According to Jerry Horton, Telecommunications is one of the grandfathers of modern IT providing the very foundations of switching, routing, framing protocols, and how to build resilient networks. IT, as it evolved, it replaced the traditional analog/digital voice switches with VoIP, low-cost broadband circuits and Metro Ethernet supplanting the dedicated four-wire circuits of yore, and even SIP trunking – giving traditional TDM trunks a run for their money. Adoption of integrated information systems architecture, security principles, and IT in general have lagged behind. Split personality still exists between traditional central office
functions and those of IT—something called copper line mentality. This is a universal blind spot that ‘hides’ the central truth- skill in telecommunications requires significant IT/IS knowledge, a skill set that can be grown to sustain and improve the core business.
For traditional telecomm operations, the technology issues are myriad:
- Choosing technology partners whose products will scale
- Selecting network access terminals that will offer the best possible services while leveraging the investment in the current physical plant
- Managing bandwidth utilization; and
- Growth in the world of streaming content and the burgeoning Internet of ‘things’.
First and foremost, a solid foundation in IP networking and security has to be built in the organization. In the businesses the silos between traditional IT and telecoms began to break down with the advent of each company becoming an ISP; to some extent however, the walls do still exist. The quickest method to resolve this issue is cross training. The telecomm industry has started moving towards computer-based training; the sheer volume of available online IT training makes this more achievable than ever before. In an all-IP environment, the cross-pollination between the disciplines is a natural outgrowth, but one that must be cultivated and carefully maintained. To help build that foundation, combinations of training in CompTIA domains -specifically Security+ – and basic Cisco training have been invaluable. Cisco’s curriculum does the best job explaining both the theoretical foundations and applications of IP networking. While several online training vendors offer live streaming classes with excellent trainers and resources at very reasonable prices, the return on investment can only be truly realized by a disciplined scheduling of training and a product that gives the student an opportunity to practice and hone their newly learned skills in a non-production environment. More importantly, a close-knit relationship must be fostered between CO and IT.
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Once the IT skill set is firmly in place, the architecture of the system is the next challenge. Traditional, non-IP telecommunications systems were very much hub-and-spoke – designed to get the end nodes connected to the central core and routed by the central switch; any point-to-point or other special circuit’s required specialized equipment and knowledge for both the telco and the customer. The ubiquitous adoption of IT and Ethernet has changed that radically. Now, telecommunications companies design and implement Layer2/3 switching and routing systems and security systems up to Layer 7 at the perimeter, all built out for the goal of 99.999 percent reliability and availability.
Fortunately, our company had 100 percent fiber-to-the-home. The trickiest part in this design is properly sizing and placing routing. After an intensive search, based on selection criteria, we selected a vendor which provided DWDM on our transport layer for rapid scalability, Layer 2 only service to our core, an additional Metro Ethernet ring to replace many special circuits, and centralized routing and security functions. The second half of this project (upgrading our core routing for throughput and advanced functionality) is currently in the design phase and slated for implementation in mid-July. One of the issues we needed to resolve was a flexible, scalable, carrier-grade design at a reasonable price. This design allows our company to provide customers extremely high bandwidth and enhanced private network solutions, and sets the stage for the next generation of products and services.
In summary, IT/IS is critical to modern telecommunications companies. Training, cross-functional staffing, proper design, and modularity allows us to resolve issues, provide outstanding service, and prepare for the future.