And like the rest of the tech industry, data centre networks will also have to adjust to the new wave in cellular technology which is 5G. Fifth-generation networks are the subject of much hype and speculation. But now it is only a matter of time where we see the power of these networks in enabling autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and mixed reality applications. Infrastructure will also add billions to global revenue, which is why service providers should pay heed.

But one of the biggest challenges is that the deployment is way complex. As the new technology rolls out, it will change the existing infrastructure in its wake, especially the data centre. Therefore, it is highly important to look into the area of fibre cabling and the various challenges that data centres will have to tackle. In today’s blog, we discuss how fifth-generation networks will impact data centre cabling in 2021.

The Role of Data Centres

Data centres are centralised locations that have computing and networking capabilities to collect, store, analyse, and access large amounts of data. All entities that collect data require such facilities, be it a government office, school, bank, or a retail store. Telco companies and internet services also require the collection and collation of data.

The proliferation of networks has tremendous potential for new and existing data centres. The most obvious changes would be the upgrades to existing networks, switching, and routers. And then there is the potential impact of technologies like software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV).

Fibre optic splicing will also be required in data centres. Much investment will be allocated to the data centre. But to derive maximum value, the entire data centre strategy needs to be revamped.

Radio Access Network (RAN)

Minor changes may be in order, but the existing 4G infrastructure isn’t sufficient to handle the future inflow. The network architecture of 5G has a lot of flexibility built into it, which would require developing new capabilities. This flexibility includes:

  • Aligning control and user plains of the network
  • The migration towards RAN and distributed baseband processing
  • Making virtual RAN network functions

This will enable RAN to converge with the data centre space. But the story doesn’t end here. Even with the virtualisation of 5th generation architectures, there will still be a need for some level of hardware acceleration which can further enhance the network and bring stability.

This calls for a unified approach to designing these systems, which in turn, may require a move away from conventional OEMs to a more agile approach. Here comes edge computing, which enables the collation of the architecture with data centres. This seems to be the next logical move. For instance, a need for convergence in the data centre between RAN functions and mobile edge computing may arise if there’s a low latency application in a particular location.

Edge Computing

Experts predict that edge computing will evolve side by side with fifth-generation technology. Both technologies can bring out the capabilities of each other. For instance, 5G New Radio (NR) air interface leverages new mobile spectrums to provide high-speed latency capabilities. This can power edge devices, and bring compute and storage closer to end-users.

Gartner reports estimate that by 2025, the percentage of edge computing in enterprise-generated data will increase from 10% to 75%. The prediction is based on the assumption that applications will require a substantial volume of data processed at the edge. But currently, this can’t be done effectively. A practical solution is to use current capabilities and devote them to the edge, i.e., through smaller data centres.

The locations of the data centres can be a hurdle; connectivity is key. To fulfil these requirements, service providers will have to deploy edge nodes in the form of mesh networks with parallel data paths and an east-to-west configuration. And just like in telco companies, some of these nodes can be used as small data centres. This is yet another way in which 5G will change traditional data centres. Other ways include the virtualisation of RAN and a combination of wired and wireless networks requiring comprehensive data centre support.

Cloud-Scale Data Centres

Not all data centres may need to change though. Cloud-scale data centres as well as data centres in larger enterprises are equipped to handle data flow from the edge as they are already using distributed processing. Hence, these data centres will be less affected. However, shared data centres may have to reposition closer to the edge to provide local support for cloud-scale facilities. Services providers also have the challenge to manage core data centres, central offices, and C-RAN hubs.

To sum up, data centres will have to improvise as this emerging technology will play a key role in our lives and the economy. This requires greater input of AI, machine learning, and edge computing. There will also be an increase in fibre optic splicing in new data centres. We are also likely to witness a shift towards localised, low-latency services.

There is also uncertainty on how applications will be developed over the years, and exactly how many requirements there are. After all, some applications, like autonomous cars, will require a degree of sophistication higher than, let’s say, virtual reality.

Here are some possible suggestions:

  • Create consensus on how to capture, process, and analyse data
  • Make changes to the centralised data when required by network engineers
  • Creating a decentralised cloud infrastructure that can be distributed publicly and privately to the edge

There are also concerns that data traffic at the edge will overburden the access network capacity. Many use data centres distribute network systems to screen external traffic and manage internal traffic. What if there’s a collapse while transporting data from the edge to a central hub? For all these reasons, data centres have to reimagine the way they function to accommodate the new technology.

pervinder khangura

Author pervinder khangura

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