According to a wide-ranging spate of predictions for the coming year from IP test solutions provider Ixia, network operators will need to compete and live up to their reliability commitments, maintaining customers by helping to ensure all types of customer service levels meet expectations and contractual requirements.

Pre-testing network upgrades and advances prior to initial deployment is crucial, involving real-world subscriber modeling that simulates a large quantity of mobile, home and enterprise application usage – including Web, email, streaming video, VoIP – in typical and unusual scenarios.?

“The competitive pressure placed on network equipment manufacturers (NEMs), service providers and enterprises to satisfy the ever-changing, ever-increasing requirements of en users drives new network technologies and deployments,” says Atul Bhatnagar, president and CEO at Ixia. As such, he offers his company’s thoughts for 2012: ?

?40- and 100-Gigabit Ethernet (GE): Virtualized servers will generate more traffic than 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) connections can handle. Currently, only a few data center switch vendors support 40 Gbps ports. This year, most major NEMs will offer higher speeds in their top-of-rack and end-of-row switches, and major server manufacturers will offer 40 GE interfaces in their high-performance servers. Development will be fueled largely by low-cost QSFP+ interfaces. Look for 100 Gbps ports on new offerings for links between core switches. Testing traffic and application delivery at 40 Gbps/100 Gbps speeds (over various distances) will be required to help ensure new hardware implementations can meet scalability and quality of service (QoS) requirements.?

Converged Fibre Channel and Ethernet Networks: The widespread use of low-cost 10 Gbps Ethernet networking, coupled with new data center bridging (DCB) and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) technologies, finally is making LAN/SAN convergence and its economic benefits a reality. Thus far, only Brocade, Cisco, HP, and Mellanox have announced FCoE support on their data center switches. In 2012, we expect to see many additional switch vendors jumping on this trend with FCoE offerings of their own. Conformance and performance benchmark testing will play a significant role in differentiating switch equipment based on overall scalability, traffic prioritization, low latency and storage I/O performance.?

Defending the Network: Zombies – compromised computers ready to act as robot attack systems – are ticking time bombs throughout the Internet. The latest unified threat management (UTM) devices include multiple security mechanisms: firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS), anti-virus software, anti-spam and URL filters, and VPN gateways.  Expanding distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks will cause NEMs, service providers and enterprises to validate that their network security is airtight, up to date and doesn’t impact network performance.?

Cloud Computing: Cloud providers will start to compete on more than price, highlighting reliability, security and responsiveness. To do this, they will need to test their overall compute, storage, and network scalability. Cloud providers need to help ensure their infrastructure is ready to offer high availability for all customers with different QoS levels for different tiers of service. Enterprise customers also are looking for ways to validate that their cloud providers are meeting service level agreements (SLAs) and shortening schedules to deploy applications in the cloud. Only by testing all aspects of cloud data-centers can one expose bottlenecks and optimize cloud infrastructures. ?

IPv4/IPv6 Co-Existence: Service providers and enterprise are under the gun to prepare their networks for the influx of IPv6 traffic. Service-provider investment in upgrading access networks to support both IPv4 and IPv6 will continue through 2012. In the latter half of the year, expect to see many large enterprises rolling out IPv6 on corporate networks. To ensure this evolution is transparent to networks users, NEMs, service providers and enterprise IT will engage in both public and private tests that demonstrate equipment readiness (click here for more information).

Long Term Evolution (LTE): 2012 will see a doubling of the current 30 commercial LTE networks, with North America and Asia leading the way in early deployments. As smartphone adoption rates increase and the use of media-rich applications expands, mobile operators will see continued capacity challenges. 2012 will see operators use multi-pronged approaches to solving capacity issues including: 1) deployment of more spectrum-efficient technology, 2) increased data offload using Wi-Fi and small cells, 3) improved network traffic management, and 4) new business models and charging plans. The first implementations of voice over LTE (VoLTE) will start soon, but don’t expect wide deployment until 2013 or beyond.  ?

Evolved Packet Core (EPC): The EPC is the aggregation point for all traffic originating from multiple wireless access types, including LTE and different variants of 3G technology. “Scalability” will be the mantra for new EPCs because these core networks must handle massive amounts of converged voice, video and data traffic on a single IP-based network. In particular, control plane scalability will be a major concern for NEMs and operators in 2012. Poor performance and faulty deployment plans can have severe consequences. In addition, NEMs and operators must give due diligence to these critical issues and seek validation from test companies that are experts in this space.?

Mobile Backhaul: Driven by bandwidth-hogging multimedia and mobile data, mobile operators are transforming their legacy TDM backhaul networks to a cost-effective IP-over-Ethernet paradigm. The last hurdle is benchmarking the performance of boundary and transparent clock implementations, at scale, in the context of real-world traffic delivery. The onus will be on NEMs to prove the performance of their backhaul switches with tangible, repeatable test results. Service providers also must perform pre-deployment testing to determine how to optimize network configurations to accommodate network growth and SLAs.?

MPLS-TP: The industry will turn to MPLS-TP performance testing to validate such critical measurements as scalability and automatic protection switchover. Industry tests will focus on MPLS-TP features that equip service providers with more advanced network management. Very few service providers will deploy MPLS-TP on their networks this year; widespread deployment still is at least 18 months away because only a handful of vendors have participated in public interoperability events – indicating an immaturity of many vendor implementations that need to be scaled and “five nines” tested.

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