Cleaning 03 large

22. Plan ahead

Know what's coming – and plan accordingly

What will your network look like in ten years' time? 100 Gig to the desktop, with a 10 Terabyte backbone? Hi-def video apps for every user?

If that sounds like a pipe dream, it's worth noting that right now the clever money says that over the next few years, 90% – yes, ninety percent – of Internet traffic will be accounted for by video. That's a huge figure and can only mean one thing: a huge upsurge in overall traffic volumes.

Hi-def the way forward

I'm a big movie and sports fan, and I already frequently check out the TV guide to see if the big game or blockbuster is being shown in HD. I take the view that good movies and great games are to be savoured, and the only way to watch them is in HD. I'll even avoid watching a classic in standard definition – I'd rather wait until it's broadcast in HD, so I can enjoy it to the full. That probably gives you some idea of how I view HD. I think it's brilliant and I'm convinced it's the only way to watch. I'm absolutely certain it's where all broadcasting and video, online and offline, is headed.

I'm far from the only one who takes that view. There's a growing army of people who love HD, and those people will drive explosive growth in Internet and LAN traffic. It's not a question of if, but of when.

Exciting times ahead

Clearly, traffic growth of this magnitude must be planned for: failure to plan here will very much be a matter of planning to fail. The traffic will be there. The question is whether your network infrastructure will be up the task of handling it. I can't see anything else, with the possible exception of cloud-enabled technologies, coming close to HD in terms of its impact on network traffic.

SD video has of course already had an impact on traffic. A colleague working in the IP carrier sector told me that September 2008 saw an exponential growth in Internet traffic – growth that he put down to explosive growth in the use of video sites. Requiring around ten times the connection speed that most home users currently enjoy, HD's effect on network traffic will make the impact of SD video seem like a minor blip. It's going to mean major re-engineering of Internet and LAN infrastructures across the globe. Exciting times are ahead for anyone working in the networking field.

Protect your core network

How should all this crystal ball gazing affect network managers right now, though? Firstly, it's important to be clear, especially in the current highly cost-conscious environment, where cost cutting should and should not take place. For almost all businesses, network infrastructure is an absolute essential and should as far as possible be considered sacrosanct. A robust and highly-performing network infrastructure is vital today, and with the increasing adoption of technologies such as HD video, will become all the more so in the future. Your baseline position should therefore be always to protect your core network.

Modern businesses are so reliant on their IT networks that it's probably fair to say that many, maybe even most of those businesses who fail to invest sufficiently and appropriately in their network infrastructure will fall by the wayside as HD video makes its presence felt. It will be companies who have cutting-edge communications technologies like HD video in mind right now, and who plan effectively for their take-up in the immediate future, which will prosper and succeed.

Keep the future in view

You may not be able to afford to upgrade your network to support HD today, or next year or even the year after that, but you do need to recognise that over the next five to ten years you will need to do so. You need to be looking not just a year or two ahead, but a generation ahead: any decisions you make today could have significant implications for your network and finances in the coming years. Whatever you specify for your network, you should have in mind not only its immediate use but also the ways in which it could be redeployed in the future.

In line with my earlier tip on the general reuse of network equipment, the approach to take is to start moving towards a video-friendly infrastructure now, so that when the heavy HD traffic starts to hit in a few years' time, you'll be able to migrate the devices you specify today out to the periphery of your network, replacing them with current products in the core and giving you a bang up-to-date HD-capable network.

It may not be state-of-the-art in the sense that cash-rich corporate giants' networks are state-of-the-art, but it won't be far behind, and you will have achieved it at far lower cost. It will put you in a great position to take advantage of all the benefits that HD video will offer, giving you competitive advantage in the market, and, ultimately, boosting your business' bottom line.

All because you planned ahead.