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Look Ahead 2008

Bandwidth demands fuel continued movement to more capable cabling and security remains a concern. Smart businesses save money and the planet simultaneously and integrate communications with an eye on both cost and strategy.


November 1, 2007  


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In 2008, most enterprises will push more and new kinds of traffic through their networks, requiring increased performance. They will scramble to balance those demands against security, cost and increased focus on environmental issues.

Higher-bandwidth cabling will proliferate, and smart businesses will look carefully at how wireless and mobile technologies can advance their strategies.

Consulting firm Deloitte named the environment a top IT issue in 2007. That will not change in 2008.

Server virtualization is a key green initiative because fewer servers means lower power consumption. “The fewer power supplies that you can have in the data centre … the more efficient it is,” says Rob Aldrich, senior manager of data centre solutions at Cisco Systems Inc. That applies to routers and other network gear too. So, says Aldrich, planning networks to minimize unused ports — and thus the number of devices needed — is one way to save energy.

In the data centre, cooling requirements essentially double power consumption. Cables under raised floor blocking airflow do not help, Aldrich says. Solutions include moving the cable to trays above the equipment and using higher-capacity cabling.

Frank Murawski, president and founder of structured cabling research firm FTM Consulting Inc. in Hummelstown, Penn., says fiber is one good way to cut the bulk.

Toronto Hydro Telecom has another solution. In a new Toronto data centre, the utility telco has installed two layers of raised floor. Directly below the floor on which its servers sit is an 18-inch-high cabling space. Below that is a second, steel floor with rubber seals to make it airtight. The 18-inch space below that interstitial floor is pressurized with cold air.

“Anywhere we want air to escape that sealed plenum on the bottom we install a chimney,” says Dave Dobbin, the company’s president. With no cables to impede air flow and pressurization to ensure more even distribution, Toronto Hydro needs about 25% less air conditioning capacity for the same floor space.

Luc Adriaenssens, senior vice president of R&D and technology at cable maker CommScope Inc., in Hickory, N.C., says environmental concerns should also encourage long-range planning. “If you can put in better cabling,” he says, “you can avoid having to upgrade in five to 10 years down the road and all that cable having to be pulled out.”

Many green measures also save money. Whether they are saving the planet or cash, network installers will pay more attention to energy consumption.

GETTING THE PICTURE: First data and voice combined. Now video is joining the party. More enterprises are adding video subnets to IP networks, says Murawski, primarily for surveillance.

Private companies use surveillance for building security and sometimes employee monitoring, and a growing number of municipalities put cameras in public places – for instance, Toronto has installed cameras in its downtown nightclub district, observes Jon Arnold, Toronto telecommunications consultant and principal of J. Arnold & Associates. “If you’ve got the broadband capability to do it and the tools in terms of the software applications to run it, it just opens up all kind of possibilities.”

However, other video applications are proliferating, says Michael Khalilian, chairman and president of the IMS Forum, an industry group that promotes IP Multimedia Subsystems (IMS). IMS is a framework designed to help telecommunications carriers offer more IP-based services, including video, to home and business customers.

Video is increasingly used for distance education and telemedicine, Khalilian says. Businesses use it to link locations for communication and training. Khalilian points out that IMS is making videoconferencing more practical than it was in the days of the H.323 standard, which complicated connections and limited bandwidth.

New forms of videoconferencing are gaining attention too such as Microsoft Corp.’s Roundtable, a videoconferencing unit that sits in the middle of a table. Cisco’s TelePresence, a pricey room videoconferencing system that creates an experience almost like being there, found its first Canadian customer this year in Rogers Communications Inc.

Older technology “didn’t create a lifelike experience like you experience with TelePresence,” says Mike Adams, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Rogers Cable and Telecom.

All this will increase the demand for network bandwidth, says Arnold, and require further improvements in quality of service to ensure video as well as voice packets get the priority they need.

INTEGRATION DOES NOT STOP WITH VIDEO: Interest is growing in incorporating other functions like access controls, alarm systems and control of systems like lighting, heating and air conditioning into a single network. Some call this the intelligent building. “It all just makes sense to converge those onto one network,” says Adriaenssens.

Video surveillance is usually first to be added to the IP-based data and voice network, says Jim Sinopoli, principal of consulting firm Smart Buildings in Spicewood, Tex., followed by alarm systems, access and HVAC controls. The move might happen faster, but there are still no standards for building automation and technology vendors haven’t actively promoted the idea, Sinopoli says.

As intelligent buildings proliferate, network reliability will become more critical. “In the past, if the LAN crashed every three weeks or so that was OK,” Adriaenssens says. But if that crash means the entire building is down — including the phone system so you can’t call anyone — that’s going to be serious. And as building owners put all their communications eggs in one network basket, bandwidth demands will continue growing.

COMMUNICATIONS AND BUSINESS STRATEGY: Unified communications became hot in late 2007, largely because Microsoft Corp. launched its Office Communications Server 2007 software, promoting the concept as if it was a breakthrough. “I don’t think it’s actually so new,” observes Mario Belanger, president of Avaya Canada Inc. Having e-mail read to you on your cellphone or voice messages delivered in e-mail, clicking to dial a phone number from a PC screen — these are not new capabilities, though they’re gaining attention.

Belanger says the goal is communication-enabled business processes, or CEBP. For example, say a critical delivery is delayed. In the past, an automated system might have sent an e-mail alert or paged someone. A response might have taken an hour or two. CEBP means the system might track down several people, using information about where they can be reached at any given time, and automatically set up a teleconference so they can address the problem instantly.

“Communication by itself is nice,” Belanger says, “but it really needs to be embedded in the fabric of your business processes.” With IP now widely deployed, he expects to see growing adoption of CEBP in 2008.

ON THE ROAD – STRATEGICALLY: A recent International Data Corp. (Canada) Ltd. study, commissioned by Telus Corp., argues Canadian businesses have mostly been taking a tactical approach to mobile data communications, using it primarily for e-mail and to extend existing applications to mobile workers. That is fine, says Tony Olvet, vice president of IDC Canada’s communications practice, but businesses should think more strategically.

That would mean more emphasis on mobile applications that promise a lot of value and have not been as widely adopted. One example is replacing paper forms, says Olvet — “it doesn’t sound very sexy, but it’s kind of embedded in the processes that most organizations do.” Emergency preparedness and remote monitoring are other examples cited in the study.

Olvet says a strategic approach also means mobile services should be managed more centrally for better integration with the corporate network and applications. Today, IDC says, mobile services spending is gro
wing with too little attention to total cost of ownership and business benefits.

Businesses should focus more on how mobile technology can advance their strategies, adds Jeff Lowe, vice president of marketing at Telus Business Solutions, noting that only about a third of Canadian enterprises have a mobile strategy today.

Wi-Max, the longer-range evolution of the Wi-Fi wireless standard in 2008 might eventually extend hotspot-like services to wider areas and offer an alternative to digital cellular networks for voice services. Olvet expects it to play a role in 2008, but not to be a major factor until chip sets appear that support mobile as well as fixed wireless connections. “We’re still in what’s called pre-Wi-Max adoption mode where the standards still are not 100% ready and the endpoints are not widely used,” says Arnold

SECURITY WORRIES CONTINUE: The Canadian Security Readiness Intelligence Report, commissioned by Ottawa-based IT channel management company CMI Inc. and distributed by the Canadian Advanced Technology Association (CATA), reported the unnerving statistic that one in three organizations has recently suffered a security breach. Many breaches could be minor incidents such as an employee receiving a virus by e-mail, notes Kevin Wennekes, vice president of research at CATA, but security clearly remains a major issue.

While viruses and spam remain the top concern, security issues arising from increasing use of wireless networks and remote access to corporate systems are high on the list. Those concerns lead some organizations to restrict remote access to information, Wennekes says. Some also eschew installing wireless networks — but the survey found even those without wireless infrastructure worry about security risks, because it is too easy for employees to install unauthorized access points.

While increased use of video and the convergence of more services onto a single network put upward pressure on bandwidth requirements, security issues could be pushing the other way. Like security lineups in airports, firewalls and other security provisions can slow the flow of data. “The more buffers and things you put in there, the more it’s going to slow down the network,” Arnold warns.

What it means is that network administrators and designers will face a balancing act as they try to handle growing traffic demands and increased security worries at the same time.

CAT 6A AND LASER-OPTIMIZED GROW: You would expect growing bandwidth demands to fuel a move toward more capable cabling, and you’d be right. CommScope reports installations of Category 5e cabling accounted for only 9% of the total in 2006, down from 17% the year before, while Category 6a rose from 17% to 25% and Category 6 remained the most popular choice with 56% in 2005 and 53% in 2006. “We’re seeing very rapid migration toward 6a,” says Adriaenssens.

While Cat 6a cable can theoretically support 10-Gigabit Etheret over modest distances, Murawski thinks fiber is a better answer. “I don’t think you’re ever going to use unshielded twisted pair to support 10-gig in a real environment,” he says. Even if some can get 10-Gigabit to work over copper, Murawski adds, 100-Gigabit networking will be a reality in a few years and that will certainly use fiber.

In the fiber world, the shift is toward laser-optimized multimode. CommScope says higher-bandwidth OM-3 is the big winner, rising from 28% to 43% of installations in 2006, while OM-1, OM-2 and single-mode fiber installations all declined. As demand for bandwidth grows, Adriaenssens says, “it’s clear that some day single mode will be the only answer,” but for the time being the cheaper multimode electronics are carrying the day.

OPEN SOURCE CANNOT BE IGNORED: Finally, open source software continues spreading into new areas. Already widely used in the infrastructure of the Internet, it is making inroads in voice over IP. The Asterisk open-source IP telephony software runs on around 2.5 million servers around the world, estimates Danny Windham, chief executive of Digium Inc., the Huntsville, Ala., company that co-ordinates Asterisk development.

Open-source routing also offers an alternative to major router suppliers like Cisco and Juniper. Vyatta Inc. of Belmont, Calif., offers commercially supported open-source routing, firewall and virtual private network (VPN) software. Dave Roberts, Vyatta’s vice president of strategy and marketing, says both the price and the flexibility of the software attract customers. “Open source is penetrating just about every segment that’s out there,” he says.

“If you’re comfortable with open source and used to using it, you could get pretty much everything you need for next to nothing,” says Arnold. “This is definitely a trend you’ll see more of.”

Grant Buckler is a Kingston, Ont. freelance writer who specializes in IT and telecommunications issues. He can be reached at gbuckler@cogeco.ca.