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2014

A few nights ago, the alarm system in my home started beeping around 3.00am. Not the kind of siren-plus-screeching noise that tells you someone just broke in or that you forgot to lock the back door again and the wind blew it open. This was the kind of gentle beep that intrudes into your dreams and finally annoys you enough that you drag yourself out of bed to figure out what the problem is. After less than a minute, it stopped by itself and it was only later that we figured out what had caused it. It turns out that our alarm system is smart enough to sense when the phone line (actually VoIP over cable) is down and to warn you that it wouldn’t be able to signal the monitoring station in the event of a break-in.


What’s the point of this story, other than to confirm in writing that I now know the instruction book for the alarm system is on the same shelf as the cat food? It’s simply that the system had never signaled this problem before, because telecom networks are incredibly reliable. The dial tone (or VoIP equivalent) is virtually always there and its absence is highly unusual.


That’s the premise behind Carrier Grade networks. Over decades, telecom service providers have engineered an extensive range of sophisticated features into their networks, to the point where they guarantee “six-nines” reliability. That means the network is guaranteed to be up 99.9999% of the time, implying a downtime of no more than 32 seconds per year (which of course happens at 3.00am so that my alarm system can interrupt a good night’s sleep).


With all the industry initiatives around Network Functions Virtualization NFV), network reliability has become a hot topic. After announcing our Carrier Grade Communications Server product at Mobile World Congress last month, we had a number of in-depth discussions with service providers around this subject.


As service providers refine their plans to progressively introduce NFV into their networks, they are carefully reviewing the implications for six-nines reliability on network infrastructure that incorporates virtualized functions. These functions, of course, can be in the customer premises (e.g. virtual CPE), the network edge (e.g. virtual firewall) or the core (e.g. virtual EPC).


There’s a daunting list of requirements for achieving Carrier Grade reliability. They fall into four primary categories which we’ll discuss briefly here.


The first set of requirements is around network availability. For example, a telecom network needs to support geographical Virtual Machine (VM) redundancy over at least 500km, to allow continued operation in the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake, tsunami or hurricane. When faults do occur, the VM infrastructure must detect and recover very quickly. Faults must be detected and failover triggered in less than 500ms. The network must support hot data sync so that no calls are dropped when failovers do occur. Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) must automatically recover from host failures and transport network failures. Above all, the VNF infrastructure software must be extremely high quality when deployed, to ensure fault monitoring, detection, and recovery work flawlessly when needed.


The second area of focus is security. Telecom networks have security requirements that go beyond typical enterprise installations. For example, in a 4G system, there must be no user traffic that is observable but not encrypted. Similarly, visible user data cannot be stored in the system. In an NFV data center or cloud deployment, operators have to implement efficient multi-tenant isolation and security, so that it’s impossible for one subscriber to access another subscriber’s traffic or data. And the network must fully implement protocols for AAA security, (Authentication, Authorization and Accounting) to prevent unauthorized access, hacking, or terrorist attack.


Thirdly, a Carrier Grade network has stringent performance requirements. The network must achieve high throughput, but at the same time ensure very low latency for critical real time applications. The most demanding CPE and access functions require a deterministic interrupt latency of 10 microseconds or less, in order for virtualization to be feasible in the network. Similarly, live migration of VMs must occur with an outage time less than 150ms.


Finally, there are critical requirements in the area of network management. The system must support hitless software upgrades and hitless patches, so that no unscheduled maintenance windows are required. There must be an integrated backup and recovery system. And full support must be implemented for a range of standard protocols to interface to the existing OSS (Operations Support Systems) and BSS (Business Support Systems) software.


Service providers know that you can’t achieve these requirements by starting from enterprise-class software that was originally developed for IT applications. This type of software usually achieves three-nines reliability, equivalent to a downtime of almost nine hours per year. Using that code as a baseline won’t get you to six-nines, no matter how hard you work to improve it. Carrier Grade reliability has to be designed-in from the start of the software development process, typically using the well-established, rigorous TL 9000 methodology.


“High Availability” is a term that’s been used in the telecom industry for many years. It basically refers to systems which include enough excess capacity in the design to accommodate a performance decline or a subsystem failure. Service providers tell us that this is a key feature of Carrier Grade networks, but it’s not sufficient. If you look at the Carrier Grade requirements above, you’ll see that there are all kinds of performance-related constraints, none of which are addressed purely by redundancy in either hardware or software.


So don’t confuse “High Availability” with “Carrier Grade”. The latter is much more demanding, but it’s an essential feature of today’s telecom networks. Whether as enterprise customers or consumers, we’ve been conditioned to expect extreme reliability in our networks. Service providers know that they need to continue to meet those expectations as they transition to NFV, otherwise they run the risk of losing their high-value customers and seeing increased subscriber churn. No new technology is worth that risk, regardless of the potential savings in CAPEX and OPEX.


In subsequent posts, we’ll explore in more detail the technology requirements that must be addressed in designing a true Carrier Grade network. For now, I’m just glad that my alarm system shouldn’t be telling me about dial tone problems for at least another year.

Health care providers can’t take a magic pill to increase productivity, but a tablet might do the trick.

 

Half of physicians today use tablet computers for professional duties, and for good reason: these intuitive mobile devices offer wireless touch-based capabilities that can improve patient care through streamlined workflow and other efficiency enhancements. Tablets are also helping address the difficulties of using current electronic health records, including disruption to the doctor/patient relationship, by providing cloud connectivity that enables instant communication between doctor and patient as well as medical monitoring when and where the patient needs it.

 

To consistently deliver these advantages, tablets used by medical professionals must be able to withstand an intensely mobile lifestyle, as they are transported between and implemented within patient rooms, administrative offices, remote environments such as ambulatory care, and physicians’ homes.

 

“Clinicians and other health care professionals are often on the go for hours at a time. They don’t have time to hassle with plugging in their device to charge it during their shift,” says Andrew Litt, MD, chief medical officer at Dell Healthcare and Life Sciences. “Having a lightweight, portable device with long battery life is important to productivity.”

 

The latest-generation Intel® Atom™ processor (formerly codenamed Bay Trail) can equip the mobile health workforce with the energy-efficient computing performance needed to power tablets through long clinical work shifts and thus maintain seamless health workflows. Intel Atom processor-based tablets provide up to 10 hours of battery life, enabling mobile health providers to make the most of their office hours – whether their “office” is located in a crowded urban setting, remote village clinic, or private home.

 

In addition to supplying long battery life and fast processing using minimal power consumption, the Bay Trail platform fulfills other mobile health demands by enabling tablets and other intelligent devices to securely receive and transmit data via the Internet of Things, granting anytime/anywhere access to Electronic Medical Records/Electronic Health Records (EMR/EHR) applications. The latest Intel Atom processor family also offers 5x greater GPU performance than the previous generation and improved graphics capabilities such as faster HD and other media conversions, allowing health care professionals to view complex medical images and patient data on their tablets or via a connected monitor, TV, or projector.

 

Intel Atom processor-based tablets support Windows 8, offering seamless compatibility between various medical programs and devices, and come equipped with hardware-assisted security capabilities including Intel® Advanced Encryption Standard New Instructions (Intel® AES-NI) to help protect patient data.

 

“Health care organizations must comply with an array of privacy and security regulations,” Litt says. “Medical professionals need tablets they can deploy with confidence as part of an overall mobility strategy.”

 

Health care providers can rely on Intel Atom processor-powered Dell tablets to provide quad-core processing performance and up to 10 hours of battery life in a flexible, 2-in-1 design optimized for on-the-go and desk uses. In particular, the Dell Venue 8 Pro (based on the Intel® Atom™ processor Z3740, see Figure 1) and Dell Venue 11 Pro (based on the Intel® Atom™ processor Z3770, see Figure 2) tablets offer desktop-like functionality and energy-efficient portability for medical applications supporting Windows 8.1. For further energy savings, the Venue 11 Pro provides a user-swappable battery enabling users to replace a dead battery on the fly, as well as an optional detachable travel keyboard with an internal battery allowing the tablet to run for roughly 18 hours between charges.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 1.20.10 PM.pngFigure 1. Dell Venue 8 Pro

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 1.21.54 PM.pngFigure 2. Dell Venue 11 Pro

 

These Miracast- and Wi-Fi-enabled tablets provide wide-angle viewing of graphics content via an 8-inch HD 800p display (Venue 8 Pro) and 10.8-inch full HD IPS 1080p display (Venue 11 Pro), as well as supply full stylus support for handwriting capture and note taking, while still offering traditional finger touch scrolling, tapping, and pinch-to-zoom functionality – all time-saving features that can help physicians focus on patient interactions and improve clinical workflow. The Venue 11 Pro also can connect to two external displays via the optional desktop dock, which offers HDMI, DisplayPort, three USB 3.0 ports, and a network port for additional flexibility.

 

Furnished with an optional Targus Rugged Max Pro case featuring a hard exterior shell, shock-absorbing silicone, and a built-in screen protector, both the Venue 8 Pro and Venue 11 Pro offer advanced security and manageability with DDP|E and TPM support. The Venue 11 Pro Security edition is optimized for environments requiring more sophisticated authentication, with a built-in fingerprint reader/smart card reader. Implementing a comprehensive approach to data security, Dell offers protection at every level of the computing infrastructure – on the device, across networks, within data centers, and embedded in solutions – with robust assessment and managed security services, and covers repair or replacement of devices damaged in accidents, safeguarding tablets used in rugged mobile health environments.

 

Further replicating the desktop experience, the Venue 8 Pro and Venue 11 Pro run on Windows 8.1, facilitating a smooth transition from using traditional PCs to mobile devices. The full-size USB 3.0 port on the Venue 11 Pro allows users to connect any USB peripherals that they would normally plug into laptops or desktops.

 

“The Venue 8 Pro and Venue 11 Pro tablets can be secured and managed in a professional environment using the tools an organization already has in place,” Litt says.

 

Also running Windows 8.1 in a flexible design well-suited for professional and heavy-use environments, the Companion AVA tablet (Figure 3) from M&A Technology addresses several requirements for mobile health systems, including reliable Wi-Fi connectivity, removable battery, and four-year life-cycle support, which allows for multiple deployments using the same device and thus helps reduce total cost of ownership, says Jihad Jubran, SVP of business development at M&A Technology.

inari_hires_04.jpgFigure 3. M&A Technology Companion AVA

 

Powered by the Intel Atom processor Z3745, the Companion AVA offers a fanless, rugged design with spill/dust-proof ports and drop resistance up to 3.3 feet (5.9 feet with MIL protective case). With an 8.3-inch 1920x1200p display, the tablet provides multi-touch functionality supporting use with pen and gloves, as well as enhanced graphics resolution and video capabilities provided by the onboard Intel® HD graphics with DirectX 11 support.

 

The Companion AVA offers a variety of uses in medical environments: as a client to connect to a secure virtual desktop using VMware or Citrix, as a stand-alone tablet on the network for mobile applications, and for bedside entertainment, self-check-in kiosks, or wall-mounted informational kiosks, Jubran says. In particular, EMR applications can benefit from the power efficiencies provided by the Intel Atom processor as health professionals carry the tablet throughout the day to access and update patients’ profiles, Jubran says.

 

In addition to helping increase access to patient information, the Intel Atom processor family is enabling health care providers to boost productivity in several ways, including eliminating paperwork, improving decision making, and reducing the possibility of mistakes caused by human error. Read this success brief to learn how Intel Atom-based Dell tablets helped create a digital hospital, and check out this white paper to explore how next-generation tools using Intel technologies are facilitating collaborative clinical workflows for coordinated care.

 

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Dell OEM is a Premier member of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance. M&A Technology is an Associate member of the Alliance.

 

Jennifer Hesse

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance

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