It’s important to most people that the work they do make a meaningful impact. As network technology professionals, we’re no different, but identifying how our work contributes to the greater good can sometimes be elusive. Working with the Research and Education (R&E) community has allowed me to experience just how important the network is in facilitating collaboration of students, educators and scientists across the globe to further education and research. It’s extremely gratifying when you can witness your team’s efforts directly supporting professionals working together to expand education, solve problems and break new ground in their fields, advancing scientific discovery and setting the stage for key breakthroughs.

As part of the network technology R&E community, I’ve experienced firsthand just how much network infrastructure capabilities enable user creativity and innovation, enriching not only their own life experience but advancing the common good. Let’s look at three developing network innovations that will enable the R&E community to continue to make these important connections – faster and better.

Software Transformation – The R&E community has been using open Software Defined Networking (SDN) for years. With the commercialization of truly open (multi-vendor, multi-layer) SDN-based orchestration solutions, R&E network operators will utilize supported tools and a community of developers to truly customize the network for their needs. In addition, new levels of network intelligence can be leveraged by machine learning models to predict and react to network performance or security dangers. This leads to better optimization of network resources, less management and maintenance complexity, higher performance, and true user-initiated, on-demand service capabilities.

Virtualization – The days of specialized hardware are numbered. Today’s application specific boxes will soon be replaced by a single, low-cost platform for software-based appliances and applications that can be installed in minutes – just like you install new apps to your Apple or Android device. Imagine a few simple servers to support all the special purpose boxes on your campus today.

Flexible Scale – R&E networks are experiencing unprecedented bandwidth demands which show no signs of slowing. Optimizing bandwidth per channel with programmable optics and higher density line cards is a key advancement that will help network providers continue to meet those demands by using existing fiber within network and budget constraints.

Learning and discovery are based on enabling the collaboration of human networks. Every day, new education initiatives and research collaborations employ R&E networks to make new connections and bring about real change in the world, albeit through static, complex networks that struggle to keep up with user demands. Imagine the learning and discovery that could be unleashed if networks could instantly flex for new scale and functionality, intelligently predict potential performance issues, and respond automatically to ensure uninterrupted communication.

Bringing communities together to change our world — that’s the true value of the network.