This article originally appeared in the Dec. 2012 issue of Next Gen Mobility Magazine.
The introduction of the iPhone set off the mobile data boom. Five years later, mobile data is no less explosive. In fact, it continues to gain power and speed.
Data traffic over cellular networks increased 104 percent in the past year, according to CTIA (News - Alert). The wireless industry association reports that mobile networks handled a whopping 1.16 trillion megabytes (.116 exabytes) of data between July 2011 and June 2012.
Expansion of tablets, smartphones and connected devices will drive mobile data demand to more than 10.8 exabytes per month by 2016, according to Cisco. The company says that’s an 18-fold increase over 2011 and a compound annual growth rate of 78 percent from 2011 to 2016.
So, clearly keeping pace with customers’ ever-growing bandwidth needs and specific application requirements will be an ongoing battle, and one that requires the right artillery to get the job done. As a result, wireless service providers continue to invest in their networks on a number of fronts.
The list of service providers deploying LTE (News - Alert) networks across the globe continues to expand. And wireless operators are expected to spend $5 billion on analyzers and service assurance probes in next two years to help manage the load.
VSS Monitoring, which in June became part of the communications group at $18-billion company Danaher (News - Alert) Corp., is among the companies working to help wireless network operators address their service assurance challenges as they move to LTE.
To date, 57 true 4G LTE networks have launched in 32 countries. In the U.S., Verizon is leading the LTE pack, with coverage in 370 markets. AT&T (News - Alert) as of early November was providing LTE-based services in 53 U.S. markets. Sprint was in the 23-32 market range. T-Mobile was just starting to move forward with its LTE strategy.
And another 75 operators are expected to deploy LTE networks commercially across the globe in the coming year.
To get the most out of these LTE investments, wireless carriers are employing service assurance tools so they can make sure the IP voice and other applications running over their networks are given the reliability they require, and that customers get the experiences they expect.
However, today’s service assurance probes tend to be expensive, job-specific and completely unprepared to handle the amount of traffic coming at them, according to Gordon Beith, chief architect, and Feng Meng, technology evangelist, at VSS Monitoring.
Not only do these devices need to capture mass quantities of data at line rate, once that data has arrived, they must inspect data at up to Layer 7. They also have to archive that data for later review. And all of that requires some very intensive processing, explain Beith and Meng.
As a result, they say, these analytics tools are getting overloaded. That means they can cover only a very small segment of the network, and they can’t keep up with the 40-gigabit future, says Meng, who added, “video traffic really exacerbates the problem.”
Network packet broker (NPB) company VSS Monitoring, whose solutions are used by three of the four largest U.S. service providers, has responded to the challenge of service assurance device overload by decoupling such tools from the underlying network infrastructure. The company’s distributed vMesh architecture introduces a new middle layer between the tools and the network that can aggregate and correlate data, remove data not needed by select tools, and do load balancing among probes so wireless operators can continue to leverage their investments in existing (and rather expensive) 1-gigabit service assurance tools – devices service providers have only recently purchased.
“We can help spread the load of the traffic again,” said Beith.
VSS Monitoring says its solutions are unique by virtue of the load balancing, fault tolerance, scale, and visibility they provide wireless service providers. The company says the solutions are also a standout in the marketplace due to their ability to handle GTP tunneling.
“LTE uses GTP for tunneling traffic across the Evolved Packet Core, bringing in traffic from various base stations,” explained Beith. “However, GTP encapsulation can prevent service assurance analyzers from working in an optimal way.”
VSS Monitoring addresses that problem with special filtering, packet reassembly, and load balancing technology that ties the control plane and the data plane within GTP and directs traffic out to the probes. That means service providers can rely on their probes to present information on entire conversations, which Beith notes is extremely beneficial for troubleshooting, as well as longer-term analysis of LTE networks.
The VSS Monitoring solution also allows for self discovery of new NPB devices on the network, the capture of all links at 100 percent fail-safe, per-port hardware-based traffic grooming, and centralized management.
All that adds up to both capex and opex savings for wireless network operators.
The VSS Monitoring solution enables service providers to realize capex savings by deferring investment in10-gigabit-capable probes, and instead continuing to use their 1-gigabit probes. It offers service providers opex savings due to management and network reliability benefits. Because the VSS Monitoring solution doesn’t use a monolithic chassis in the brokering layer, it enables service providers to do things in a distributed manner – much closer to the links themselves. It can accept traffic from any link to any tool anywhere while managing service assurance via a single system.
All VSS Monitoring NPB devices self-discover in this scenario, so service providers experience more efficient installation and troubleshooting. And because devices capture all link information with 100 percent reliability, service providers get carrier-grade fault tolerance. Even if a NPB device loses power, service can be maintained by rerouting, and automatically rerouting again to the most optimal link and NPB device when traffic capturing service is restored.
With the VSS Monitoring solution, service providers can implement any topology they want, whether it’s stacking, daisy chain, or hub-and-spoke. And all of the company’s products are backward-compatible, meaning they are all under the same management umbrella.
VSS Monitoring introduced its first product line, the Distributed Series, in the 2008-9 time frame. In 2010, it added to the portfolio with the vProtector Series, an active in-line tool monitoring solution for such applications as intrusion protection and WAN optimization.
A year later, VSS Monitoring introduced its Finder Series, which added deep packet inspection techniques for more specific filtering compared to the Distributed Series.
Most recently VSS Monitoring introduced the vBroker Series, which does everything the Distributed Series does and will incorporate the functionality of the Protector Series and eventually the Finder Series as well.
The vBroker Series products take VSS Monitoring into the 40-gigabit realm and, soon, the 100-gigabit arena.
The vBroker products, which became available earlier this year, are currently in use by large LTE carriers in Australia, Canada, Europe, India, China, Japan, and the U.S.
A large North American LTE service provider with which VSS Monitoring is working wanted to do service assurance for both voice and data. With 32 greenfield 4G LTE sites across the country, this carrier chose VSS Monitoring in part because the vMesh architecture allowed for the creation of a single network operations center to house all its monitoring and management expertise. The carrier also found VSS Monitoring’s solution appealling, Meng adds, because the vendor’s brokering system works with the gear from all three of the service provider’s network suppliers (Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson (News - Alert), and Samsung) and all of the probes and analyzers it wanted to use from other vendors.
This LTE provider made an investment of just more than $5 million in gear from VSS Monitoring. In return, it realized more than $60 million in savings, a return on investment of 1100 percent.
How LTE Network Operators Can Benefit from VSS Monitoring Solutions:
- defer investment of 10-gigabit probes
- use 1G probes to handle 10-gigabit traffic
- more efficient troubleshooting
- centralized NOC (probes, monitoring, personnel)
- capture all links reliably
- ease of scale
- true carrier-grade fault tolerance
Edited by Braden Becker