Reader Forum: Intelligent packet acquisition at the edge — The key to gaining network visibility


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Businesses, governments and consumers won’t tolerate even the slightest break in service in this age of cloud computing and mobile access to the Internet. At the same time, network operators are under constant pressure to reduce costs, maximize profits, guarantee quality of service, increase customer satisfaction and support new and real-time applications – all while balancing ever-increasing bandwidth demands.

Enhanced network visibility lets operators deal with these pressures and minimize service issues affecting the end user. However, gaining access to data at the edge of the network, where the majority of customer issues occur, is a significant challenge that isn’t being met with current solutions network service providers have available to them for packet acquisition. What’s needed is a new paradigm redefining customer, content and network intelligence. This redefinition will require a new method for gathering raw packet data from a distributed Ethernet network.

New paradigm? Redefinition? Expensive and difficult? No, just the opposite. Intelligent packet acquisition promises to change the game by providing dramatically improved visibility while minimizing the cost of access.

Current packet acquisition limitations

The methods and procedures used to access packets in an IP network have evolved over time, but the basic premise of deploying appliances at points of interest has remained the same. However, today’s networks are far more complex with challenges such as dynamically rerouted traffic, priority queues and class of services that change from device to device and link to link. These challenges exponentially increase with end-user bandwidth demands and real-time applications and services that are very sensitive to jitter and loss. Network intelligence and quality-determining decisions need to be made with data from the edge of the network close to the real customer experience.

Traditional packet-acquisition approaches have relied on instrumenting a network with switch port analyzer/mirror ports, taps and in-line network appliances to feed data collocated to an analysis application or tool. However, these approaches continue to have significant drawbacks.

The high cost of accessing data: Proactively installing purpose-built or dedicated probes and analysis applications everywhere visibility is desired may be practical in the core of the network, where there are reasonable numbers of high-speed links. However, deployments near the edge quickly become prohibitively expensive because of the number of access points rises exponentially.

High mean-time-to-data: Due to the high cost of dedicated taps and appliances, many critical network elements are simply not instrumented. This means when a service affecting issue occurs a truck roll is required to gather data from a remote site and this means knowing where to gather the data in advance and it often means gathering data after the event.

Lack of uniform and pervasive access throughout the network: Modern day networks use different elements from different network equipment manufacturers, all with differing capabilities and features. This means operational inefficiencies and data inconsistencies. Providing consistent, uniform and pervasive access to solve complex problems in a multi-vendor, multi-element network poses a significant challenge.

What does a viable solution look like?

If you can decouple the data collection and filtering from the management, aggregation and analysis and then distribute throughout a cloud-based network you can dramatically reduce the cost, footprint and complexity of capturing rich intelligence about the network, the content and your customers’ experience. This provides unprecedented access to intelligence across the network and the following benefits:

Affordable access to packets: Acquisition must be part of a standard network component widely distributed at the network edge. Embedding intelligent packet acquisition using an integrated circuit in an optical transceiver quickly extends the data reach to virtually any optical link anywhere within a network.

Dramatically lower operational expenses: With an intelligent transceiver replacing a standard transceiver, no additional rack space or external power is required. It doesn’t need an internal operating system or external configuration and maintenance. Using the host network for communications, no management or overlay networks are needed.

On-demand access: Combining this type of packet access with a multiuser, multi-probe access platform means technicians do not need direct access to network elements to quickly and easily access the targeted data they need. Users will view any subscriber, service, or quality of experience on demand, leading to quick diagnoses and faster problem solving.
Ubiquitous visibility everywhere in the network: Again, this approach can be deployed into any pluggable transceiver port throughout a network. This increased visibility to problems results in reduced mean time to fix problems, which in turn leads to increased customer satisfaction.

Customer Intelligence: The data captured for network monitoring can be extended to many different applications providing analytics and intelligence on customer usage and behavior.

In conclusion, packet-acquisition solutions will dramatically improve network performance on virtually all levels. It will also deliver savings in capital and operating expenditures through open architecture, modular design and time-synchronized captures. Operators will centrally locate analysis tools and expert personnel, making them more efficient and cost effective. The solution will work with varied analytic tools, appliances and applications. Importantly, it will preserve the value of existing infrastructure and personnel while simultaneously enabling these resources to perform better and more efficiently.

About Author

Dan Meyer

Editor-in-Chief, Telecom Software, Policy, Wireless Carriers
Dan Meyer started at RCR Wireless News in 1999 covering wireless carriers and wireless technologies. As editor-in-chief, Dan oversees editorial direction, reports on news from the wireless industry, including telecom software, policy and wireless carriers, and provides opinion stories on topics of concern to the market such as his popular Friday column “Worst of the Week.”