The topics covered at the SCTENetwork Management Symposium in San Francisco earlier this month began with here-and-now tactics and closed with what’s-coming strategic speculation. The respective focal points of the first two panels, for instance, were network status and workforce management, topics that lend themselves neither to elegant architectures or sophisticated models. Reality has a way of imposing itself at this tactical level. "Every now and then, we have to recognize that we have an ugly baby," said Charlotte Field, SVP Systems Engineering at Comcast, who moderated the first session on managing network status. That’s not to rule out improvement. One option: "Cosmetic surgery," quipped Fields. When asked about her preference for network data formulas, Field again stuck to the basics: "Tell me the numerator and the denominator, and what you’ve included and excluded." In the session on workforce management, Charter VP Engineering Tom Gorman struck another practical note by sharing the perspective of supervisors in the field. His points included some of the prerequisites to automation that he discussed in the March issue of Communications Technology For more on these two sessions, see the March 14 and March 21 issues of CT’s Pipeline. Bandwidth management In the afternoon, the discussion turned more toward advanced engineering; specifically, toward the challenges and uncertainty surrounding bandwidth management and provisioning and cross-service integration. Moderating the bandwidth management panel, Cox Communications VP Video Technology Engineering John Hildebrand neatly pointed to two approaches to the looming bandwidth battles: sharing QAM modulators and multi-tiering DOCSIS traffic. The panelists more or less divided into these two (non-mutually exclusive) camps. Mark Davis, VP network solutions at BigBand Networks, said cable operators need to "stop spraying and praying this video out and hoping that someone will watch (it)." Known for its pioneering work in switched broadcast, BigBand is now trialing switched unicast, an extension of edge-QAM modulator sharing that promises further efficiency gains. On the data network side, Micromuse MSO Solutions Marketing Director Mike Combs and C-Cor VP Assurance Solutions Dan Rice hit several exploratory notes. Combs pointed to the potential of multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) to segment traffic by QoS, enable peering between MSOs and provision commercial services "MPLS may eventually reach the edge," he said. Rice said that the need for metrics on the data network extended beyond received power or packets lost. Even mean time between failure (MTBF) begs the question of what precisely a failure is. He recommended an alternative to the PSTN-based Erlang metric, one that would account for the probabilities of best-effort traffic impacting QoS-enabled VoIP. In terms of network management, Brian Shorey, Broadband Access Center/Cisco Network Registrar (BAC/CNR) Engineering director, said the Cisco Systems approach was not to "build front ends" but rather "to create building blocks." He made a similar comment deferential to MSOs regarding policy-based resource management: "We don’t know what these policies are, but we want to be able to enable them." Cross service integration Casting their eyes toward the integration of multiple services, the symposium’s final panelists took note of the fast pace of change in both networks and consumer electronics and the difficulty of keeping up. "(The change) hasn’t stopped since I came on board," said Robert Grann, systems engineer manager at BrightHouse Networks, Tampa. It’s a pace weighted more toward deployment than operations. "Management and support tools always seem to come out last," he said. Having worked through high-speed data, VOD, telephony and other launches, Grann ventured this guess on what’s next: "It’s only a matter of time before you start having … unified messaging." Will MSOs or telcos be better equipped to manage such advanced services? There are tradeoffs, said Simon Cao, VP, IP and Network for Comcast in Michigan. Telcos tend toward time-consuming over-engineering, whereas cable may cook up quicker, less uniform approaches, such as the next generation on demand (NGOD) model of Comcast and the interactive services architecture (ISA) of Time Warner Cable. As for architectures, BigBand VP Strategic Marketing and Corporate Development Seth Kenvin pointed instead to the "widely divergent approaches" of Verizon and AT&T, emphasizing all along the "wide device variety in the home" with which service providers of all stripes will need to interact. There will be "smart client/dumb network" SIP-based devices as well as those that presume something more in network intelligence, such as an IMS architecture. Not that it should matter, one way or another. "Cable can enable it all," Kenvin said. On cable’s smart client side, Cao expressed satisfaction with the kind of downloadable conditional access (DCAS) demonstrated at CES in January. "Download, encrypt it, we’re happy," he said. Speaking to the variety of devices, Cao expects more evolution in a traditional spot: "The set-top box may not become a box but a module." – Jonathan Tombes

The Daily


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