Friday, June 21, 2024

AI Is Going to Eat Your Bandwidth

By: John Shepler

We may be nearing the end of the age of person to person communications, or at least human communication dominating the use of telecom resources. The decline began when computers started using our phone lines to exchange data. It’s only accelerated since nearly all computers are now connected to the Internet at broadband speeds. Even so, much of that computer activity is in the service of people accessing websites, messaging and sending email, posting on social media, watching videos, backing up their files and doing their jobs. Not for long. Pretty soon machines will cut us out of the loop and simply talk among themselves.

Beware the Internet of Things. Join the fun!The Rise of Artificial Intelligence
The scary thing about artificial intelligence, or AI, is how insidious it is. It’s actually been creeping in for decades, probably since the start of the computer age. There’s a lot of AI in search engines, although we may not think of it that way. Most software, in fact, has been adding analytical and decision making capability deep under the hood. You may not be specifically asked your preferences, but that doesn’t mean the program isn’t figuring things out or selecting what information to display and how.

More recently we’ve seen an explosion of “chat bots”, intelligent assistants such as Siri and Alexa, and some quirky writing and photo capabilities in ChatGPT. In fact, it’s the last one that has fueled an explosion of interest and investment in what is called Generative AI, the tech that “creates” all that new content at the push of a button.

NVIDIA can’t make big enough processors on a large enough scale to sate the demand. Data centers are expanding to host more and more servers and new centers are rapidly under construction. One big worry is where all the energy is going to come from to feed the exponentially demanding power-hungry AI processes. Some data centers are being built right next to power plants to grab and many megawatts as they can.

How Nuts is This Going to Get?
One might suspect that we’re in an AI mania combined with a speculative bubble in anticipation that artificial intelligence will render pitiful human capabilities and their jobs obsolete in the matter of a few years… or less. The computer age has certainly eliminated or greatly reduced some roles, like telephone operators and adding machine clerks (human computers), but added new ones as fast or faster. The new AI fever sees the elimination of writers, graphic artists, analysts, software coders, customer service representatives and even law clerks as imminent.

Not so fast. The chat bots I’ve dealt with are complete simpletons that can’t solve much of any real problem. The writing is tedious. The artwork is artificial at best, and inane at worst (how many extra fingers can you add to a person’s hand?). Self driving trucks? Look out when they come barreling around a curve during an ice storm.

I suspect the AI crazy has hyped up expectations far beyond what is really going to work anytime soon. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a real germ of innovation underway. One example is the “Internet of Things” that is being touted as the real driver of 5G wireless. Better, faster, cheaper and smaller electronics makes it possible to add both processing and communications to any device. That can be any tool, any monitor, any control system, and most products. It is only logical that these “things” will communicate with other “things”, including computer systems, without our constant knowledge or intervention. The more of these “robots” that are deployed, the more sophisticated the software needed to keep them employed efficiently.

What to Likely Expect
Yes, technology marches on in the name of progress. We’re not going back to living in mud huts or slaving in dingy factories, and the nature of what we do at work will continue to evolve. The increase in productivity should improve our standard of living if we’re smart about it as a society. At any rate, the demands on technical infrastructure are surely going to accelerate.

You can expect more devices on every network, talking faster and demanding faster results. The “cloud” may become an “overcast.” Both fiber optic and wireless bandwidth requirements will move up another order of magnitude or more. A 100 Mbps connection may have been plenty not long ago. Now we clamor for a Gigabit line, with 10 Gbps an emerging business standard. How long before 100 Gbps is routine and 1 Tbps starts looking like a requirement? Within the data center, this could be tomorrow. For access, maybe the day after tomorrow.

How about your business? Are new tools, processes and devices straining the capability of your data center or WAN network? We can help. Get pricing and support on bandwidth and hosting for your current and future needs right now, before those needs become a crisis.

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

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Note: This article was not generated by any AI. It was written by one human (myself) who only worries about the machines scraping the Internet and regurgitating copyrighted material far and wide without any thought of compensation to the author, a real and present danger.

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Is 10 Gbps Internet the New Business Standard?

By: John Shepler

Internet bandwidths have been creeping up since the introduction of broadband more than two decades ago. Just when you think you have enough, you find that response from websites and cloud applications is too sluggish for you to maintain maximum productivity. It’s time for another upgrade, but that isn’t such a bad thing these days… if you do it right.

10 Gbps fiber optic service for business.Why the Need for So Much Bandwidth?
What’s driving the need for ever increasing bandwidth is more data hungry applications. While the original Internet was most text-based, the next move was to images and then database operations. The introduction of video really started to suck up Mbps and Gbps as fast as they could be provided.

Now it is enormous file transfers, high definition video, including video conferencing, and the relocation of business critical applications from the server room to the cloud. Add e-commerce to that mix and you have a screaming demand for high speed low latency bandwidth.

The Changing Nature of WAN Bandwidth
The telecommunications world was founded on copper and wireless. Wireless persists in an evolved form, but copper is on the way out. Well, twisted pair copper telecom lines are disappearing fast. Coaxial cable copper has a new lease on life with DOCSIS 3.1 and 4.0 that are enabling it to compete with fiber. Wireless, too, can compete with fiber using 5G and, soon, 6G technology in the microwave range.

The big daddy of telecom is fiber. You can see fiber being trenched into nearly every right of way in cities and even smaller towns. Fiber goes under water to link continents. The Internet IS fiber, even if your access isn’t.

Fiber today isn’t the same fiber as yesterday. Oh, it’s still glass fibers fed by lasers. What’s different is the protocols. The telephone-centric SONET has given way to Ethernet over Fiber that is directly compatible with the Ethernet on your LAN. Packet switched networks have taken over from circuit switched networks.

The Good News About Bandwidth
The thought of ever accelerating bandwidth needs could give you pause except for one counter factor. The cost of that bandwidth is decreasing almost as fast as the speeds are increasing. You can get gigabit level fiber or cable broadband for what you used to pay for a T1 line. It is rapidly becoming possible for residential users to get gigabit level bandwidth over cable and PON (passive optical network) fiber. Wireless speeds in the hundreds of Mbps are also getting common. Any of these services may also serve smaller businesses well.

The next step up is in the multi-gig speed range, with 10 Gbps a new standard. It works well for businesses with many employees online, hospital and medical centers needing to transmit medical images, automated factories, video production and so on. If you already have Gigabit Internet or GigE service and are running into congestion, a 10 Gbps fiber line may be the perfect solution. For very high volume operations, even 100 Gbps isn’t unreasonable and is becoming more commonly available.

All Bandwidth Isn’t the Same
So far we’ve been talking about the Internet, the ultimate public commons. It’s a shared network by its very nature. Even so, most users with enough bandwidth find it works well for their purposes.

Internet access is also generally shared. Cable and cellular wireless are multi-user services without any priority or guarantee of latency. Because they are shared, these are the most affordable options.

The next step up is called Direct Internet Access or DIA. It’s a private line from your location to the Internet connection at your service provider. Being private means that you aren’t competing with dozens of other local companies or consumers for bandwidth, which can become scarce at times. The wireless equivalent of DIA is called 5G slicing.

Still need higher performance? Skip the Internet for a private lane all the way from your company to your cloud provider. Direct connection, another name for a private line, completely eliminates competition from other users to give you the best consistent performance. A 10 Gig Ethernet fiber private line is a premium service that may well fit your budget if you need to have the cloud behave like the servers down the hall.

Are you ready for 10 Gbps Internet or private line service? Don’t say no until you’ve checked prices for 10 GigE and higher business bandwidth. If 10 Gig is too much right now, you may opt for a fraction of that with the option to upgrade later. If 100 Gbps makes sense, large organizations may also find that within their means.

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

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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Is 5G Bandwidth Slicing The New Private Network?

By: John Shepler

The Internet is a wonderful way to connect… except when it isn’t. Oh, it works great for much of what we need: universal connectivity, rock bottom cost, and support for most applications. It’s when we need higher than usual performance or extreme reliability that our broadband connections can fall short. Latency, packet loss, and congestion can degrade interactive applications or make them impossible to implement. What to do? Switch to private networks.

5G bandwidth slicing for private networks.What is a Private Network?
The Internet is what is known as a public network. It’s accessible by just about everyone, everywhere. All you need is an account at an ISP, cable company or cell phone provider and you’re connected with always-on broadband.

The beauty of this public network is that it has been built out over several decades so that it literally covers the world. Everyone has equal standing on the Internet. The average user’s traffic gets the same priority as a major corporation, research institute or any of the billions of “things” that are now connected online. This is what is known as network neutrality. The only preferences you can pay up for is a more direct connection to the backbone of the Internet and the amount of bandwidth you have access to.

All this equality sounds great, doesn’t it? Most of the time it serves everyone well. But, if you are trying to have a videoconference at the same time as everyone else is streaming a popular concert or engaged in an important phone call when the rest of the world is doing backups to the cloud, your connection may start to degrade. It’s much worse for high speed interactive gaming, remote surgery, high frequency stock and options trading, or control of an electric vehicle. These applications have a low tolerance for hiccups and delays.

The alternative to the public network is the private network. Your company LAN is a private network. It isn’t shared with every other company or consumers watching online TV. Chances are that it has all the low latency bandwidth you need all the time.

Now, extend that LAN across town or across the country. Can you do that? Yes, you can, but you won’t be building it yourself. Instead, you’ll contract with a network provider that offers private point to point connections. There will be other customers sharing their extensive facilities, but they won’t interfere with you. You will be guaranteed the bandwidth and other network characteristics, such as latency and packet loss, that you contract for.

Types of Private Networks
In the past, nailed-up twisted pair wires, T1 lines and SONET fiber were the way to go. Today, Ethernet over Fiber is the most popular along with MPLS networks.

Ethernet connections use the same protocol as your LAN, so they are easy to interface. You can also order direct point to point, point to multipoint, or mesh networks that connect multiple locations. Ethernet over Fiber offers bandwidths from 10 Mbps up to 10 Gbps, with 100 Gbps becoming more common.

Some popular uses for these Ethernet services include direct connections to cloud providers, interconnecting multiple business locations, and content delivery.

MPLS networks are a specialized technology that offers connectivity over wide areas, including the entire country or even Internationally. MPLS uses its own unique protocol, making it more secure than IP networks. These are multi-user networks, but are managed so that each customer has the bandwidth promised at all times. MPLS networks with Ethernet on-ramps can give you tremendous coverage at less cost than multiple private lines.

5G Slicing as the New Private Network
More and more applications are portable and mobile these days. That means a wired connection just won’t do. Instead, we settle for wireless Internet services, usually over the extensive cellular networks. This started becoming popular when 3G networks were implemented and really took off with 4G LTE. It’s only continued at a faster pace with 5G networks.

The limitation with even 5G is that you are still dealing with Internet broadband and its foibles. Bandwidth is more limited than with fiber and congestion can bring your applications to a crawl during busy times in crowded areas. A feature designed into 5G offers a way around this for an extra charge.

5G slicing technology allows carriers to partition or “slice” off a part of the available bandwidth for private use. Everybody is clogged up on the freeway, but you get to zip along on your own private road. Pretty nice, right?

5G slicing can give you a more direct connection to the Internet for better performance or can remain as a private network or connection to a private fiber network. It’s like your LAN, but with the freedom of being wireless over wide areas.

On their own campuses, some companies are implementing private 5G networks to gain the same advantages. 5G slicing takes this a step further to give you connectivity anywhere you go. That includes moving vehicles as well as smartphones, tablets and all those “things” the need connectivity but don’t perform well on the Internet.

Issues with 5G Slicing
The implementation of 5G slicing is just starting to roll out, so you may or may not be able to find this service yet. One concern is how much slicing can there be if everybody wants a private piece of the spectrum. While 5G bandwidth, especially on the new higher frequencies, is more plentiful, there are practical limits to how much traffic can be carried over the air. This is why there is still a mad scramble to make more frequencies available for 5G, including some spectrum currently assigned to the military.

Another potential bug-a-boo is the old network neutrality issue. How can a network be neutral when you can pay up for a private box seat? For now, regulators seem to be OK with 5G slicing as long as the main core of the network used for Internet is not prioritized, or that some services aren’t being throttled for competitive advantage. As more and more of the wireless spectrum goes private, it remains to be seen how much pushback there will be.

Would private networking be an advantage for your business? Find out what bandwidth services are available now for your business locations.

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

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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

How AI is Helping to Improve Call Centers

By: John Shepler

All of us have been frustrated when making calls to customer service… and it seems to be getting worse. High costs and labor shortages serve to dishearten the poor customer hanging on the phone for hours and, also, the companies who desperately need to provide a favorable experience to keep their customers and attract new ones. Tech correspondent David Pogue discusses this situation and possible solutions in this CBS News report:

Did you catch that the likely solution going forward is a combination of traditional call center agents and new artificial intelligence software. The example in the story is called Grace. Here’s a more detailed look at how Grace works as a stand-alone agent:

Of course, even the most advanced AI agents come to a screeching halt when confronted by unique or complex situations. That’s where the best solution is to transfer immediately to a trained human agent. Some of the best agents are located in countries outside the United States and English is not their first language. Many US customers are put off by interacting with an agent with a heavy foreign accent, even though this agent has excellent technical skills. A new AI tool that can help is from a company called Sanas. The software works to change the speaker’s accent without otherwise affecting the conversation. You can try it out online and compare how actual call center agents sound with and without the AI support.

Behind the Scenes
Not all AI tools directly interact with customers. More mundane, yet important, applications include optimizing networks to get the best performance. SD-WAN is a simple system that combines multiple Internet or direct line connections and continuously chooses what traffic to direct down what path. Highly sensitive functions like VoIP phone calls and teleconferences get highest priority on for the lowest latency paths. Less sensitive operations, like remote backups, get lower priority and lesser performing paths.

AI software is also valuable for intelligently routing calls to ensure that they go to the next available person that can properly handle them and to track down key players regardless of whether they are at their desks or on the move.

Do you have communications issues that might be helped with newer or better technical solutions? Things are changing rapidly. Get support and find out what telecom solutions can really benefit your company.

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

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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Colocation Hosting Offers Lower Costs and More

By: John Shepler

Traditionally, having your own data center has been the way to go for medium and larger businesses. It may still be the best answer for your needs. However, there are advantages to moving at least some of your equipment and data to a colocation hosting facility. Let’s have a look at why this might be a great idea.

Colocation Hosting offers advantages for your business. Just What is Colocation?
Colocation sounds like it means having two or more operations in one location. That’s pretty much it. Colocation facilities were originally called carrier hotels. Multiple service providers would locate equipment in the same building run by one of the carriers or a third party who provided common services such as HVAC, AC power, backup generator power, and connectivity as needed. It was a way for carriers to easily exchange traffic on neutral turf and not have to each pay for their own building.

Nowadays colocation facilities or “colos” serve businesses as well as carriers. They are still a great way to connect to the Internet with as much bandwidth as you need at the best prices and connect to various carriers who also happen to be in the facility. Compare that with trying to get 10 Gbps or 100 Gbps out in the boonies.

In addition to bandwidth, colocation centers offer rack space, cabinets, cages and the power, cooling and connections to go with them. You generally bring your own servers and storage and take responsibility for maintaining your equipment. Many colos also now offer expanded tech services to monitor and service equipment 24/7 and may even lease you servers and other equipment you would normally buy.

Why Pay Someone Else to Host My Servers?
It may seem logical to keep everything under one roof, but that doesn’t necessarily give you everything you need. For one thing, you have no redundancy in the event of a disaster. A tornado, hurricane, earthquake or flood can wipe out your data center and you’ll be out of business for awhile. If you keep all your backups in the same data center, that could take a long while and very expensive to recreate all the data you need.

By having at least some of your servers and storage offsite, you gain the advantage of redundant facilities. It works even better if your sites are geographically dispersed.

As mentioned previously, you’ll likely find much better connectivity at better prices in a colocation center. Carriers go where many potential customers are clustered so that they can quickly and easily provide service. It’s just a cable run in the colo.

Are you able to provide tech service 24/7? Most colocation facilities have their own tech staffs available round the clock to handle their equipment and often provide a suite of services to their customers.

Think about the cost of expansion. If you are running out of space now, you have a make or buy decision to face. Making means building or leasing a larger facility to accommodate your growing needs, including more backup power, tech support, and security. Buying means avoiding the capital investment in facilities and leasing from a colo, likely at much lower cost that doing it all yourself.

Another area where colos shine is being physically close to your customers to reduce transmission latency. That’s more important if you have latency sensitive real-time applications and if you are selling your service nationwide or worldwide. Some of the larger colos have multiple sites so that you can disperse your equipment as needed.

Is your business growing and creating a need for additional data center capacity or would you simply prefer to lease rather than buy the IT facilities you need? If so, consider the advantages of colocation hosting and get competitive quotes now.

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

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