IT Advances Launch High-Speed Networking Explosion

IT Advances Launch High-Speed Networking Explosion<@VM>DWDM<@VM>Ethernet as an Interface<@VM>IP Service Switches<@VM>Changes Mean Opportunities

by Heather Hayes

The dearth in bandwidth is about to end.

For years, the demand for bandwidth typically has outpaced supply, but the new technologies and advances that make up the next generation of high-speed networking are beginning to appear on the market, setting the stage for an abundance of capacity.

These breakthroughs affect all levels of the network and include optical switching enhancements, new intelligent processing elements, dense wave division multiplexing brought down from the long-distance carrier networks to the metropolitan area network (MAN), and the use of gigabit ethernet as an interface to the wide area network.

The result, said Michael Kennedy, managing partner of Network Strategy Partners LLC, a management consulting firm in Boston, "should mean a much simpler, more flexible network. The performance will be higher but at much lower costs," he said.

Not surprisingly, the Internet and its insatiable demands are driving this latest grab for better, faster and cheaper networks.

But the end result of this next generation of high-speed networking will be fewer bottlenecks at the MAN; fewer seams between the local area and wide area networks; the emergence of the application service provider model; the ability to share network value-added services among numerous customers; and the ability to develop and use high-bandwidth services, such as remote diagnostics, telemedicine, storage area networks, collaborative design, virtual laboratories and emergency response centers.

The changes will have a huge impact on organizations and systems integrators, eventually taking the industry from network-centric computing to a conceptual and even spontaneous style of computing.

"What we really see happening ? and we see this coming down the pike pretty quickly ? is a completely protocol-agnostic network, where the user is not a specialist at all, but is able to simply take advantage of this ubiquitous bandwidth," said Jude Franklin, chief technology officer for Litton-PRC, a systems integrator in McLean, Va.

The changes taking place within high-speed networking range from things you cannot see, such as new optical switching technologies that allow for instant diagnostics and faster rerouting of data when lines break, to the more obvious, such as an increased use of cable modems and digital subscriber lines for faster access to the Internet.

Three advances, however, require a bit more explanation: the use of dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) at the metropolitan area level, gigabit ethernet used as access interfaces, and Internet service switches, all of which will affect systems integrators and the government organizations for which they work.First developed in 1995 by Lucent Technologies, DWDM uses optical mirrors and prisms to put up to 80 or more separate wavelengths onto a single optical fiber. With each channel carrying 2.5 gigabits of data, up to 200 billion bits of data can be delivered each second by one optical fiber.
"Suddenly, you can get 100 times the bandwidth on the same fiber-optic line without having to go out and dig up the ground and bury more lines," said Kathy Szelag, vice president of marketing for Lucent Technologies, a developer of communications technologies and products based in Murray Hill, N.J.

DWDM is already a mainstay in long-haul networks, thanks to a positive cost-benefit ratio. The distances are incredibly long, and DWDM actually simplifies the physics involved in transporting data, such that the optics involved do not need as much amplification and regeneration, and there is less ancillary equipment required for supporting the optical connections over the longer distances.

It has been harder, however, to make a case for using the technology in the MAN, an environment that in recent years has represented the real bottleneck in high-speed networking.

Lou Martinage, director of product marketing for Chromatis Networks in Herndon, Va., noted that MAN carriers face several challenges. They have to collect what is a growing mix of high-speed access technologies on the edge of the network. These include not just the traditional dial-up connections but, increasingly, traffic from things such as digital subscriber lines, cable modems and gigabit ethernet.

"There's a huge scaling issue to accommodate that mix of traffic at the edge, but then at the same time there's a need to be able to funnel all of that to the carrier core backbone," Martinage said. "Historically, that has not been achievable, as the SONET backbones that have been in place have been limited in their ability to grow."

SONET stands for synchronous optical network, a high-speed architecture that runs over fiber-optic cables.

As a result, companies are beginning to look at bringing DWDM down to the MAN. Unfortunately, with its relatively short distances, hubbed and meshed traffic patterns, and less need for regeneration or amplification than the long-haul networks, the metropolitan environment does not present a very good business case for DWDM. But that is not stopping companies, including a number of startups, from finding a way to use the technology.

Chromatis Networks, for example, is overcoming some of the cost constraints by allowing carriers to introduce DWDM technology on a site-by-site basis, an approach that makes the technology more cost-effective and controlled.

"Rather than turning on DWDM in every single one of their places, which is the traditional long-haul approach, they can turn it up on a site-by-site basis, depending on where the greatest demand is," said Martinage. The company also is providing multiservice aggregation, which allows carriers to collect all the different access technologies and then efficiently map that traffic onto the optical long-haul infrastructure, he said.

Likewise, Alidian Networks in San Jose, Calif., is adding DWDM functionality to MANs through its new WavePack technology, which packs multiple services and protocols into a single wavelength. That approach maximizes the use of each optical resource and reduces deployment costs by an order of magnitude.

"In long distance, DWDM is a no-brainer," said Szelag. "But in shorter runs, you really have to do a business case and see if it is an economically viable solution. And half of the time it will be, and half of the time it won't."Although ethernet has been used for years as a way to connect computers, the telecommunications industry has only recently discovered the merits of using this technology to interface into wide area communications networks.

Traditionally, organizations have linked their local area networks (LANs) into WANs using SONET, which is expensive, difficult to build and difficult to maintain as a service interface.

Though not quite as fast, ethernet connections are cheaper and its design criteria much simpler. As such, the supply and demand for gigabit ethernet interfaces is rising. For end users, the result of this change is palpable: The connection between LAN and WAN is, for all intents and purposes, unnoticeable.

"It's basically a virtual ethernet LAN created by your carrier," Szelag said. "You can't tell whether you're communicating with your secretary next door or a building across town."Up until now, integrators looking to provide intelligent data services to their customers have been hamstrung by cost and lack of profitability, scalability problems and the need for customization and micromanagement of resources. That all begins to change with the recent introduction of IP service switches, a new class of product that delivers the network-based service intelligence required for the widespread deployment of virtual private networks and other value-added IP services.

In short, these switches serve as a single-service delivery point in the carrier network. That eliminates the need for costly, difficult-to-manage multidevice solutions and allows for the application of not just virtual private networks, but encryption services, tunneling services, firewalling and quality of service processing, which means assigning priority to one set of data over another, such as an FBI fingerprint application over unsecured e-mail.

Whereas before a box would have to be installed as a managed service at each customer locale, the IP service switch resides at the service provider's site and can scale up to tens of thousands of connections, users and applications.

For service providers and integrators, IP service switches represent the opportunity to finally sell more than just bandwidth.

"This really is a breakthrough type of platform," said Scott Hilton, director of product marketing for Springtide Networks, Maynard, Mass., which began selling its IP Service Switch 5000 in December 1999. "It's built around doing highly intelligent services on packets as they go by on a very large scale, so the integrator can now credibly offer its customers a solution that will scale and have the high availability they're asking for."The steady path towards ubiquitous bandwidth, seamless network performance and intelligent data services holds plenty of positive benefits for systems integrators, according to industry observers. It will allow them to do more with less and provide service offerings within their own data centers rather than sending staff out to customer sites.

What's more, high-speed networks will continue to encourage organizations to move to an application service provider (ASP) model of computing.

The changes especially are important to government integrators. "It's really going to facilitate an environment where systems integrators don't just build systems or solutions according to requirements; they'll provide a service or the actual application that the integrators are going to need, and all of this is going to fuel the emergence of the ASP model," Franklin said.

Franklin said he believes that high-speed networks will drive a move away from dedicated networks to shared platforms, so that the integrator will be responsible for looking after the infrastructure and continually infusing it with new technologies to make its service offerings work.

"We'll still be doing a lot of the same stuff, but it's going to have a much different face on it," he said.

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