Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cable is the New Fiber?

By: John Shepler

Coaxial cable, the type deployed by the cable companies, has long been thought to be on its way out. After all, how many channels and what Internet speeds can you possibly force through that copper wire? Turns out, it’s a LOT more than anyone might have thought. Can you believe 10 Gbps?

WAN Man At Your Service T-Shirts and more. Check 'em out!There’s Fiber Under the Hood
The secret that makes it possible for ordinary coax to deliver 10 Gbps, high by even fiber standards, is that you only see the cable connector on the wall and the cable jumper to your cable modem. You might think that cable runs all the way back to the cable head-end, like twisted pair telephone lines connect directly to the telco office. That’s an illusion. Once the premises connection is out of sight, the handoff is made to a metro fiber network. The copper part is just a few dozen or a few hundred feet in length. The system is referred to as a hybrid fiber-copper network or HFC.

The Magic Box
With a wire plant that can support bandwidths as high as 10 Gbps, what else is needed is an interface to transmit and receive on the HFC and provide a 10 Gbps Ethernet connection at the user’s end.That interface is the DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem.

DOCSIS or Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification is a set of technical standards that describe how to use the standard “TV channels” and other open capacity on cable systems to transport high bandwidth data without conflicting with the television transmissions. It was developed by CableLabs and is supported by many equipment manufacturers.

The original DOCSIS 1.0 came out in March, 1997… just in time to support the big boom in Internet growth. It was quickly upgraded to versions 1.1, 2.0 and the popular current standard, DOCSIS 3.0. It’s a new version, DOCSIS 3.1, that is causing all the excitement for fiber-like cable.

What does DOCSIS 3.1 offer? It is capable of at least 10 Gbps in the downstream direction and 1 Gbps in the upstream direction. That’s about 10x to 30x the capacity of existing cable bandwidth offerings. It is also backwards compatible with earlier DOCSIS versions so it can be seamlessly deployed on existing cable systems. What’s still needed is for cable operators to upgrade their equipment to the new standard and get DOCSIS 3.1 modems installed at customer locations.

The Bandwidth Stampede is On
It’s not a matter of if but when cable companies will embrace DOCSIS 3.1. Verizon has been deploying their FiOS Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) system for years. Google is entering market after market, albeit slowly, with their own fiber optic Internet service. Cable has a chance to protect the investment in the systems they already have by being able to offer Gigabit and 10 Gigabit Internet access with simple equipment upgrades and no need to rewire the city.

Comcast is one major cable operator that has seen the light. They have declared an intent to cover their entire service footprint with DOCSIS 3.1 capability in the next few years.

Is This the Same as SONET or Ethernet over Fiber?
In a word… NO. These are not only different technical standards, they have different performance standards and are targeted at different types of customers.

SONET is the original telephone company standard that was first deployed to transmit thousands of telephone calls on a single fiber. As bandwidth demands escalated to connect data centers and support the backbone of the Internet, SONET was made available to businesses. The lowest service level is OC3 at 155 Mbps. The highest levels are typically OC-48 at 2.5 Gbps, OC-192 at 10 Gbps and OC-768 at 40 Gbps.

A newer technology is Carrier Ethernet. This is directly compatible with the Ethernet that dominates local area networks in nearly all companies. Both copper and fiber implementations of Carrier Ethernet are available, but Ethernet over Fiber is rapidly becoming the more popular standard. Service levels range from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps, with 100 Gbps available in some areas.

How do Cable DOCSIS, SONET and Fiber Ethernet Compare?
SONET and Ethernet over Fiber (EoF) obviously require fiber optic connections all the way to the premises. Cable only needs the standard coaxial copper cable connection. This provides cable with an advantage as to availability and speed of installation. However, that advantage is not what it once was. More and more competitive carriers are expanding their fiber optic networks and “lighting” more and more buildings for fiber service.

Cable seems to have a big cost advantage compared to the fiber technologies, but this is more a matter of the type of service offered rather than anything to do with copper versus fiber. As proof, consider Google Fiber. It’s priced like cable, but is fiber optic end to end.

SONET and EoF are considered high performance business services and are generally offered with SLAs or Service Level Agreements that define the performance and availability of the service. Cable is considered a “best effort” service and doesn’t come with the same uptime guarantees.

SONET and EoF are what are called dedicated services. That means the assigned bandwidth is dedicated to your organization. If you contract for 10 Gbps, you’ll get 10 Gbps 24/7/365. There are no usage limits. You can drive as much data down those pipes as they’ll take for the entire month. Cable is a shared service. The bandwidth is “up to”, say, 10 Gbps. At any given time, you may have all of that to yourself, or you may be sharing it with a dozen, hundred or thousand other users. Bandwidth for shared services varies, while it is solid for dedicated users.

The other big difference is symmetry. SONET and EoF are symmetrical services. That means you get the same upload and download speeds. Order 10 Gbps service and it will be 10 Gbps in both directions all the time. Cable service is asymmetrical. Download speeds are typically 10x upload speeds. DOCSIS 3.1 maxes out at 10 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload.

How Do You Choose?
Cable is well matched to typical consumer and small business Internet access, which is download intensive. The “shared” aspect may not make that much difference and the reliability may be high enough that the cost advantage makes it an excellent choice.

However, if you are primarily transferring big files in both directions or dependent on cloud services for critical operations, or if availability of service is critical to what you are doing, you may find that only SONET or Ethernet over Fiber will be satisfactory. Costs for both types of services have dropped dramatically in recent years, with EoF especially cost effective for high performance applications.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dark Wavelength vs Dark Fiber for 10 GigE

By: John Shepler

Organizations that require extremely high MAN (Metropolitan Area Network) bandwidth or need to run a multitude of protocols have looked to dark fiber as a technical solution. Dark fiber is still a good choice for the most demanding applications, but there is a competitive service you should also be aware of. It’s called dark wavelength or dark lambda. Let’s look at what each has to offer and how they compare with the more common point to point and MPLS network connections.

How a prism separates a single white beam into multiple colored wavelengths.What is a Dark Wavelength?
We think of wavelengths as colors of light, not something dark. A wavelength with no color would essentially be turned “off” and would be the same as a dark fiber, right?

Not really. The difference is that dark fiber is nothing but the glass fiber strand itself. There is no equipment attached. Somebody, and that somebody is likely you, has to install terminal equipment at each end and turn on one or more laser beams to “light” the fiber. Sometimes "managed" dark fiber is available, where the carrier will provide the terminal equipment but you'll still have exclusive use of the fiber strand.

With a dark wavelength, this has already been done. It’s not a fiber with a single color laser at one end and a detector at the other. Instead, the equipment that has been installed is DWDM or Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing gear. What DWDM does is send multiple non-interfering laser beams down the same fiber strand to create what amount to additional channels equivalent to multiplying the number of fiber strands available.

With DWDM there is still only a single physical glass strand. The multiplexing or creating of multiple virtual fibers out of one is based on the fact that glass is transparent to more than a single color or wavelength of light. You can easily see this with a common prism. Shine white light in one side and bands of color appear on the other side. The prism shows that a number of separate colors can travel through the glass without interfering or canceling each other out.

Say you want to create a dozen different wavelengths on a single fiber. You’ll need a DWDM system that contains a dozen laser transmitters, each tuned to a slightly different wavelength or color. In practice, all the colors are in the infrared part of the spectrum and not visible colors. Nonetheless, they are referred to as colors, wavelengths or lambdas (the Greek letter used to denote wavelength).

Why go to all this trouble and expense? Simple: To multiply the capacity of a fiber cable. There are two ways to get more bandwidth from a fiber bundle. Either add more strands or use more of the inherent capacity of each strand. Adding strands means running an additional cable along the same route or replacing the cable you have with a larger diameter one that has more of the hair-thin glass fibers. Both options are incredibly expensive. Getting more from the infrastructure you already have is very attractive by comparison.

This is why DWDM is so popular. Why pull many miles of new cable at a cost of millions of dollars when you can upgrade your terminal equipment for a fraction of the cost? DWDM is a well established and standardized technology. Why not let technology save you the cost and delays involved in upgrading the physical cable?

The Dark Wavelength vs Dark Fiber Tradeoff
If you lease a dark fiber strand, you have exclusive use of that piece of glass. You have the security of knowing that only your traffic will travel over that strand. There will be other customers using other fiber strands, but there is a physical separation between you and them.

Dark fiber also gives you the flexibility of using any protocol you want and even setting up multiple protocols on the same fiber. How do you do that? By installing DWDM equipment of your own to create multiple independent wavelengths.

You can see how this can get to be expensive fast. A simple one wavelength fiber strand is one thing. You can probably get 10 Gbps bandwidth on that strand with simple equipment. DWDM is another matter. Now you need a fairly sophisticated piece of equipment at each end that you have to install, pay for and manage. For that, you can create multiple independent channels of, say, 10 Gbps each.

Instead, why not let somebody else bear that expense? That’s the basis of dark wavelength services. Someone, the carrier or service provider, has already lit the fiber with DWDM equipment that they own and operate. However, they don’t need all of the wavelength capacity themselves. If there is only enough traffic to use half the wavelengths available, the others can be leased to help pay for the system.

A dark wavelength is simply an unused wavelength on an existing fiber optic system. To be truly dark, the laser for that wavelength may be turned off or there is no card in the system for that particular channel. Either way, once someone agrees to lease the wavelength, service can be turned up fairly quickly. After all, the fiber and the DWDM chassis are already in place and operating.

Why Choose Dark Wavelength?
One reason to opt for dark wavelength service is that it may be all that is available. The owner of the fiber network may not be willing to lease an entire strand. That’s especially true if they have already lit their strands and are using some of the wavelengths.

Another attraction of dark wavelengths is equipment cost and maintenance. In theory, a provider could require you to purchase the channel cards that are compatible with their DWDM system and light the wavelength yourself. More likely, they will handle that themselves. You may or may not be asked to pay a one-time installation fee that includes the cost of the wavelength cards.

If the common carrier turns up the wavelength and maintains the system, you will have exclusive use of that particular wavelength at a bandwidth of 1, 5 or 10 Gbps. Sometimes wavelengths can be aggregated to create higher bandwidths up to 100 Gbps. Either way, only your traffic will be carried on that wavelength as whatever protocol you choose. Other customers will have their traffic on other wavelengths, but the different color beams will not interact.

Other Options
Not everyone needs or wants dark fiber or wavelength service. Many businesses only need 100 Mbps or Gigabit service. Both traditional SONET or the newer Carrier Ethernet protocols are generally available as point to point connections, ports to much larger MPLS optical networks, or Dedicated Internet Access.

What bandwidth option is best for your applications? Why not discuss your needs and get competitive quotes from multiple carriers for a range of services that can meet your needs. Then you can compare costs and benefits and pick the high bandwidth fiber optic service that best meeds your requirements.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

Note: Spectrum of light wavelengths though a prism animation courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Big Data Needs Big Bandwidth

By: John Shepler

Bandwidth levels are growing almost exponentially. One of the major infrastructure build-outs underway is a move to 100 Gbps or 100 GigE wavelength service on cross-country and international routes. It seems that Gigabit Ethernet was introduced only a few years ago and thought impractical for all but the most demanding business applications. Now GigE is almost considered entry level in some quarters. What could possibly be behind this massive increase in bandwidth demand?

Big Data On Board warning signs. Check 'em outIt All Started With Video
It is said that most of the world’s Internet traffic is now video. That’s right, not telephone calls, not file transfers, not even big graphics. Video alone is sucking up as much bandwidth as it can get. That’s not likely to change, either. SD video has migrated to HD video and 4K video is well on the way. How soon will the marketplace demand 8K video across the board?

Every increase in pixel density cranks up the bandwidth requirement to transport high quality images. Compression can help a great deal, but there’s a tradeoff between picture quality and depth of compression. Broadcasters and video producers really want to transport uncompressed video and leave the compression artifacts to be dealt with in the final link to the consumer.

Send In The Clouds
When cloud services meant taking all night to back up the day's files as a contingency to local storage, bandwidth levels weren’t too demanding. That’s all changed. The cloud is no longer just a non-critical backup service. It’s the main data center for many companies.

What’s sometimes forgotten is that your WAN (Wide Area Network) bandwidth becomes far more critical when key processes move to the cloud. Networking is much easier and cheaper when you’re talking about hundreds of feet within your own facilities. When you have to take that same flood of traffic and send it over a common carrier to get to your remote data center or cloud provider, line demands go way up. Remember, the WAN used to be just to link facilities and for communication with the outside world. Now it’s the main artery for everything you do.

What that means is that WAN bandwidth demands jump by 10, 100 or 1000 times. Other characteristics, like jitter, latency and packet loss, become huge factors in how well your cloud processes perform. If you scrimp in any of these areas, you may find yourself frustrated by underperforming processes and even losing productivity instead of gaining efficiency.

You Think the Internet of People Is Demanding?
Online business applications are generating more and more interesting and potentially useful data. Mobile apps with location services fall into this category. Pretty much anything that you do online has some potential value in customizing services or creating statistical data to improve marketing. That’s a flood of data that has to be handled by wireless and fiber connections.

Human generated big data is nothing compared to what we’ll be dealing with when the Internet of Things (IoT) gets rolling. For every person online, there will be dozens, hundreds or even thousands of “things” chatting wildly and generating volumes of data that would be useful if it could only get where it can be analyzed and put to use. That’s going to multiply the load on every communications channel.

Will they be able to handle it? Not with yesterday’s creaky links. Everything will need an upgrade. It’s in process now. Wireless channels are being expanded as fast as they can be rounded up and auctioned. Current 4G standards will become 5G and then 6G before you know it. But, what about terrestrial lines?

Fortunately, the bandwidth of fiber optic cables is nearly limitless from our current point of view. The 1 to 10 Gbps or so capacity of each strand can be multiplied by multiplexing dozens to hundreds of wavelengths. Wavelengths can be aggregated to create larger services of 100 Gbps and beyond. The build buildout now is 100 Gbps. Soon that will be 400 Gbps and then 1 Tbps, and it will happen sooner that we think.

Is yesterday’s bandwidth keeping you from becoming tomorrow’s high performance company? You should know that bandwidth prices have been falling almost as fast as demand has been increasing. The bandwidth upgrade you need may fit well within your budget. Want to find out? Get prices and availability on high performance fiber optic bandwidth services now.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Your Desk Just Moved To The Cloud

By: John Shepler

When we think of the incredible progress made during the 20th century, it’s basically employment in three steps: Farm field to factory workbench to office desk. Well, now it’s the 21st century and we’re in the process of making the big workplace move again: From office desk to cloud.

Not Just the Great Beyond Anymore
Perhaps we always expected to move to the clouds someday… once those pearly gates swung open. Turns out that the cloud has come to us much sooner than expected and it's for the here and now. Whatever you’re doing at the moment, it has or soon will have a cloud connection.

Ironically, we’re not going to the cloud at all. We’re staying here and everything else is moving into clouds. The data center? Off to the cloud already. Retail stores? Mostly in the clouds right now. How about your desk? Oh, yes, it’s going to the cloud. Here’s how that will work:

But, Where Do I Sit?
You can sit anywhere you like, stand or even walk and still get your job done. The old desktop came with a tether. Before computers, that tether was the telephone. Then it was the PC. Until recently, there was no getting away from your desk for long because that’s where you had to do everything.

With Desktop as a Service, the PC tether is gone. Smartphones have already cut the phone tether. What’s going to keep you stuck at your desk from now on?

The Great Business Liberation
Employees and business owners are no longer captive Gulivers tied down at the office by an army of electronic Lilliputians. The business is now wherever you are. Actually, the enabling technology and the data that makes your business unique have moved to the cloud. An office building is just a convenience. It’s a place to meet and get in out of the rain. But it’s not a place you have to stay captive all day.

Business Is Wherever You Are
We no longer have to “go to the job.” The job accompanies us. Cloud based communications makes your smartphone part of the company telephone system. UC or Unified Communications combine video, text and voice into a single system that works on any device. Now, desktop as a service makes whatever you had on that big Mac or PC available on your phone, tablet, laptop or phablet. The big difference is screen size, although today’s mobile apps minimize the difficulty of switching from the big computer monitor to the little phone screen.

It’s a Mobile World, Even When It Isn’t
There’s a big push on right now to upgrade websites to mobile capability. Regardless of the implementation, every site has to look good and work on every device. Users are increasingly mobile or at least using mobile devices like tablets even when they are sitting at the restaurant or a client’s office. Even in the same old office you may switch to a wireless device just so you can get up and go down the hall to a meeting without skipping a beat.

Are You Ready to Shuck The Old Desktop?
The final stage in your liberation from the desk may well be DaaS. Are you ready to give your business the flexibility that Desktop as a Service offers? If so, it’s time to check out the benefits of higher performance, reduced maintenance and cost advantages that DaaS can provide your business.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Backing Up Broadband

By: John Shepler

In the last couple of decades, broadband Internet access has gone from being a marginally used business tool to a critical infrastructure for most companies. Both speeds and traffic have increased by orders of magnitude. So, answer this question: “what happens if your broadband goes down?”

If you think that Ethernet makes the world go round, you might just be right. Find products with this design nowWe’ve Quietly Become Dependent
The conversion from traditional to automated business processes and digital communications have taken place so gradually that many companies don’t quite realize what would happen if it all suddenly went dead. You know what happens if you lose power. That facility is temporarily out of business. You know what happens if your data center loses power. Your computer-based processes are out of business. If that’s not acceptable, then what have you done to ensure continuing operations?

The Danger of Single Point Failures
What is the communications equivalent of battery and diesel generator backup for electrical power? It’s one or more redundant communications paths. If you have a single broadband line powering your network, you have what’s known as a “single point failure”. That’s one place where a failure of any sort puts you out of business. You can have all sorts of extra computers, printers, servers, battery backup and people cross-trained to take over whatever is a priority task regardless of who gets sick. It’s all for naught if yours is an online business and there is no way you and your customers can connect.

Start With the Best Line You Can Get
There are broadband services and then there are broadband services. They really break down into two categories. There are telecom services designed for high reliability and often available with service level agreements, a type of performance guarantee. Then there are “best effort” services designed for low cost and no performance guarantees. Which do you suppose is best for your critical operations?

Telecom based services, such as T1, DS3, SONET, Ethernet over Copper and Ethernet over Fiber are examples of dedicated high reliability services. So are MPLS networks if you want to create a private “Intranet” among your own facilities. DSL, Cable, Cellular and other broadband services popular with consumers generally fall into the “best effort” category. Best effort means just that. The carrier will make their best effort to keep you up and running, but there is no guarantee of what that will wind up being.

The Need For Redundancy
Even the best technology can go awry. Amplifiers short out, backhoes cut through copper and fiber cables with alarming regularity, and technicians make mistakes, perhaps disconnecting your circuit instead of the one they intended. Accidents will, indeed, happen, but that doesn’t mean your business has to be the victim.

One tried and true way to protect yourself from equipment failure is to have a backup in place. If one fiber optic line is good, two are better… with some caveats. Redundant lines really need to be independent. Ideally, you want to get them from different carriers who run them in different cable bundles that even leave your facility in different directions.

I remember a few years ago when our Cable company had one of those backhoe mishaps. It took two days to get TV and broadband restored because they had to splice over 100 fiber strands to complete the repair. You could have leased ten of those strands to make your connection redundant and you would have lost everything in one big chop.

Can Cable Backup Fiber?
Business cable broadband can actually be a very good way to get redundancy into your communications without doubling the budget. Cable services have gotten a lot more reliable since they switched from large coaxial trunks to fiber optic runs to the curb or neighborhood.

The DOCSIS 3 standard, that is now almost universal, offers bandwidth capability in the hundreds of Mbps, even up to 1 Gbps in some locations. The cost per Mbps is just a fraction of what you’d pay for Ethernet over Fiber or legacy SONET. That’s because cable service is, indeed, “best effort”, the bandwidth is shared, not dedicated, and the bandwidth is asymmetrical. That is, download speeds are much higher than upload speeds.

Taking all that into account, you may sleep a lot better at night knowing that if your premium dedicated fiber takes a hit, you can continue operations uninterrupted with broadband cable that is unrelated to your main service. You simply need a way to ensure automatic failover so that your employees and customers won’t see a service interruption.

Other Options
Some companies are quite happy to have T1 lines, Ethernet over Copper, two-way satellite, or even 4G LTE wireless as backup services for their main channel. Any channel that is completely independent is a good backup candidate. The only real limitation to any of these is the amount of bandwidth available and latency low enough not to impact what you are doing with the broadband connection.

Are you feeling that a single high capacity line is leaving you vulnerable to a service interruption? Why not look into an affordable broadband backup service for peace of mind?

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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