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From ISDN to SDN


I am tired of writing stories about how things in our business haven't changed all that much in the last 25 years, despite mountains of hype and marketing pitches. While the underlying technologies, protocols, and applications have changed, the fundamental processes of how things are managed have not changed very much at all.

As consultants, we are still fighting the same battles we were fighting 25 years ago and beyond.

The most recent example came during a presentation at the SCTC (Society of Communications Technology Consultants) annual conference in Atlanta, which took place earlier this month. During a presentation presented by Masergy, a managed networking and cloud services provider, we walked through the evolution of networking technologies. The stroll down data networking memory lane brought to mind my earliest days of the business in the mid 1990s, when frame relay was coming on strong as a replacement for point-to-point circuits and ISDN was going to be HUGE for consumers.

I thought back to those days and the frustration of long lead times for installs, having to define and pay for port speeds and CIRs, and having to go through a lot of pain anytime we wanted to upgrade speeds.

We are still defining port speeds and committed speeds, the lead times are even longer, and there is still enormous pain when upgrading speeds. You would think that in the fiber/IP world of today, that this wouldn't be the case. After all, how hard should it be to increase speed on a fiber circuit from 20 Mbps to 100 Mbps? Shouldn't that take five minutes and a couple of key strokes? I would argue it should!

Instead, it takes 45 days OR LONGER. And that is if everything goes according to plan, and equipment doesn't get lost, and none of the order processes break down. And in all likelihood, a new circuit will need to be provisioned, requiring a cutover to move the services from the old circuit to the new circuit, which results in downtime.

What a P.I.T.A.! And yet, we put up with it. After all, what other choice do we have, other than to suck it up and take it?

Masergy's message was basically that there is a better way to do this. Leveraging the tools and concepts in software defined networking (SDN), the networking business can be managed the way we all wish it was. They showed a video of a guy on the beach increasing network speeds for a company location with his smartphone. I know this "can do it from the beach" cliché gets over-used, but why shouldn't it be that easy?

The euphoria I experienced dreaming of such a day was replaced with frustration from the realization that even in today's world, with all of the advancements we have seen, my clients are still waiting months for the privilege of overpaying even more so for a small bump in network speeds.

While the big carriers are moving to SDN in the next few years, I wonder how long it will take to get fully implemented? And how much longer will it take for the end user benefits to trickle down to the edge?

And for those considering network upgrades with the major carriers, you should probably buy more bandwidth than you need, either in the form of larger access or overall speed. While the cost is higher, the pain of having to increase the speed in the future may make it worth it. And yes, I know, that approach stinks and rewards bad behavior. But you may need to hold your nose and do it anyways.

And while working on the beach is not really a dream of mine, not having to go through lengthy and unnecessary processes with the carriers is ... which tells me I've been doing this too long, and even my dreams are warped.

Okay, replace the beach with a sailboat, and I am in.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communication technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.