Broadband timebomb ticks for enterprise networks

A network capacity timebomb with the potential to cripple businesses if left unchecked awaits Australian enterprises, leading industry figures warned last week. It is an impending crisis similar to Telstra Corp. Ltd.’s infamous BigPond e-mail fiasco, they said.

According to Foundry Networks Inc.’s South Asia Pacific regional director Gordon Vick, a wholesale meltdown is likely within the nation’s core data networks, as carriers accrue thousands of new broadband subscribers whilst neglecting the need to provide a scalable infrastructure. Vick alleged that both enterprises and consumers were at the mercy of incumbent, “unscalable” Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) core networks, with little thought for future consequences.

“The biggest problem for carriers will be their core networks that are predominantly ATM-based which is not a good tech to go forward, primarily because it doesn’t scale very well and it’s horrendously expensive by comparison to Ethernet,” Vick said. “Ethernet has won out in the enterprise and will win in the carrier space as well.”

When asked what the levels of interest carriers have in 10Gbps core networking equipment, Vick said: “No one’s bashing our door down.”

“The question carriers have to ask themselves is, if they are selling squillions of DSL connections how are they going to provision that? You’d hope they can provide the capacity,” he said. “Are they going to massively overload their networks and are they going to be tremendously oversubscribed?”

Vick said when networks become oversubscribed “it all slows down.”

“The BigPond e-mail problems were all about not providing enough capacity, so it will depend on what carriers have in their core networks and whether it can be upgraded to 10Gbps,” he said. “If you look at all the big Internet exchanges in Europe they’re all 10Gbps-based.”

The complexity of the problem, however, is not limited to any particular part of carrier networks, be it core, edge, or last-mile.

Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde said there are “huge” problems with the present state of last-mile networks.

“Back in 1986 Telstra’s last-mile networks were 35 per cent under international benchmarks (for capacity) and if anything it has worsened since,” Budde said. “Telstra was never forced to upgrade, creating a great unpreparedness to provide access.”

Although Budde said it’s “hard to say” how many Australians are switching to broadband as a result of this year’s “price wars”, the number of subscribers could easily reach a million by the end of the year — nearly doubling capacity requirements.

“If an additional 400,000 customers get broadband this year people will begin to use pictures and video clips and the networks will start struggling as DSL is not capable of handling this (capacity) any more,” Budde told Computerworld.

“The problems will be like the BigPond meltdown. It may take two to three years to reach that stage and if they want to prevent it they have to start working on it now.”

According to Pacific Internet’s latest broadband survey for December 2003 and January 2004, of all small businesses that have broadband, 78 per cent download more than 50MB of data per month compared with 38 per cent of those with narrowband.

Budde said when broadband speeds of 10Mbps are being demanded, even the best networks will become overloaded. “Then fibre to the home (is needed),” he said. “Carriers have to start planning it now as a network upgrade.”

Brendan Park, marketing director for greenfield fibre carrier Uecomm, said Telstra does have some bottleneck issues which are mostly likely in the last-mile part of the network.

“It’s a wait-and-see game,” Park said. “Telstra doesn’t know where the bottlenecks are until (something) breaks.”

Park said unlike last-mile Ethernet or fibre, Telstra’s broadband is not as scalable because “you buy a telephone line with DSL retrofitted.”

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