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IBM innovation exec bets on SD-WAN cloud startup

Linda Bernardi, IBM chief innovation and disruption officer and VeloCloud advisory board member, said she thinks the SD-WAN cloud startup holds the key to better connectivity.

Linda Bernardi isn't one of those IT pros who can't see the forest for the trees. In fact, as IBM's chief innovation and disruption officer, it's her job to keep one eye on the horizon, always evaluating emerging technologies in the context of the big picture. She says software-defined networking (SDN) and software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) will play critical roles in enabling the hyperconnected world of tomorrow.

Bernardi serves on the advisory board of SD-WAN cloud startup VeloCloud and highlighted the company as an industry innovator in her Washington Post column. VeloCloud uses a network overlay and a cloud-based orchestrator to dynamically steer traffic over a mixture of private and public links, resulting in less expensive and more reliable connectivity.

SearchSDN site editor Alissa Irei spoke with Bernardi about SD-WAN and the future of networking.

Why are you interested in an SD-WAN cloud startup like VeloCloud?

We now live in a world where we have to remain connected. With your Apple Watch and iPhone and iPad and i-everything, you are a computer center. You expect each of your devices to completely and flawlessly connect at all times.

But if you look at your experience when you walk into a hotel, you're typically completely oblivious to what carrier you have. You don't even know what bandwidth you have unless you decide to download a movie. Then, you are looking at the ticker, saying, "Oh my God, this is never going to happen." Then, you start realizing how much you're paying for what you think you are getting. It's like a black box.

VeloCloud democratizes the best option for broadband and connectivity for the consumer at every level, whether an individual or a business. The ability to slip between carriers without effort by the end user is of enormous value. I would like to be in a hotel and have options, and be able to see those options changing by delivering me the better service I require.

And what does that look like in a branch network?

As we go into a new world, where the amount of data increases and the pipe has to start getting wider and wider, the user often needs to slip between pipes. And that needs to be done in a way that makes the service better.

If you are connecting a thousand bank branches, each branch isn't going to sit there and say, "Oh wait, that one's good. I need to go with that one. Now, I'm going to slip over here." It's not going to happen. But VeloCloud's ability to automate that, to improve performance in a way that's extremely easy for the end party, and in a way that brings that democratization -- I like that disruption.

Do you see an SD-WAN cloud startup like VeloCloud playing a role in the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Yes, SDN technologies and IoT will interconnect. Unless we have software-defined networks, uber-scale IoT won't work. When IoT starts running in an automated fashion, I think software-defined technology is going to be key in how these networks operate, and how they will route the data from one point to the next.

We're still at stage one, where my Fitbit sends data somewhere. But we're not at the point yet where my Fitbit is sending the data to the doctor, who's putting together my new workout routine, which is being downloaded to the gym and going straight to the treadmill, where I walk in, enter my ID and get my workout. That's uber-scale IoT.

How can network engineers and vendors keep up with the disruptions in the industry?

Networking -- in a very interesting way -- is exactly in that highway of where changes are happening.
Linda Bernardichief innovation and disruption officer at IBM

I would recommend they look at the future as one of uber-connectivity. Fixed networks are going to need to evolve, because everything is going to be mobile. The volume of data will affect network capacity, network architecture, network mobility, network security, network anything. We are going to get further and further away from the nice office building with the nice connected devices behind the firewall. Data will come in from everywhere. Eventually, your car, your toaster, your refrigerator, your Fitbit, your watch, your clothing, your shoes -- everything is going to talk.

It's a fantastic world of data that we have only seen in science fiction. Now, we are entering that world, and anybody in the networking field has the opportunity to think ahead and plan toward that world.

What will happen to network professionals and companies that don't adapt?

If they don't disrupt, they will die. The rate of change is frightening, and disruption brings a lot of resistance. If you're a company that is sitting back and thinking in the old paradigm, you will still have customers who stick with you for a while, but you're not going to evolve into the new world.

Networking -- in a very interesting way -- is exactly in that highway of where changes are happening.

What else is on your radar in terms of innovation?

We need to go beyond the fundamentals of network infrastructure, because I think those things are covered and addressed a lot. We need to move a few years forward and imagine the world where the endpoint-to-endpoint connections are exponential, and ask ourselves what problems we can foresee. One problem is network capacity, because we are going to have a lot of data. That is where companies like VeloCloud come in, to be able to slip between carriers to give you a better option for performance.

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