Bandwidth is the fuel to drive economic recovery

By Steve Alexander
Steve Alexander, CTO at Ciena discuss the potential bandwidth has to drive economic recovery...

Long before 2020, networks were experiencing transformation—both caused and facilitated by the rise of cloud computing, gaming, the Internet of Things (IoT), streaming media, 5G, and edge compute.

Now, networks are facing massive increases in demand from millions forced to go virtual—for work, school, healthcare, and more. And now, more than ever, the network and its ability to connect people has a tremendous role to play in helping the world navigate and overcome the challenge of this global pandemic. In a world where social distancing is the norm, it is our networks that fuel our daily lives, our work, and our economies, keeping us connected to loved ones, friends, colleagues, and important services. 

COVID-19 and its impact

There are a lot of factors involved in helping our economies to recover quickly from the pandemic, but one is undoubtedly our digital infrastructure and high bandwidth connectivity.

When the coronavirus first took hold and ‘stay at home’ measures were put in place in March, the initial uptick in demand for bandwidth was striking. Internet traffic in the U.S. and Europe jumped more than 30% on fixed networks, with upstream traffic growing over 80%. Gaming app traffic increased on average by 90%, and one popular video conferencing service saw traffic soar in the U.S. by 700%.

It would be fair to say that after weathering the initial storm, most service providers have held up well to the strain of constant peak demand barring one or two minor outages. Instances of networks under pressure have put even greater emphasis on our dependence on connectivity for both work and leisure. We’ve known for a long time that consumers and businesses were willing to pay for the highest performance networks. Now these networks need to be able to handle even more traffic and adapt as connectivity needs span vastly disparate locations, instead of the traditional urban hubs and city center offices. High bandwidth connectivity is no longer just a luxury to facilitate high-quality video streaming or lower-latency gaming. It has become a necessity for businesses to continue to operate and support their distributed work forces.

When it comes to networks, there won’t be a return to ‘normal’—especially when continued unpredictability is the only thing we can accurately predict. The time is now to take steps toward building networks that can adapt to new and greater pressures, because outdated legacy systems only make it harder for service providers and enterprises to keep up. 

Adapting to the new normal

Networks need open solutions to real business challenges. What will be critical in the coming months is flexibility. As the situation varies between countries, and sometimes even cities, all networks need to be able to adapt. 

At the heart of an adaptive network are three core pillars: First comes a programmable infrastructure, which includes the network’s physical and virtual elements. This pillar needs to be constructed with control points built with well documented Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and monitor and telemetry points that are key sources of performance data. 

Next up is the pillar of analytics and intelligence. As the programmable infrastructure produces significant amounts of performance data, some of that will indicate long-term trends that the network learns from and adjusts for over time. There are also things that are happening at a fairly rapid pace. It could be a disturbance on a single connection or a request from a customer that needs to be responded to in real-time. 

Our final pillar is software control and automation. Effective automation of network tasks can eliminate human errors and keep the network running at peak performance. The ability for automation to work across multiple vendors is critical. Some technologies are good at working with one set of devices from a single vendor, but few networks are built on a single vendor’s gear. Network equipment from a variety of sources have to interoperate to function efficiently and move data efficiently and swiftly from point to point and this requires a higher level of intelligence and automation.

The deployment of adaptive networks will be an important evolution to support all aspects of modern life and our new normal dependency on connectivity. Deploying a software-centric adaptive network means service providers are able to maintain a high quality of experience for end-users, both humans and machines, regardless of the number of concurrent users on the network.

Bandwidth will be as crucial to fueling our recovery and future economic prosperity as oil was to our industrial past. The goal has to be for our enterprises, our organizations, and devices to be able to leverage technology to enable a future of seamless, ubiquitous connectivity, and that means investing in adaptive networking solutions.

For more information on business topics in the United States and Canada, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief North America.

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