Superfast broadband is about more than just fibre - Brocade

The debate around the future of superfast broadband in the UK is focused too much on fibre optic networks, and not enough on the data centre infrastructure supporting those networks, according to networking company Brocade.

Responding to Chancellor George Osborne's budget announcements last week, former BT CTO Peter Cochrane told the House of Lords that the UK would be “frozen out of the next industrial revolution” due to slow broadband speeds to the premises. He said that an investment of between £10 billion and £15 billion needs to be made in order to get fibre to every home in the UK.

However, Brocade’s UK and Ireland country manager, Marcus Jewell warns against creating demand before appropriate infrastructure is in place to cope with it.

“It’s worrying that government and consumers seem to believe that broadband speeds are entirely reliant on the wire that delivers the service to the premises,” said Jewell. “The current debate is about fibre-to-the-cabinet or fibre-to-the-home. Unfortunately, this ignores what is happening in the data centre itself, which is integral to the success of any broadband strategy.

“It's like making all of the trunk roads onto the M25 really good, and leaving the M25 as it is,” he added.

Jewell said that the increasing use of virtualisation technologies in the data centre means that storage environments have become much more complicated, and that ensuring high speed, availability and bandwidth in these complicated data centre networks is arguably more important than providing fibre-to-the-home.

“In data centres you have a lot of hierarchical networks that exist, which don't really support virtualisation,” Jewell told Techworld. “Virtualisation generates a lot of traffic within the data centre itself, whereas historically it would all be going from data centre out to a client.”

Meanwhile, as new entrants to the market increasingly demand unlimited storage access and network speeds, storage will come to exist predominantly in the cloud, said Jewell. The cloud itself is a complete mesh network, so there is a lot of inter-cloud traffic, and Brocade estimates that every doubling of access speed requires a four- to six-fold increase in storage and core speeds.

The move towards consumerisation and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) is also putting increasing strain on mobile networks, which are ultimately reliant on the fixed network infrastructure behind them. With 4G technologies due to burst onto the scene later this year, the UK needs to start thinking seriously about investment in the data centre.

“If the government is to rise to these new challenges and meet them successfully – as the economy demands – we need a shift in focus from fibre, to the data centre, now,” Jewell concluded.

Earlier this year, Brocade warned that the arrival of 4G in the UK will bring a mobile revolution to rival the introduction of the first smartphones, but the benefits will not be fully realised unless legacy Internet Protocol (IP) networks were prepared for the forthcoming deluge of data.

“What many people fail to realise is that the colossal volumes of data that will result from 4G will cause serious problems for unprepared IP networks,” said Jewell at the time. “Without action to future-proof the underlying IT infrastructure the limitations of 3G, such as lack of bandwidth, will merely be shifted from the airwaves into the data centre.”

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