Both offer big benefits for modern enterprise
Much has been written about trends towards use of connected technology in modern industry. The fourth industrial revolution, Smart cities, IoT, and Industry 4.0 are all monikers for use of connected technologies to monitor and control processes, commerce and daily life. These things offer great promise for industry and government to deliver better service, operate at lower cost and just plain work better. Of course, visionary technology always hides difficulty in the details. Statista estimated that by 2023, there will be over 50 billion devices installed globally. For Industry 4.0, one major challenge is providing actual connection to these billions of devices.
There is no single solution for making connection to all these devices. Since the applications touch every imaginable environment and function, the network connecting the global IoT must include a combination of wireless, copper and optical fiber technologies. An obvious choice for final connection to many isolated devices is the cellular radio network.
Fourth generation Long Term Evolution (4G LTE) cellular opened the door to delivering consumer high capacity service through smart phone devices. Initially this was simply internet access but quickly blossomed to all manner of applications and later to non-consumer monitoring and control of multitudes of devices, what we now call the Internet of Things (IoT). Wireless service providers upgraded their networks to support consumer demand for 4G LTE service while commercial and industrial users found use for the technology, with some limitations.
Private LTE (or pLTE) is simply the use of wireless networking for purposes other than delivering communications services to multiple retail consumers for a fee. Individual enterprises discovered that wireless connectivity was often needed in places where commercial service didn’t work and required the increased reliability, control, predictable performance and security of a dedicated private LTE network. These enterprises need connectivity for things like mining operations, power grid control, container ports, and factories. By purchasing LTE networks and attaining the needed frequency spectrum, an enterprise could deploy its own cellular network – dedicated to serve its operational application needs.
Private optical networks present an interesting analog to private wireless networks. In the industry 4.0 world, enterprises generate huge volumes of data in their daily operations. Where the private wireless network connects the multitude of devices generating or operating on data, data centers need to collect and store this data for computational and storage purposes. As the aggregate volume of data increased in recent years, the enterprise data center evolved from centralized, corporate owned facilities to a hybrid of enterprise-owned and operated facilities complemented by virtualized data centers located remotely and connected through cloud networks. Often called Data Center Interconnect (DCI), these networks now require large capacity, low latency, very high reliability optical connectivity. As these requirements became more stringent, traditional service provider services became either too expensive or plainly unusable.
Many enterprises have found that an attractive solution is to build and operate simple DCI networks utilizing leased dark fiber and dedicated optical transport systems. Much like a private wireless network, this forms a private optical network taking advantage of commercial optical transport equipment and existing transmission media- fiber instead of radio spectrum- to provide needed connectivity.
In building an enterprise private optical network, the enterprise takes control of their DCI solution, in full alignment with the unique needs of their business. The enterprise can decide where and with what capacity connectivity is made among data centers and corporate operations. They can ensure their traffic is efficiently transported and protected against outages to the appropriate level. The enterprise can take control of data security and protect against data theft and intrusion.
This need not be a complex project. Based on enterprise needs, the private optical network can be as simple as point to point optical connectivity between primary and a back-up data center. Or it can be complex, involving multiple corporate and co-location data centers. With a private optical network, the design and implementation is determined by the enterprise, not by a service provider looking to share network resources with other customers.
Much the way a pLTE solution requires radio spectrum, a private optical network requires the enterprise to find optical fiber resources, most often through leased dark fiber. As fiber networks continue to be built out in support of many applications including retail wireless, broadband and enterprise services, there has also been an increasing availability of dark fiber. In fact, Vertical Systems group has reported fiber availability rates reaching 60% in larger US facilities. This trend is expected to continue as those building fiber networks realize the opportunity presented by offering leased dark fiber. For the enterprise, this trend means that private optical networks present an opportunity to take control of corporate data center and operational connectivity.
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