Test Challenges of Modern Day Networks

George Acris
Network challenges
Contemporary society so heavily fixated on the transfer, manipulation and sharing of large quantities of data. As a consequence of this, exacting pressures are starting to be placed upon existing communication infrastructure.

There are 2 questions that now need to be asked. Firstly, can the network resources being made available keep pace with our seemingly unquenchable thirst for more and more bandwidth? Secondly, what are the test implications going to be?

Numerous factors are contributing to the elevated data volumes being witnessed, calling for a ramp up of capacity and increased test activity. Alongside these, a number of industry trends are beginning to appear that will mandate more sophisticated test procedures.

IoT Deployment

It seems certain that the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) will have a major effect on how M2M communication is executed, with a wide range of different sectors benefitting from this technology. Via IoT more effective factory automation, building access, smart metering, surveillance and home appliance systems will be made possible.

 

Exponential Growth in Mobile Data

Though mobile communication was originally voice centric, this can no longer be said to be the case. Projections recently made by ABI Research indicate that mobile data consumption will have reached a staggering 2,289MBytes per month by 2019. The accessing of videos, playing of online games, sharing of photos, use of over-the-top messaging apps, plus the growing popularity of location-based services are all adding to the data load that mobile networks and their supporting backbone networks need to carry.

 

Prevalence Cloud Computing Applications

Continued movement away from localised PC hosted software packages towards the use of cloud based services will enable a broader array of applications to be benefitted from, as well as offering much bigger reserves for data storage purposes. Forecasts from IDC suggest that investment in cloud IT infrastructure during 2015 will reach $33.4 billion (this equates to approximately a third of the overall worldwide IT infrastructure spend). By 2019 this figure will have reached $54.6 billion and represent almost half the total outlay on IT infrastructure.

 

New Networking Hardware

In order to improve efficiency, network operators are progressively making greater use of reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexer (ROADM) devices. As ROADMs dispense with the need for opto-electric conversion, network architectures into which they are incorporated exhibit much higher throughputs.

 

Security Issues

It’s not just the volume of data that needs to be dealt with, in addition there are growing concerns about maintaining security over networks, with cyberattacks and suchlike becoming increasingly commonplace. The frequency with which these take place is only likely to rise, as remote working becomes more popular (with telecommuting already increasing by 80% in the last decade) and cloud services gain further traction. Furthermore, the bring your own device (BYOD) phenomenon has serious repercussions in terms of system security. Infected portable electronics equipment could, via interfacing with a company’s data networks, pass on viruses or malware. The problem is accentuated by companies rarely having a well-formulated BYOD policy or adequate authentication practices.

 

In response to these different dynamics, networks must be continuously scrutinised and upgrades made when appropriate. This is an ongoing process across the entire operating life of the network. To begin with engineers must ensure that the physical installation of a local area network (LAN) complies with pertinent industry standards (such as CAT6 or CAT7). If the fibre optics in a wide area network (WAN) need to be validated then dispersion testing or optical time domain reflectometry will probably be called for. Next, data performance benchmarks must be tested. This may just require a RFC-2544 Ethernet test (which covers fundamental parameters like throughput, latency, etc.), however more advanced Y-1534 test procedures (where quality of service and network performance elements are both dealt with) are now applied with growing regularity.

The roll-out of LTE networks necessitate more effective synchronisation mechanisms to be implemented. In response Synchronous Ethernet (SyncE) and IEEE 1588v2 Precision Time Protocol (PTP) are both being widely adopted. To complement this, more in-depth testing of network stability is being carried out too. There is, as already detailed, increased employment of ROADMs in modern networks. This means that high-end instrumentation, like optical spectrum analysers, is now being required.  The concerns about security violations and exposure to viruses, that were also mentioned previously, dictate thorough testing of firewalls and security software via systems which emulate denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, etc.

There are a multitude of different aspects that need ongoing testing and monitoring as networks continue to be expanded and upgraded. It is critical, therefore, that the operators, contractors and enterprises which find themselves caught up in this maelstrom can source the test tools that will allow them to react to constantly changing demands.

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