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IP invasion

When integrated with copper or fiber structured cabling, IP can be used in everything from video security and access control applications to data centre rollouts.

January 1, 2011  

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More applications and devices are running over fixed and mobile networks, from Internet-based video to HD-capable smartphones. In addition, more content is becoming cloud-based. That means network performance is more important than ever before, and many organizations have overhauled their networks in recent years, such as adding IP equipment to cut costs with voice over IP.

But IP networks have gone beyond voice. When integrated with copper or fiber structured cabling, they can be used for everything from video security and access control applications to data centre rollouts. But modernizing networks to cater to the growing demand for managed and unmanaged data does not come without its challenges.

IDC Canada’s latest business survey shows at least one in four Canadian businesses have IP PBXs, but almost one quarter to half of all Canadian businesses are embracing some form of IP telephony.

The business world has clearly started to migrate to IP telephony, says Lawrence Surtees, vice president and principal analyst with the Toronto-based research firm.

“Unlike other technology evolutions, this becomes a starting point, not an end point,” he says. “Once you make the move to IP telephony, you can start to consider the evolution to other IP-based applications that ride on it or within it, such as SIP-based videoconferencing.”

While the goal of “any information, anywhere, anytime,” is an ideal end state and a lifelong journey, last year the pieces of the puzzle came into play. “It is still not as simple as people ultimately hope, but we can start to do more profound and interesting things,” says Surtees. “Video security suddenly becomes a piece of the IP system, for example.”

IP is not just about cost benefits, he said. “Because it is software-based, there are a lot of technical and application benefits, and that is why we have seen the continued move to IP.”

IP telephony is SIP-based. Session Initiation Protocol allows any call to be treated as IP traffic, and it makes no distinction between voice, data or video.

That means SIP is a powerful enabler of that much-wanted convergence, especially when it comes to video. In the past two years the hyped promise of video conferencing has finally matched the experience, thanks to new technology based on SIP. And, because SIP is software-based, it can be embedded in devices such as tablet PCs, and that is going to place further demands on the network for bandwidth.

“The amount of information being generated worldwide on the Internet is staggering,” says Paul Kish, director of systems and standards with Belden. According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, annual global IP traffic will exceed 767 exabytes in four years. The average monthly traffic in 2014 will be equivalent to 32 million people streaming the movie Avatar in 3D continuously for the entire month. Overall, IP traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 34% from 2009 to 2014.

“We recommend organizations plan 10 years in terms of the lifetime of the cabling, and typically that needs to support two generations of Ethernet,” says Kish. While 10GBase-T Ethernet is already being used in data centres, organizations should plan for 10GBase-T Ethernet to the desktop. This market will start to move once 10GB Ethernet interfaces are built into motherboards, which should start to happen in 2013.

As we look ahead to applications such as full-motion video conferencing running concurrently with other applications on a desktop, 10GB Ethernet does not seem like such a nutty idea anymore.

Some people; however, do not understand why they cannot just run fiber to the desktop. “One of the reasons it is not being done is because the network interface on your desktop or laptop or phone is a copper interface, so you need a media converter to convert the fiber through a box to your laptop, which costs a lot of money,” says Kish. “That is why traditionally we have seen copper from the telecom room all the way to desktops. If we are going from the backbone to the equipment room or data centre, we now see a lot more fiber being used, since it is designed for longer distances and can support higher data rates.”

It is not always about data rates or bandwidth, says Henry Franc, senior account manager for professional support with Belden. Sometimes it is about delivering power. Fiber can handle huge amounts of data, he says, but there is a cost factor. In some instances you may not have to put in power wiring because you could power applications via Ethernet — if you have enough capacity built into the design of your network to do that. Surveillance cameras, for example, can be powered over an Ethernet link.

Ultimately, there is no magic bullet. “Some people think there is a magic checklist and you just check this off and then your network is perfect,” said Franc. And that is not the case. You also have to support the infrastructure you already have in place and make choices that will facilitate a migration path to the future.

For many organizations, rip and replace is simply not an option.

The move to IP started by bringing data networks together onto a common data platform. Then VoIP came along, followed by video, predominantly for IP video calling. Now we are seeing other technologies moving across IP, such as video surveillance and building automation systems, from lighting to HVAC systems.

Even digital signage is making the move to IP, which allows organizations to easily update information on thousands of flat-screen monitors. IP is no longer about data and voice, but includes a vast array of applications and devices.

One of the benefits of IP is cost efficiencies through standardization, as well as visibility across an organization, says Jeff Seifert, chief technology officer with Cisco Systems Canada Co. “We also see the cross-over of technologies creating solutions,” he says, such as linking video surveillance with digital signage so, for example, employees could view the parking lot before leaving the lobby of the office building. “It has a huge requirement for security, but there are definitely efficiencies and savings in building one network.”

Still, it is critical to have an enterprise Quality of Service (QoS) plan that maps to the organization’s service provider QoS offering, since real-time traffic is sensitive to delay, jitter and packet loss. Voice and video conferencing are areas that may take priority, while streaming video to digital signage is less important.

Network designs should also be optimized for cloud computing, says Seifert. On collaboration applications, for example, there are issues around how many streams you are sending in from the cloud. If you are sharing a presentation with 6,000 people, you do not want to send 6,000 streams in from the cloud. Ideally, you would want to send one stream and replicate it within your organization, which is far less taxing on the network. So it is important that your network design takes into account how you access an application that consumes bandwidth from the cloud, says Siefert.

Service providers segment their network to keep customers separate from each other. “Now we are seeing a lot of enterprises with security concerns doing exactly the same thing in the enterprise network,” says Seifert. They can do this by encrypting the end application or by building some layering into the enterprise network using technologies like MPLS or VLANs to keep their applications separate.

What typically drives cabling decisions are distance and the location of the devices being integrated onto the network. If you have video surveillance cameras that are more than 100 metres from the wiring closet, it may drive the necessity for fiber to connect back to the wiring closet, whereas in the past you might have used a coaxial connection to a video matrix switch.

If you want to deploy IP phones over Ethernet in a guard shack at the edge of the premises, which is more than 100 metres from the writing closet, you have to decide whether it makes sense to use an IP or LAN drop, and whether it is cost-effective to do that via fiber or traditional copper. Part of the business case for every organization is to look at where they exceed the LAN connectivity of the copper solution and make a decision about whether it makes sense to use fiber or a local switch.

Aside from these technical decisions, policies and procedures also play a role. It is important for organizations to have a corporate security and identity management strategy around the network, says Seifert.

Also, in different parts of an organization, departments tend to have their own IP addressing structure. Trying to merge these after the fact can be difficult if you do not have a corporate IP addressing strategy, he says: “You should be thinking about migration over time to IP Version 6, which will allow for less of a complication of overlapping addressing.”

One of the biggest challenges with IP right now is that “we are running out of IP address space,” says Mark Tauschek, director of research for Info-Tech Research Group. Instead of four billion IP addresses, there are now trillions. “It was not meant for what it is doing now,” he says. “It was intended for local area networks. The industry never really foresaw a need to go beyond four billion addresses. Here we are now and we are well beyond that.” The challenge that organizations face right now is moving their infrastructure to IP Version 6, which provides advancements in terms of management, visibility and security.

“You are still going to run virtual LANs and you are still going to need to be able to prioritize certain types of traffic, voice and video being the key ones,” he says. “It does not really change that.”

But one of the key advantages of IP is that it is physical-layer agnostic. It does not really matter what physical medium you use, whether it is fiber, copper or wireless — it will transport over any physical medium (which is not true of all protocols). What matters is what is on either end of that physical layer.

The challenges, then, are not so much with the physical layer — though there are technical challenges of keeping the network going while you migrate. If your organization has many locations, says Surtees, you do not have the luxury of doing a whole rip and replace.

A major challenge is security with networks that were previously private, proprietary networks, such as closed circuit TV for video surveillance. That traffic has not traditionally had any security exposure, other than physical, so that requires a new approach.

Another challenge is performance. “It is unacceptable for real-time calls to have to deal with (dropped packets), so you have to have a mechanism to prioritize important traffic from less important traffic or traffic that is tolerant to delay, like e-mail,” says Tauschek. “That prioritization becomes important.”

Another issue that many organizations may not have considered is internal turf wars. During the days of IS and IT convergence, we saw the phone and data turf war. “To a lesser degree I am still seeing it with building automation and video security,” says Franc. Data is handled by the IS/IT team, while building automation is handled by the facilities department and video surveillance is handled by the security department. “These people end up fighting when they should be on the same team,” he says, “and people miss what their overall goal is.”

Also, adds Franc, avoid the “one solution fits all” mentality and do not succumb to commodity thinking — consider the overall solution and remember that there is not one way to build an IP network.

“As much as we can prognosticate, the big lesson is that no matter what you think is going to happen, things are going to change faster than you originally thought,” says Franc. “Future proofing is a great concept, but it is not a crystal ball. It is not just picking the right product or service or solution. Future proofing is a mindset and being willing to change dynamically.” CNS