Fully automated AI networks less than 5 years away, reckons Juniper CEO

AI will completely automate the network within five years, Juniper CEO Rami Rahim boasted during the company's Global Summit this week.

"I truly believe that just as there is this need today for a self-driving automobile, the future is around a self-driving network where humans literally have to do nothing," he said. "It's probably weird for people to hear the CEO of a networking company say that... but that's exactly what we should be wishing for."

Rahim believes AI-driven automation is the latest phase in computer networking's evolution, which began with the rise of TCP/IP and the internet, was accelerated by faster and more efficient silicon, and then made manageable by advances in software.

"Collectively, we as an industry are sitting on a goldmine of information, and yet it is untapped," Rahim said. "We as a planet are accumulating data at an unprecedented rate. Something like 90 percent of all the data in the world today has been accumulated in just the last two years alone."

But extracting value from that data has proven difficult, he said. "There is no way that any human can tap into that data and do anything useful with it on their own. It has to be left to machines and artificial intelligence."

And according to Rahim, AI has the potential to vastly accelerate the deployment of new services, detect and mitigate network disruptions before they impact users, and, by extension, reduce the oversight required to support and manage large networks.

Juniper has spent millions of dollars on mergers and acquisitions to this end. In 2019, the company acquired Mist, an up-and-coming wired and wireless LAN vendor, not for its wireless or switch portfolio, but for its AI operations capabilities.

Since then, Mist's AI has become central to Juniper's enterprise portfolio. Following the acquisition, Rahim moved aggressively to "Mist-ify" the rest of its enterprise portfolio with AI functionality.

Alongside Mist came Marvis, Juniper's take on an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant style chatbot for interacting with the platform's AIOps capabilities. And in late 2020, the company acquired intent-based networking startup Apstra to extend vendor-agnostic network automation to its datacenter networking portfolio.

"Gone are the days of the vertically-integrated datacenter networking stacks," Juniper COO Manoj Leelanivas said. "The ability to have a multivendor solution where everything is orchestrated and automated flawlessly, that's what Apstra brings to the table."

But while these acquisitions have helped Juniper drive automation and glean insights into the health of the network, the company still has a long way to go before AI can fully obfuscate the network, the way Rahim claims.

Juniper has yet to close the loop - that is to say, eliminate the human element - on network automation.

Competition

Juniper is hardly alone in its pursuit of AI-driven network automation. Cisco, HPE's Aruba, Dell Tech, and Arista Networks have all announced AIOps and automation tools with the same ultimate purpose.

Cisco last week unveiled its predictive networking engine, which it taps into pools data from applications, traffic volumes, log events, and topology in an attempt to predict network disruptions before they happen and potentially automatically remediate them. And, like Juniper, Cisco plans to extend this technology across its entire network portfolio.

Meanwhile, Aruba, which has previously announced AIOps capabilities similar to Juniper Mist's, rolled out advanced automation tools with the launch of NetConductor this spring.

The platform is designed to automate micro-segmentation across large campus networks.

However, which vendor will be first to achieve a fully autonomous network remains very much up in the air. ®

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