19th May 2017

It's just like watching Star Wars on Blu-Ray

A blog written by James Hickman, CTO at Virtual1

I have lived through the transition from VHS tape to DVD, Blu-ray, and now we are in the era of 4K, Netflix and whatever else is on the horizon. Other than making me feel old, I do wonder about how quickly the technology becomes obsolete for what is essentially just watching a movie.

The reason I bring this up is because we at Virtual1 are building out our expanded network and there is quite a lot of planning that goes into delivering a sustainable infrastructure that can cope whatever we predict customers will want. Guesswork can lead to a lucky break or accelerate the march towards obsolescence. So how do we do it right?

When building out any new network infrastructure, you have to start with a pen and something to scribble on. Some lines and circles soon evolve into an understandable model of what needs to be achieved. An ideal network has more than one way to get anywhere but without lots of unnecessary cost. A subtle balancing of engineering perfection versus real-world economics.

Building big now is attractive as it allows for lots of growth, but this has three drawbacks; up-front cost is too high, the economics of the telecoms equipment market means that buying later will probably mean buying cheaper but most of all the rate of technology change means that what you buy today may be superseded tomorrow. So that’s a worry.

To combat this needs years of experience and some good vendor support. For a start you want to build more capacity than you need right now, how much more ultimately depends on how good your sales team are. The stuff you do buy needs to be keenly negotiated both for the first build and expected later expansion. It makes no sense to get resentfully locked-in to a vendor by sleepwalking through a sweetheart deal at the beginning. Don’t get over excited by the feature list on their latest bleeding edge kit – they have no crystal ball seeing into the future any more than you do.

Right now of course, network vendors are looking to Software-Defined this and Virtualised that. The aim is to reduce the perceived complexity from the customer perspective whilst simultaneously delivering operational flexibility at reduced costs. The dream is still just that for a lot of providers. Even our SDN deployment has a long way to go before it fulfils everything that some industry visionaries would say is possible. And that comes down to a lack of readiness from some suppliers, no credible standardisation amongst vendors and of course cost. It feels like we are getting it right though.

Our network has a lot of flexibility and we will expose this through portals and APIs over the coming months. A lot of it we already use internally to reduce lead-times and errors.

It is a bit like getting the latest Star Wars on Blu-Ray after only ever watching it on VHS. You know the story but the experience is so very much better.