Smart Upgrades

Every network faces periodic upgrades of electronics or key components. We have found that cutovers are the time when any network is the most vulnerable.

There are tried and true processes that can be used to minimize the chance or duration of network outages during upgrades. The following is a list of steps that we recommend for any network upgrade that puts customer service at risk. Following these steps is never a promise of 100% safety, but we have never seen a company that upgrades in this methodical and planned manner have major problems.

  1. Have a Project Manager for the Upgrade. It is vital to have one person in charge of the upgrade. They can get assistance in planning and doing the upgrade, but they need to be the one ready and authorized to react if things don’t go as planned.
  2. Develop a Checklist. You should develop a step-by-step checklist of everything to consider for the upgrade. Make sure that you understand every piece of equipment and software that will be affected by the upgrade. And then, most importantly, develop a step-by-step list of the steps required to perform the upgrade.
  3. Break the Upgrade into Manageable Steps.  If possible, the upgrade should be done in stages where progress can be measured and tested as each step progresses.
  4. Establish a Baseline / Establish a Go-Back Process. By this we mean that you need to completely understand the current network configuration, in detail. You need to know the exact settings of every piece of equipment. And once you understand the current network configuration develop a go-back process. This would be the steps needed to get the network back to the original configuration if something goes wrong during the upgrade. Ideally the go-back would be something really fast and we sometimes have seen this programmed such that it can be done in minutes.
  5. Understand the Traffic Flow (and then monitor during the cutover). During the upgrade process you might not get the same kind of alarms that you normally would expect. Also, changing traffic patterns due to the cutover can skew traditional measurements if you are rearranging the network. So it’s vital to understand your traffic flow before the upgrade. Then, have somebody monitor the traffic during the cutover since this might be the only way you will know that you have knocked customers out of service.
  6. Make Sure you have Vendor Support. For a major upgrade you should consider having a vendor representative on site. Otherwise, make sure ahead of time that somebody will be able to help you if you run into unexpected problems. I have seen clients schedule an upgrade over a holiday, not thinking that the needed expertise at the vendor is probably not going to be available.
  7. Pre-test Every Component before the Cut. Definitely test any new equipment before you introduce it into the network to make sure that it is operating properly. For complicated upgrades you ought to consider setting up a test lab where you can test the new equipment against components that will remain in the network for interoperability.
  8. Take Every Upgrade Seriously. I often see companies follow most of the above steps for major upgrades only to see them knock out their network for some simple upgrade like introducing new cards or something they thought was a simple upgrade. Any change that can knock down your network might knock down your network, so take every upgrade seriously.
  9. Define What Success Looks Like. You should establish the needed tests ahead of time that will let you check that every aspect of the network is working as planned. You don’t want to do an upgrade that is almost right only to find that you have created future problems. So establish a detailed test plan.

If you have questions about upgrades or want help developing an upgrade plan contact Derrel Duplechin of CCG at (337) 654-7490.

Physics of the Future

I highly recommend anybody interested in Technology to read ‘Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and our Daily Lives by the Year 2100’ by Michio Kaku. The book is well written and is an easy and accessible read.

Kaku is a theoretical physicist who researched for this book by talking to leading scientists in many fields of science and asked them where current research is taking their fields by the end of the century. Many scientists see practical and disruptive innovations coming from their own fields of study. But when taken all together, the changes that the scientists see coming look amazingly like Star Trek minus the transporters and the warp speed travel and the Vulcans.

At the turn of the 20th century the world was completely disrupted by inventions like the automobile, electric lights, airplanes, etc. At the end of the last century we saw the world changed drastically by the computer.

Some of the many changes that scientists see coming during this next century include:

  • Cheap fusion power, meaning almost unlimited, pollution-free power for everybody.
  • The ability to locally make things (like the Star Trek replicator) which we are already starting to see with the 3D printer industry.
  • Computer chips so cheap that they are built into everything.
  • A high likelihood of computer sentience.
  • Nanotechnology being used to constantly monitor your health from within and that will intercede to keep you healthy. Cancer won’t be cured so much as it will never be allowed to get started.
  • Space tourism will be routine and not just for the very rich.
  • Driverless cars wiping out gridlock in even the biggest cities.

This book is a fascinating read. The next century is going to see massive technology disruptions that will completely transform almost every industry. In the process many of our largest corporations will go the way of the buggy whip manufacturers.

The book made me think about the telecom industry. One thing that is obvious is that there is going to be massive amounts of data produced everywhere and for this data to be made sense of we will need fiber networks. The idea of gigabit networks will be a quaint idea of the past and we will be having discussions about whether terabit networks are fast enough.

One thing the book doesn’t postulate about is the human element. Certainly there will be a lot of people eager to take advantage of these new technologies. But one has to wonder what is going to happen if parts of society turn their back on such revolutionary breakthroughs and what that might mean for the future of the planet. One also has to wonder if these breakthroughs will be made available to everybody or just to the rich. I haven’t read a book in a long time that has given me more to think and dream about.

Faster Fiber

Exceeding the Speed of Light

Exceeding the Speed of Light (Photo credit: IntelGuy)

Researchers at the University of Southhampton have demonstrated a new fiber technology that allows light to traverse fiber at 99.7 % of the speed of light. This is a vast improvement over current fiber technologies that pass light at about 70% the speed of light.

It has long been understood that the glass in a fiber optics cable slows the light signal and that light can travel much faster through air. The new technology creates hollow fiber-optic cable to create a trapped air-pocket for the transmission media.

An abstract of the research can be viewed in Nature Photonics.

As can be expected, it will be a few years before the faster fiber hits the street. But the market is going to want faster fiber since the primary benefit of the new technology will be the reduction of latency on long-haul fiber routes. Researchers also postulate that the first use for the fiber might be as wiring for supercomputers since electricity ‘crawls’ through wiring at about 2/3 the speed of light.