Future of the Net

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General Motors Corp., for example, anticipates that high-bandwidth functions, such as the exchange of engineering data over corporate intranets, could easily drive the capacity of portions of the global network backbone from 1G bit/sec. to 10G bit/sec. over the next two to three years.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Detroit-based automaker says it believes there is a huge potential for the use of much lower-bandwidth wireless networks on the floors of its factories to track the flow of parts and car and truck modules through its assembly plants, according to Arvind Sabharwal, the company's director of telecommunications and networks.
Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. in Troy, Mich., spun off as an independent company by GM last year, has started deploying a multimegabit global backbone to the 40 countries in which it operates. One of its challenges during the next two to three years will be to figure out how to hook rapidly proliferating handheld devices, such as personal digital assistants from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm Inc., into that network in a coherent and secure fashion, according to Gary Roberts, Delphi's chief technology officer.
Fat Wireless Nets
Memphis-based FedEx Corp. will continue to operate a much slimmer backbone network than GM - relying on multiple T1 (1.54M bit/sec.) or T3 networks in the U.S. and abroad. However, the company is already planning to develop higher-speed wireless wide-area networks that can support a new generation of handheld units for couriers that have charge-coupled devices (CCD) - built-in digital cameras on a chip - to take pictures of airbills and the shipments themselves, according to Jimmy Burke, vice president of network computing at FedEx.
Burke adds that FedEx plans to use CCD systems to speed up customs paperwork for the company and its customers, an application he called "critical . . . as more and more of our volume goes international."
Sabharwal says he sees wireless technologies, both LANs and Bluetooth short-range systems, as having a "huge application" in plants. "We can use [wireless] with [radio frequency] tags to track the vehicle while it's being built, including the parts and whole modules," he says.
While Delphi's wireless agenda isn't as ambitious as GM's, Roberts says he is considering a completely wireless telephone network to replace the PBX. "When you're in the office, you would use the phone in a docking station," he says. "It would give everyone one telephone number and save us the service charges [from changing numbers on wired phones]."
Fat Applications
Bandwidth-heavy ERP systems such as those from SAP AG will also boost the demand for bandwidth on both wired and wireless networks, according to Claude Marais, strategic relations manager for business systems at The Coca-Cola Co. in Atlanta. Coca-Cola has signed a deal with Equant NV in Amsterdam to design and manage a new wired network. The bottler will roll it out over the next two years to provide the higher bandwidth and reliability demanded by SAP systems.
Gus Otto, a network architect at Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria, Ill., says he's looking at ways to facilitate speedier desktop-to-desktop videoconferencing by connecting Caterpillar's conference participants on the outer edges of the network. That way, he wouldn't have to pull video and audio packets through the network core, which can degrade videoconferencing and slow down the whole network.
Making the concept work, according to Otto, is a matter of setting network policies that head off videoconferencing traffic at the network border and route it through servers outside the main firewalls.
Although some might see this as a security risk, Otto says connections could be made between sites over a private WAN backbone to reduce the risk.
Caterpillar is also exploring the use of "spoofing" technologies to optimize satellite systems for its global video teleconferencing network. These bypass IP procedures, which check for data integrity packet by packet. That double-checking creates a serious bottleneck in satellite networks that pipe traffic through a 44,000-mile round trip to and from satellites.
Atlanta-based Porsche Cars North America Inc. has already used such spoofing techniques on its satellite data network serving dealers, according to John Jacobs, the company's manager of dealer and field operations.
Instead of checking for receipt packet by packet, which is standard when using Internet protocols, spoofing fools the satellite into believing that all the data in a transaction has been received, and it checks only once at the end of a session for missing packets. Jacobs says spoofing combined with data compression has reduced latency in the Porsche network by two-thirds.
Thin Prices
Though bandwidth requirements will skyrocket during the next several years, network managers say they expect to be paying a relatively steady price for the increased capacity.
GM's Sabharwal says, "In terms of the cost for pure bandwidth, we are doing significantly better than Moore's Law," meaning advances in network performance in terms of constant dollars are outpacing advances in computer chip technologies.
Telecommunications providers say this stems from deployment of advanced optical networking gear that wrings more and more capacity out of fiber-optic strands that had a capacity of roughly 135M bit/sec. 20 years ago.
Ben Vos, director of network planning and design at Sprint Corp., says dramatic advances in fiber-optic network technology will allow the company to increase the capacity of its optical network to 40G bit/sec. by 2002.
If customer demand warrants, Vos says, other multiplexing technology exists or is in the pipeline that could help the company boost the capacity of its network to 3.2TB - without having to lay another piece of fiber. WorldCom Inc. also plans to use multiplexing technologies to increase the backbone of its UUnet Technologies Inc. subsidiary to 40G bit/sec., in a similar time frame.
This jump in the capacity of fiber-optic networks results from use of what is called Dense Wave Division Multiplexing (DWDM) technologies, according to David Willis, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.
DWDM increases the data capacity of a fiber strand by piping streams of data along different wavelengths of light, riding on a pulsating laser.
According to engineers at Lucent Technologies Inc. in Murray Hill, N.J., telecommunications carriers have already deployed DWDM equipment that can accommodate up to 80 wavelengths, some running at 2.5G bit/sec. and others at 10G bit/sec. for a total throughput on an individual fiber of 400G bit/sec. Tests are said to be under way on DWDM equipment that can handle a total of 800G bit/sec. on a single fiber.
Mike Coghill, head network engineer at backbone provider Global Crossing Ltd. in Hamilton, Bermuda, says optical offers the best performance for the money.
"Internet requirements are doubling every six months or so," Coghill says, "and businesses are moving from 1.5M bit/sec. to gigabit access to local exchange. Today in a network, I have to add multiple electrical layers [to direct network traffic], and we can move photons easier than we can move electrons."
To bypass the optical-to-electrical conversion needed to route traffic in service provider networks, Coghill says Global Crossing has deployed two optical switches at major network hubs in Brook Haven, N.Y., and London, and it is testing U.S. terrestrial fiber lines to a cross-Atlantic link between the U.S. and Great Britain.
Tiny mirrors in these switches direct traffic by shining optical wavelengths from fibers on incoming ports to the fibers on outgoing ports.
Bottleneck
The gushers of bandwidth delivered by long-haul optical networks can create a traffic jam when they connect routers serving the borders of corporate networks, warns analyst Ken McGee at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.
It's at this outer edge where data speeding between sites at 2.5G bit/sec. or even 10G bit/sec. can be shunted into a holding pattern, waiting to land in a corporate network that's running at, say, 100K bit/sec.
To solve the latter problem, some companies are using load-balancing switches that route requests based on the application.
Requests for product and price lookups might be flipped to a database server that's available at once and is known to hold just that information, for example. Other types of traffic, such as e-mail or requests for specific Web document pages, could be sent to other servers dedicated to those applications.
This requires users to actively manage network traffic, including prioritizing traffic by type - voice, streaming video or pure data, for example - before it's routed to the core of the enterprise network, McGee says. This is because each has different bandwidth requirements, with video hogging bandwidth and voice requiring only 56K bit/sec., for example.
GM, Delphi and FedEx have all opted for Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) technology to help manage and dynamically allocate bandwidth on their networks by automatically sizing the pipe to accommodate the type of underlying data.
GM has also incorporated frame-relay technology into its networks. Sabharwal says the combination of the two technologies allows the company to more efficiently manage its network demands.
ATM, Sabharwal says, gives GM more flexibility in the network, compared with using separate networks for each service, such as video or data or large image files. This lets it increase the size of a pipe from 6M bit/sec. to 45M bit/sec., depending on the underlying traffic.
Voice Options
While voice over IP has received a lot of buzz over the past year, FedEx currently views it as a niche solution compared with switched voice, according to Burke.
Voice over IP sends phone calls over the Internet as packets, while switched voice transmits the call as an analog signal over a public network run by carriers such as WorldCom or Sprint.
"The technology is not there yet," Burke says, "but you can use it in Europe to save money," over the relatively high costs of still-regulated voice networks operated by carriers on that continent.
In the U.S., where large customers can command rates of a nickel or less per minute for phone service, "voice over IP is just not cost effective," according to Delphi's Robertson.
Corporate network managers view advanced systems as increasingly essential to the management of their entire businesses and supply chains.
Delphi's Robertson says his company uses its network to support "global engineering systems, e-biz initiatives, collaboration with our customers and suppliers through portals, sophisticated supply-chain optimization, scheduling and capacity planning."
Burke says FedEx is willing to explore any network technology that supports two simple but vital goals: quality and customer service.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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