Telecommunications service providers must respond to end-user demand in a way they've never had to in the past.
With end users' growing ability to access personal and professional data applications wherever they are and whenever they want to, service providers must migrate their infrastructure platforms to emphasize service rather than plain old communications.
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Businesses from SMBs to large multinationals depend on fast, reliable transport, along with access to local and remote IT equipment to carry out business transactions. Their customers and employees access corporate data, commercial information, games, videos and myriad other bandwidth-intensive applications from disparate locations. Demand from those consumers drives content distribution to domestic, European and Asian data centers near users.
But users' "eyeballs" drive demand. Millions of eyeballs that want to watch movies, stream music and television shows, access corporate documents and employ hosted applications create tremendous demand for high-bandwidth services that link them to corporate and collocated data centers that host the applications.
Metro and backbone migration
This demand is driving service providers to move from TDM, ATM and SONET networks to higher-capacity, more flexible IP and Ethernet transport -- both in metro areas and long-haul backbones. This network evolution not only enables businesses and end users to get fast access, but it makes possible distributors like Akamai and Limelight, which in turn leverage ever-faster pipes to facilitate access to content.
IP and Ethernet services allow service providers to match customers' needs to move content from origin of creation to the concentration of viewing eyeballs. Within this emerging high-bandwidth, high-reliability and resilient network, content moves to data centers around the world where it resides close to viewers, listeners and users.
Metro demand comes not only from Ethernet; DSL traffic also generates growth across core IP networks, said Ken Raley, AT&T's vice president of network planning.
Today, most service providers provide IP connectivity over 10 Gbps backbones and bond pairs to increase capacity. AT&T, among others, has already deployed a 40 Gbps backbone, and most other providers are moving in that direction. There's no doubt that 100 Gbps backbones will be necessary before 2011.
When it comes down to customer categorization, there's not much difference between a Microsoft or Google and large European and Asian PTTs. In fact, any differences that exist between the way media companies, mega-portals and service providers use the networks are blurry; as are the distinctions between personal and professional usage patterns.
Content use also spreads when demand hits telecom service provider networks. As they make investments, operators must engineer to follow end users' daily patterns. From a U.S. standpoint, that means starting on the East Coast and moving west with the sun as customers wake, go to work or school, commute home, start homework, break for dinner and then work or play on their home's connected devices. Each new activity spikes demand. Adding European and Asian customers necessitates an ability to track and meet demand for Internet access and content as it shifts to Asia and Europe with their user concentrations.
Communication service providers in the U.S. not only serve businesses and consumers that access data around the clock, they also provide domestic peering and local connectivity for international carriers. Anticipating the rolling demand for content means service providers must deploy broadband and hosting facilities -- or connections to them -- on a geographically distributed basis.
This global market is a far cry from the "old days" when communication service providers could offer lower data transport prices at night to help fill their networks and balance the load. Now, nighttime capacity is just as valuable as capacity is during the day. Providers can add 24x7, 52-weeks-a-year demand to their capital investment justification.
Gamers provide need for speed example
Since the late 1980s, network resident software has played an increasingly important role in delivering network services. First it supported routing and toll-free numbers, but now it plays an increasingly sophisticated role.
Massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) provide dramatic illustrations of the need to use software and high bandwidth to deliver low-latency links. MMOG gamers rely on fast connections to game servers to avoid death and destruction while wreaking death and destruction on their adversaries. The fastest gamers can't outgun enemies if their network connection slows the speed of their bullets.
To live to fight another day, gamers need a reliable and low-latency connection to their game server every time they play. Recognizing this target market's requirement and its significant business potential, a company called GameRail developed specific routing algorithms that speed gamers' access to local services. It then leased backbone facilities from XO and other service providers to create a massively peering broadband network that links gamers with the closest game server. A monthly service charge covers network connectivity as well as a software client "that punches a hole through the local carrier and routes them to us," said John Alden, GameRail's vice president of business development.
GameRail's approach illustrates how creative use of software and a focused business strategy can address specific needs of customer segments. It also shows that service providers must emphasize the service portion of their mission, invest in the facilities their customers need, and leverage the software in their networks to tailor performance to target customers. Leveraging high-speed connectivity and software in the network will help providers pick up money they might otherwise leave on the table.
About the author: H. Paris Burstyn has more than 25 years of experience working to help clients design and implement creative, effective and efficient approaches to competitive situations. He founded Paris Consults to provide analysis and consulting to competitors in the telecommunications industry. His background includes positions at Yankee Group, IDC, Arthur D. Little and HeavyReading.