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Faster than fast

When will 100 GbE become a necessity for the enterprise? Is the Middle East ready for it and will it suffer if it does not opt for the standard in the coming years? Faster

irst defined in 2010, the 100 gigabit Ethernet (GbE), or 100 gigabits per second standard may seem a long way off for a number of organisations. While there is no denying that 100 GbE is not for everyone – many smaller businesses will doubtless be asking if they will ever have such high network demands – the technology is sure to become a creeping issue for a number of the region’s CIOs in the coming years. Increasing volumes of video content and bandwidth intensive applications – not to mention soaring levels of data centre traffic – are pushing 100 GbE up the list of future priorities.

The shift in networking models has a lot to answer for in the drive towards 100 GbE. So called ‘east-west traffic’ – traffic that goes between servers in a data centre – is overtaking an architecture of north-south traffic, where traffic goes from servers to the edge of the network. In the age of machine to machine communication, this will only increase. Where traffic traditionally came from external sources to a server, necessitating access, aggregation and core switch layers, traffic is now split between servers focusing on different purposes within a data centre. Against this backdrop, 100 GbE is the ideal solution to deal with the increase in east-west traffic.

Joseph Habib, Head of Wireless, CommScope Middle East and Africa, believes that the pace with which the Middle East is developing – and its thirst for modern technology – is sure to leave the region in need of higher quality bandwidth.

“Today, across the Middle East, there seems to be a never-ending appetite for more and more bandwidth, an explosion of demand for more and more data,” he says. “This demand is driven by many factors but chief among them are the socio-economic and cultural demands of people in all demographics who now see access to their data, entertainment, music, friends and family as a natural extension of their lives.

With the continued growth in data, communications infrastructure should be designed to accommodate speeds of 40 Gbps or 100 Gbps.”

Many of the larger data centres in the region will already be prepared for 100GbE. They have the options of 100GBASE-CR10 or 100GBASE-CR4, and work is currently underway to define 200GbE solutions.

While the usual suspects such as telecoms and cloud providers will undoubtedly be in need of 100 GbE services, other businesses may laugh off the prospect of upgrading to such a high standard. They may well feel that their organisation is too small for such an upgrade. Indeed, this could be backed up but the knowledge that SMEs account for 95 percent of the enterprise population in Dubai.

However, things could well be very different for the business landscape in the coming years. As an increasing number of businesses in the Middle East shift their focus to digital platforms, even companies with less than 500 employees could find that the quantities of data passing through their organisation will vastly multiply. Huge quantities of customer data will drive the need for new platforms and networks that can support business demands.

Prem Rodrigues, Director, Sales and Marketing, India and Middle East, Siemon, believes that certain aspects of an enterprise IT department’s hardware will simply not be equipped to handle demands that are on the horizon. “New traffic patterns and network fabrics are driving demand for bandwidth, but the question to be asked is if network technologies are ready to meet this challenge,” he says. “When it comes to servers, the answer could be ‘no’. With each virtualisation host server needing a minimum of two Ethernet ports for redundancy purposes, it’s likely that a higher-bandwidth generation of server bus will be needed to support a move to 100GbE capable of delivering full bandwidth on both ports.”

Rodrigues adds that the near future is likely to bring this demand for the region. “Given the growth of traffic in data centres and the predication by the Ethernet Alliance that terabit per second speeds may be required as soon as 2020, planning for 100GbE in the Middle East is absolutely justifiable today,” he says. “In the data centre, fabric networks can satisfy the immediate need for 100 Gb/s connections by aggregating links to create any needed bandwidth.”

He does, however, concede that there may lighter options available for customers who do not need such a powerful solution. “Those who aren’t looking at fabrics probably aren’t the sort who will need 100 Gb/s connections any time soon and 40GbE will be a more cost-effective route in the medium term for these customers.”

As well as increased traffic resulting from virtualisation, the huge quantities of objects being connected to the Internet in the coming years are certain to put huge strain on current networks, and may push CIOs of businesses in specific verticals to consider 100 GbE as a worthwhile long term investment.

“There has been huge growth in both the volume and types of traffic flowing through the data centre,” Rodrigues says. “As data becomes richer and grows in size due to the increase in video and the Internet of Things, always-on mobile devices, centralised enterprise desktops, the explosion in cloud computing, more pressure is felt at the back end. Virtualisation, too, has changed the data centre data traffic pattern resulting in a need to support faster transmission speeds.”

Even in the next four years, Dubai in particular is sure to be in need of enhanced network solutions. The emirate’s drive to become a fully-fledged Smart City by 2020, in line with the international Expo due to take place the same year, will prompt a rethink of IT solutions that can cope with the influx of citizens and their online transactions. What’s more, as applications continue to evolve, and as enterprise IT undergoes a pivotal digital transformation in the coming years, the potential of virtualised servers will need to be unlocked.

“Although the major impact of the IoT may be three to five years away, the technology is gathering speed as a key business disrupter,” Habib says. “It is already transforming the way buildings are maintained and offices managed, as well as impacting how employees perform.”

He highlights the power of – and need for – new solutions in demanding industries. “With global sporting and business events around the corner, the number of people visiting the region will increase. Be it banks, universities, airports, hospitals, hotels or communication service providers – organisations needs to be ready for huge demands on their communications infrastructures.”

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