|B/OSS Insider Blog|
Shared Infrastructure Requires Managed Connectivity
By Kevin Ressler
Infrastructure sharing on the tower, in the central office, in the data center or in in-building wireless system (DAS) is becoming increasingly popular as mobile operators seek to reduce costs and speed time to market. But shared infrastructure often puts mobile operators in the dark when network changes are made. While mobile operators usually maintain assets in separate areas in shared facilities, one mobile operator may make physical layer changes that affect other mobile operators, and it is difficult for affected mobile operators to respond appropriately because they’re not aware of the specific nature of the change. Often, a network operator isn’t aware that a change has even occurred until the change causes an unintended service interruption.
Managed connectivity is a means of understanding, in real time, when and where physical changes in the network take place. It brings the physical layer of the network under the same management visibility, discipline and control as the other network layers.
For many years we have had network-management systems that track activity at Layers 2-7 of the networking stack; however, operators have favored mostly manual, error-prone systems to track physical layer changes. In fact, one estimate is that 70 percent of network technicians’ time is spent updating spreadsheets and network diagrams, time that would be better spent proactively focusing on network health.
Over time, with each network change, network diagrams can become increasingly inaccurate because there are many different technicians working on a given tower, data center or central office. Eventually, technicians may not have the right network map for a given piece of infrastructure when they go to work on it, or the map they are using may be outdated.
This situation has a significant impact on the timeliness and cost-effectiveness of network changes. When a repair is necessary, the technician is dispatched to the tower, data center or customer premise without knowing for sure whether or not the equipment on his truck is adequate for performing the repair. Once at the site, for each hour of downtime, the technician spends 50 minutes just determining what the problem is, rather than fixing it, and if a part is needed that the technician doesn’t have, it means another trip back to the dispatch center and a consequent delay in making the repair. Given the often remote location of some network elements, this could mean losing an entire day’s productivity.
Several vendors are now offering system solutions that address these challenges. A managed connectivity system consists of special cable connectors that have microchips embedded in them, a companion patch panel that reads the contents of the microchip and forwards them via Ethernet, and a software management system that interprets the information from the patch panel – automatically and in real time, without user intervention. Managed connectivity is an out-of-band solution that does not impact network traffic.
Depending on the type of managed connectivity system, the system may capture and present information – metadata – about each cable plugged into the network, where that cable is located, how long that cable is, the color of the cable connectors, and other important information critical to network operations. With this information in hand, the network operator has a powerful new tool to manage the physical layer of the network.
For example, the operator might have networks that are separated by colors of cable – high security is red, for example, while normal traffic is blue. If someone plugs a blue cable into a red network, the managed connectivity solution knows the color of the cable and can thus alert operators and proactively govern network health. This is particularly important in government and military applications.
Another example is cable length. By capturing and reporting the length of each cable, the operator can know if a cable is within spec for the job it is doing. If the combined length goes beyond the industry standard level, for example, you can have problems transmitting the data because it’s no longer within the industry standard. Plugging in the cable and immediately knowing the length helps the operator stay within industry standards.
Simply knowing what is connected and disconnected also provides an audit trail for regulatory purposes. Hospitals, government agencies, casinos and shared data centers all need to maintain often cumbersome audit records to show that the operator has maintained continuous control over the network, and these audit trails also instill confidence in the people sharing the network. In a managed connectivity system, mobile operators now use modern GUIs to control physical layer resources supporting fixed and mobile devices. No more combing through hundreds of cables to track down an issue.
With managed connectivity, the network operator has the same visibility into the physical layer of the network as it is used to having for layers 2-7. With centralized management of the physical layer, the network operator can speed repairs, reduce the cost of maintenance, and establish preventative maintenance policies that proactively minimize unplanned network events. Managed connectivity gives network operators the confidence of knowing what is occurring in the physical layer at all times, taking the risk and much of the operating expense out of maintaining shared infrastructure.
Kevin Ressler, Ph.D., serves as director, global data center industry management, for TE Connectivity. Kevin is responsible for TE’s full spectrum of enterprise, telecom, and data communications data center solutions. Kevin leads TE Connectivity's data-center business, including go-to-market, marketing, product management and new product development.