The Deconstruction of Things


This is for those of us who lived the bulk of our lives before digital — back when, on a telephone call, we could say, “If you were to place your new product in my hands, what would it look like, how much would it weigh, and what would it do?”

Alas, it is both true and unstoppable: Software is eating the world, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it but go with the flow. What used to be a physical thing is now a litany of ones and zeros — the currency of digital.

Here’s what’s going on: The deconstruction of things into their constituent parts.

What used to be done in a physical hunk of rack-mounted metal is now a petri dish of things done in code, complete with its own lingo: Software Defined Networks. Network Function Virtualization. Distributed Broadband Architectures.

Yes, that’s right. Even the most physical of all things cable — the plant — is on track to be torn down and done in software.

An easy early example, in hindsight, is video-on-demand equipment. Its two missions, storing and streaming, used to come in one box. When it became clear that each grew at different rates, buyers insisted upon ordering them separately.

In part, it’s happening as a way to break free from “monolithic systems,” or things bought from one place, all-inclusive. In the going-forward world, monolithic is bad. Modular is good. Put entry and exit doors on it, in code, that a software developer can manipulate. It’s like Garanimals, except not for clothing.

A recent example, which will happen in your lifetime, is the reduction of the hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) network. How it works now is, signals come in to a physical location. The headend. There, they’re received, processed, recombined with other stuff , jammed into a laser, and pushed out.

In the not-distant future, those activities will be teased out, replicated in code, and put on silicon. Functions that used to take an entire building to do, done in software, will be done on a chip. This is why the “headend” will morph into the “data center.”

Just ask Aurora Networks, which makes the optoelectronics that are foundational to HFC. It’s out with a way to modularize and collapse the work of the headend into modules that snaps into nodes deep inside neighborhoods.

Likewise for the back office, which is already being virtualized, modularized and re-skinned with “open-source” ways to get at it, even if you’re not a software engineer.

Progress, right?

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