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The rise of intelligent networks

Fri 1 Jul 2011
FYI, this story is more than a year old

With demand for broadband – both fixed and mobile – currently off the charts, telco carriers are actively planning the futures of their core networks, the same networks that will, over time, be expected to scale to meet this exploding demand.

While next-generation broadband transmission technologies such as LTE are surfacing, the infrastructure required to carry the massively upscaled broadband traffic is just as important.

This new wave of bandwidth growth represents a substantial revenue opportunity for service providers, if they can evolve to a more service-driven networking approach. However, it also threatens to strain, and possibly break, one of their most valuable assets: the network infrastructure. Today’s network infrastructure, largely based on SONET/SDH (Synchronous optical networking and synchronous digital hierarchy), cannot physically or financially support the demands caused by this overwhelming increase in bandwidth and transport of IP traffic, and by the need for more flexible connectivity, higher resiliency and network automation to achieve operational efficiency.

A critical component of any next-generation network infrastructure is the switching and aggregation function. Given the importance of switching and the intelligence it must possess, there are many technological solutions that operators must consider.

Some key technologies have emerged as common components of these new switching architectures, including Carrier Ethernet and Optical Transport Network (OTN). In addition, software-based automation of the network via intelligent control plane and unified management capabilities is crucial to deploying this next-generation network and related technologies.

Challenges and imperatives

The transition to this new service-enabling infrastructure is critical in allowing service providers to offer the new services required and support the relentless bandwidth demand across customer segments. The days of rigid, non-granular TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) services are almost over. People now require an excess of new high-speed and more granular optical, especially 1 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) or 10GbE TDM private line, and packet services to address networking needs - from virtualisation to business continuity, and disaster recovery to multi-point Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

Many network operators have already begun this transition. However, depending on business or network pain points and technological and service imperatives, their current approach to the problem may not be truly effective. To fully reap the rewards of a next-generation infrastructure, an unprecedented level of switching system modularity and optimisation is needed.

To address market trends and financial imperatives, the next-generation service-enabling infrastructure must be optimised around a handful of key technologies to enable cost-effective service growth while providing smooth integration with and migration from today’s infrastructure. This could include IP-aware switching, Carrier Ethernet transport and switching, OTN, 100G transmission, photonic switching, multi-later optimisation and multi-layer mesh control plane.

Intelligent infrastructure

The increase in bandwidth demand is creating both opportunities and challenges for network operators globally. This demand indicates a period of significant change in the ways residential and business services are used, sold and supported on the network. As operators work to capitalise on this opportunity, they must also evolve their infrastructures to accommodate this unprecedented growth in network traffic. Plans to transition network infrastructures from SONET/SDH to Ethernet and OTN to address the high-speed optical and IP-centric traffic and services required in a more scalable, economical, and reliable manner are well underway.

A key component of this network evolution is the switching function. Although not the only major concern in building a next-generation, packet-optimised network, switching plays a key role in creating competitive differentiation, service delivery optimisation, and in achieving the desired scalability, performance, resiliency, and flexibility. Differing approaches to network evolution are being deployed, but to truly address the economic and technological imperatives of an operator’s business, a more customisable and optimised approach to switching is required - one that provides a degree of hardware and software modularity and reconfigurability not found in today’s solutions.

This new switching flexibility, made possible with a reconfigurable approach, will allow network operators to achieve a service-enabling switching infrastructure that can help drive revenue, decrease costs, and differentiate offered services to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. Reconfigurable switching enables operators to address a broader range of applications, and creates the significant economies of scope required for a next-generation intelligent network infrastructure to compete in a new model of network service delivery

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