Next Generation Networking

Talking ’bout neXt generation
Published in MIS magazine at http://www.misweb.com/magarticle.asp?doc_id=25944&rgid=2&listed_months=0

VoIP is well-entrenched in the corporate vocabulary. But spin doctors are still building the road NGN will travel into the IT lexicon.

Next Generation Networking may need a little more spin doctoring before it becomes a bona fide buzzword, but a survey of Australian chief information officers and chief network officers shows they are planning on investing in higher capacity networks and embracing the IP-based functionality, which is at the heart of NGN.

The Next Generation Networks study, conducted by Fairfax Business Research (FBR), asked CIOs and CNOs about their network infrastructure and planned upgrades.

It found just 54 per cent of them were able to spontaneously provide a correct explanation of the term NGN, and specifically identify key features of the technology.

While networking marketeers might beconcerned by the revelation that the NGN acronym has yet to pervade the consciousness of many CIOs, businesses might not be familiar with the term NGN because it refers to “invisible” backbone technology rather than the infrastructure they’d be using in-house.

“Normally it is transparent to them,” Udi Furman, managing director of
networking vendor RAD Data Communications Australia, says.

“The NGN itself is the core network. I’m not sure if they are concerned
about what kind of network they are using. NGN is a buzzword which is
being pushed by telcos and vendors.”

NGN promises to simplify the delivery of voice and data traffic via the
internet, with a view to standardising delivery using the IP protocol.

Australian broadband users have seen gradual improvements in both
broadband availability and download speeds, which in turn has boosted
the types of products and services available.

Lagging behind

ISPs are now offering download speeds of up to 24,000 kilobits per
second for consumers who are in range of their ADSL2+ networks. But
even today many of the internet services marketed in Australia as
“broadband” lag far behind what is considered high-speed internet in
other parts of the globe.

The International Telecommunication Union Standardisation Sector
(ITU-T) defines broadband as a transmission speed faster than primary
rate ISDN, which is 1.5 to 2 megabits per second (recommendation
i.113). Despite the growing availability of ADSL2+, broadband providers
continue to market offerings as slow as 256 kbps as “broadband”.

In the corporate sphere, respondents to the FBR survey showed a
continued reliance on mature networking infrastructure, with 72 per
cent using DSL (including ADSL, ADSL2/HDLS), 62 per cent using Internet
VPN, 61 per cent Ethernet WAN and 58 per cent using ISDN/frame relay.
Dark fibre/WDM usage followed at 30 per cent, and ATM at 11 per cent.

When broken down by industry sector, the government and education
sectors led the way in the use of high-capacity dark fibre (fibre optic
cable). Over half of the education organisations polled (56 per cent)
are using dark fibre, followed by government and health at 36 per cent.

They were followed by IT and information (22 per cent), financial and
insurance (21 per cent) and manufacturing and services (19 per cent).

The findings suggest that private sector take-up of fibre-optic networking is lagging behind its usage in public organisations.

The next big step forward for the provision of high-speed internet (and
the associated voice, data and multimedia services) for both enterprise
and consumer customers will come with the provision of NGN.

What is NGN?

In short, a NGN is a mixed voice and data network running over the IP
protocol. It will supersede today’s DSL networks with a network
architecture, which encompasses data and voice (PSTN) communications,
and the ability to support other media such as video.

While all traffic on an NGN would be transmitted via packets in the
same way data traffic moves on the internet, the NGN would be able to
differentiate packets, such as voice and data, enabling the network to
handle them differently. This would help solve traffic prioritising and
quality of service (QoS) issues that are faced today by providers of
VoIP services.

Separation of the network’s transport and service layers is built into
NGNs as part of their architecture. What this means is more separation
between the transport (connectivity) layer of the network and the
service layer. This is significant because it makes the network more
easily adaptable to new services – when a provider wants to add a new
service on the network, they do so at the service layer independent of
the transport (pipe providing the connectivity/service).

Telstra plans to invest $3 billion over five years to build a
next-generation IP network, and the internet protocol and
multi-protocol label switching (IP/MPLS) core network is to be in place
by the end of 2007. The IP network core would be comprised of five
mated pairs of high-capacity soft switches to replace 116 class five
switches. This plan is subject to Telstra gaining what it sees as a
satisfactory regulatory outcome regarding public funding or the
protection of its infrastructure investment. This is in discussion with
regulators.

The future of NGN is yet to be fleshed out by Australia’s major
carriers, but the shift towards IP at the enterprise level continues
apace. Analyst firm IDC has predicted that 2006 will be the first year
in which the number of internet protocol line connections will overtake
analogue connections in Australia.

The FBR survey, which polled companies across a number of industry
sectors including government and health, education services,
manufacturing and services, finance and insurance and IT, found that
41 per cent of those surveyed were already using VoIP, while 30 per
cent were using video conferencing. The average size of the companies
polled was around 1400 users.

When quizzed about the last major improvements to their networks,
respondents nominated increased bandwidth (46 per cent) and
VoIP/switches/MPLS (36 per cent) as the top two recent improvements.

VoIP was flagged as a key emerging technology; many respondents (61 per
cent) in the finance and insurance sector said VoIP was the focus of
their last major upgrade.

When asked about future plans, increased bandwidth (33 per cent) and
improved reliability of service (29 per cent) were the top deliverables
for the next planned network enhancements for most respondents.

Both VoIP (26 per cent) and convergence/network consolidation (19 per
cent) were ranked above cost savings/improved productivity (16 per
cent) as key drivers for the next network upgrade.

Critical Telecoms Services

When asked to rank the degree of urgency of telecommunications services
using a choice of verbal rankings, the CIOs polled unsurprisingly
nominated voice telephony and data (email and file sharing) as their
most critical telecommunications services.

About 85 per cent said their business would suffer after only a few
hours without voice telephony – while 75 per cent would suffer
financial consequences with loss of data (for example, email and file
sharing) after just a few hours.

Over a third (36 per cent) said the unavailability of voice calls would
bring their business to a halt instantly. Loss of data (email/file
sharing) would stop the business instantly for 24 per cent.

While only 11 per cent of the survey’s respondents said loss of
internet access would bring their business to a halt immediately, it
was deemed sufficiently important that within a few hours 55 per cent
would suffer financial impact.

Voice, data and internet traffic were rated as more critical than
remote/wireless access and video, with few respondents indicating that
their business would suffer financial loss if the latter services were
unavailable for a few hours or even a day or two.

Definition of NGN

“A Next Generation Network is a packet-based network that can provide
services including telecommunication services, and that’s able to make
use of multiple broadband, quality of service-enabled transport
technologies; and in which service-related functions are independent
from underlying transport-related technologies. It offers unrestricted
access by users to different service providers. It supports generalised
mobility, which will allow consistent and ubiquitous provision of
services to users.”

Case study: Health are around the clock

The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre is a typical example of the IT
priorities at work in health care, according to IT manager Len Gemelli.

“In a medical environment, cost savings is kind of at the back of the
queue. We’ve got a totally redundant environment. Availability 100 per
cent is what we’re really after, so we’ve just worn the cost side of
it,” he says.

The Victorian cancer research and treatment institute last year spent
$1 million overhauling its data network to support its critical
health-service applications, including a growing number of converged
voice-and-data services. It supports 2000 users, plus patients.

The cancer centre had already gone to an IP-enabled PBX, and the
upgrade saw it adopt an end-to-end gigabite switched solution from
Nortel with two Ethernet Routing Switch 8600s at the core, and Ethernet
Routing Switch 5510s and 5520s at the edge. A third Ethernet Routing
Switch 8600 provides a separate environment for development and
testing.

Gemelli says the network upgrade includes power over ethernet (PoE) to
power IP telephony from the network, intrusion detection and protection
to safeguard information on the network, and future-proofing to extend
the life of the network for at least four years.

For future upgrades, Gemelli says the centre is considering IP video
conferencing. And the institute is about to introduce picture archiving
for its radiotherapy group.

“Effectively all our X-ray scans will be completely digital, saving us
time and money from getting them onto film and into doctors’ hands.
Potentially we’ll be able to attach voice files to them as well,” he
says.

Down the track, the centre will also introduce a desktop conferencing
solution. The softphones on desktop and laptop computers will initially
be for clinician use, but could be extended to patients.

The pediatrics branch is considering a trial of video conferencing for
its patients in Year 12. The technology could allow students to
continue classes during treatment, he says.

While Australia’s major carriers have yet to finalise plans for the NGN
backbone to make combined data and voice services standard for business
and consumer traffic, Gemelli says cutting edge technology is already
in use.

For example, several cancer centre campuses across Victoria share a 1G
fibre network built by hospitals in the late 1990s. “It’s do-able
without going through the major providers,” he says.

Case study: Moving into the next generation

One firm which is seeing internet communications play an increasing
role in its day-to-day business is advertising agency Clemenger BBDO.

National technology manager Kevin Nugegoda says the agency, which has
over 1200 users over 14 locations, recently doubled its network
capacity to accommodate increasing bandwidth-heavy use of technology.

“We’re doing a lot more electronically. For example, downloading images
or music from commercial sites. And we’re doing a lot of Podcasting
campaigns for clients,” he says.

Although Clemenger hasn’t elected to go down the VoIP route, Nugegoda
says he expects the company will increase its use of video, audio and
text chat using programs such as Skype and MSN Messenger.

While some business managers believe that clients will understand if
their email goes down for a day, because they can still reached by
phone, Nugegoda says the internet is becoming crucial to Clemenger’s
business.

“At the moment the big push within our agencies is to be very well
versed in all forms of online advertising and media,” Nugegoda says.

“We use a diverse range of technologies and we’re expected to be across it.”

Clemenger’s upgrade from a Telstra Frame Relay and SDSL network with
1-2 megabits per second links to a Uecomm-hosted WAN Ethernet solution
has doubled capacity to 2 to 4 Mbps.

Even with its newly doubled capacity, the network is already seeing
heavy traffic from large emails and FTP transfers, web browsing,
streaming video, and web seminars, Nugegoda says. It is also fairly
common for digital studios to send advertisements using FTP for 400 to
500MB files.

A further network upgrade is on the cards, but in the meantime, Clemenger uses steps to keep network usage under control.

“Part of the challenge to IT management is to meet the business
requirements while balancing the cost and management aspects,” he says.

“For example, the cap on the number of staff able to access video chat
for internal use or to chat with customers would be lifted if the
increase was deemed necessary for the business.”

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