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Service providers simplify optical networking

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Service providers simplify optical networking

Contracting your voice and data services from an optical provider can multiply your bandwidth as much as 70 times, but there are risks and costs to consider.

By Johanna Ambrosio, contributor

The idea of optical networking can be intimidating to even the most seasoned IT professional. But you can easily harness the power and capacity of optical technology by adopting one or more of the various offerings from optical service providers. Doing so provides your company with the benefits of the technology without having to bear the costs and complexity of the infrastructure itself.

"The optical world is just a big pipe," says Rick Mallone, a principal at Vertical Systems Group in Dedham, Mass. "All the services that exist in the current world still exist in the optical world."

A good starting point is to look at optical technology as a way of providing more bandwidth for the voice and data services you already use. So instead of having your existing T1 line (1.5M bit/sec.) or even a T3 that runs at 45M bit/sec., you could opt for an Ethernet-based optical service that runs at 10M bit/sec. or 100M bit/sec. Telecom providers are gearing up to provide 1G bit/sec. speeds as well, although that's not yet as commonly offered.

By doing so, you'll be able to get 50, 60 or even 70 times your current bandwidth, says Rand Hally, an analyst at the Strategis Group in Washington, D.C. Even better for the corporate customer, he says, "there's going to be strong price competition for these kinds of services."

You could, for instance, sign up for Asynchronous Transfer Mode or Internet Protocol (IP) or a virtual private network that's delivered via optical pipe instead of copper or Sonet. It would be similar to the services you already have, but it would be faster and, most likely, less expensive in the long run.

That said, there are some costs involved. Upgrading your PBX, local area network, or routers to be able to connect to the optical backbone and use those high-speed services will not be insignificant. Specific costs will depend on what you're connecting, how much of it you're connecting, and to what. Also consider the costs of retraining your networking staff to be able to manage the new devices. Then there is the matter of deciding on and implementing new backup procedures and operations around the optical networks -- that's time and money, too.

One potential risk, however: by consolidating lower-bandwidth pipes or services into one huge one, you're "putting all your apples into one barrel," Malone says, and therefore are at greater risk for network outages.

Another iffy area is putting your existing voice services over an optical IP service. Although the quality of voice over IP is generally much higher than it was even a few years ago, most analysts agree, it's still not perfect. The flip side of the quality issue is the savings you could accrue by doing this.

For those who are going into a new building, "you'd have to be simply nuts not to put in fiber" from the get-go, says Lawrence Gasman, president of Communications Industry Researchers Inc. in Charlottesville, Va.

Whatever optical services you choose, there are many providers to consider. In addition to the well-known telephone companies, there are several optical service providers cropping up. Telseon (www.telseon.com) in Englewood, Colo.; Cogent Communications Inc. (www.cogentco.com) in Washington, D.C.; and Yipes Communications, Inc. (www.yipes.com) in San Francisco are among the new kids on the block providing optical services.

If you do decide to make the move to optical networking, these are the major factors to consider:

  • Get a handle on your existing traffic flows. Determine what's coming into the building, what's leaving, and how it's being routed.
  • Assess your existing telecom infrastructure. How many PBXes, routers, frame-relay interfaces do you have, anyway? You'll need to understand this mix to decide how to hook up each relevant piece to the optical backbone and what your options are for each.
  • Project what your bandwidth needs will be in a couple of years from when you?re planning on making the switch, and plan for that -- not for today's needs.

Johanna Ambrosio is a freelance writer in Marlborough, Mass. Reach her at jambrosio@mediaone.net.

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