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MWC 2013: Big Data is now a network problem, too

A big data problem that was once exclusive to the data center is now affecting the network.

This week is the annual “Mobile World Congress” shows in Barcelona where we get a glimpse of what’s to come in the world of mobility. I didn’t go to Barcelona, but I’ve been following the news, and one of the more interesting announcements was Gigamon’s “Big Data for Mobile Operators.

Big data has become another one of the tech industry’s most over-used words. In the application world, it’s really a euphemism for analytics to be performed on massive amounts of data. Overused or not, companies are facing a deluge of data that they need to figure out how to capture and analyze. To date, Big Data has been an enterprise initiative limited to the data center, but it’s now become a network concern as well.

Mobile operators are already feeling the pressure of an excess of data on their networks, and the problem is only going to get worse. Although we’ve had mobile devices for quite some time, we’re just at the start of the wave where we see true mobile applications being built. These are applications that utilize GPS, location or presence information to behave much differently than the applications on desktops and laptops. When this happens, the mobile device will become a smarter, more effective personal and business tool. As more and more truly mobile applications are created, dependence on these devices increase and network performance becomes a key differentiator for mobile operators.

As the carriers continue to build out larger networks with higher speeds, reaching 100 Gig on the backbone in the not-too-distant future, the variety of traffic will continue to grow as well. Whenever I talk to network managers I always stress that one of the keys to providing a great customer experience is to “know the network,” and that means having great visibility into what’s going on in the network.

As the variety and amount of data from mobile devices continues to grow at unprecedented rates, mobile operators need a way to monitor the traffic. If you’re interested in how much data we’re talking about, Cisco’s Visual Networking Indexhas some interesting projections. I personally feel these projections are low, as we always seem to underestimate bandwidth usage. The core networks for mobile operators will migrate to 40G and 100G, which will create an interesting “Big Data” challenge for them as they look to handle and then analyze the network traffic.

Gigamon aims to help the wireless carriers solve the Big Data challenge by being the first of the network visibility vendors to add 40G and 100G line cards to its product set. The new higher-speed line cards, combined with products with greater density, will let network operations gather real-time flow information and then analyze it to understand where potential problems are that could impact service quality.

The Big Data challenge, which has historically been a data center issue, has now hit the network. As the network continues to grow in importance, it will be more difficult for carriers to provide a quality user experience (some would argue they can’t now). Network operators have spent millions on analytic and management tools to help understand what’s happening on the network. The Gigamon solution can provide a common set of data, up to 100G in speed to ensure the carriers continue to leverage the investment already made.

One last point - the TAP or “visibility fabric” market has been red hot over the past couple of years and has recently been augmented with “lighter” versions from the SDN vendors. I would expect this market to continue to see strong momentum as telcos, mobile operators and large enterprises need to start dealing with network-related big data issues.

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