Earlier this month, Nokia Bell Labs announced an evolution of UNIX that promises to transform networking. Unified Networking Experience, or UNEXT, aims to reduce the complexity that communications systems have today. 

“The situation that we have in networking basically is today we have seen the network becoming more and more complex, because with the advent of every single new technology, we add another layer of complexity to the system,” said Azimeh Sefidcon, head of network systems and security research at Nokia Bell Labs.

According to Sefidcon, this growing complexity will become unsustainable if it continues on as it has. She explained that most solutions that are trying to deal with complexity are themselves another layer added on top of the network, which in turn adds complexity because you’re adding to the network stack. 

“We need something to bring all the components together, all the features that are needed to make the network simple and secure. And do it in a way where the solution itself doesn’t become a burden,” she said. 

She explained that this is what led to some of the considerations they had in mind when building UNEXT; the solution needed to be simple, lightweight, and able to be run in constrained environments with limited resources. 

She wrote in a blog post introducing UNEXT that “at the fundamental level, UNEXT is a self-managing, interactive operating system that smoothly and securely supports users and applications with resources spread across heterogenous owners and execution environments. In short, UNEXT will make the process of securely integrating anything with the network a simple task.” 

According to Sefidcon, in UNEXT, every element of the network — including devices, applications, microservices, and access nodes — is self-contained and has all it needs to either function independently or work with other elements. 

She likens it to how humans interact in society; We are okay on our own, but we also have the ability to interact with others. Individuals can read a book, play an instrument, or make decisions about their life, while in a group people can build a school, form a band, establish a government, etc. 

UNEXT contains six focus areas:

  • Autonomous Services: All phases of a service’s life cycle — design, composition, deployment, activation, analysis, maintenance, assurance, operation, and termination — can act autonomously
  • Data & Knowledge Service: Intelligence will be spread throughout every point of the network
  • Network-Application Symbiosis: UNEXT uses dynamic interactions to enhance application performance and network efficiency
  • Extended Computing Services: Heterogeneous compute capabilities are available throughout the device-edge-cloud continuum
  • Decentralized Environments: There is secured and trusted orchestration across heterogeneous devices, components, entities, and actors
  • E2E System Dynamics: UNEXT captures new properties and weeds out undesired ones as new system properties emerge

“Just as UNIX revolutionized computing, UNEXT could reshape networking,” Sefidcon added.