably and it's always accessible today," said Rahim.

"There's a data effect that's happening today. Companies are recognising the value of data. They tap into it to learn about their customers, to learn about their products. They use those customers to improve those products, ultimately that attracts even more users to use their products, and that's a cycle that feeds on top of itself."

The perfect storm also involves the increasing amounts of compute power, said Rahim. "We live in an era today where we have more memory and compute in our pockets than a supercomputer did in the year 1980. And cloud again is making that compute power abundant, it's making it ubiquitous, it's making it economical, and accessible for practically anywhere."

Marcus Jewell, chief sales officer and executive vice-president ofJuniper, said the company has "made mistakes" because its recipe - not its strategy - wasn't right.

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Issac John

Editorial Director of Al Khaleej Today, is a well-connected Indian journalist and an economic and financial commentator. He has been in the UAE's mainstream journalism for 35 years, including 23 years with Al Khaleej Today. A post-graduate in English and graduate in economics, he has won over two dozen awards. Acclaimed for his authentic and insightful analysis of global and regional businesses and economic trends, he is respected for his astute understanding of the local business scene.

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