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Know the way, Go the way, Show the way



Over my many years in business, whether the business of the military or the business of commerce, one of the core threads of weakness in almost all but the best managers/leaders I have worked with has been an inability or perhaps an unwillingness to communicate. All too often I have witnessed poor management communication not only down through the command structure but also, quite frequently, within what would be considered the first tier of communications. Their direct reporters.

Many such businesses have, it seemed, succeeded or perhaps survived, in spite of rather than because of these individuals for whom communication should be the centrepiece of their toolbox. Usually in these situations, the intentions are top drawer but the reality is bargain basement. Individuals in such positions of authority resting on their past achievements or being reasonably content with the status quo and pulling up the drawbridge to their rarefied level perhaps feel like they should maintain an authoritative distance or refrain from fraternising with the ranks. Ridiculous as such a stance may sound on paper, it is all too often manifest in management positions in all levels of business with the reality for the organisation far more serious than any ridicule may reflect.

Directionless authority figures who fail to capitalise on the talent within their organisations because of their inability to communicate beyond their own lieutenants can lay waste to layer upon layer of that which makes an organisation truly prosper, its people. This is especially true in the world of the startup where those in authority and indeed in control have the greatest of vested interests in seeing the business boom.

As managers, and most especially as managers within small businesses for whom hierarchical structures are not best fit, communication is what ensures that our own value systems are properly superimposed on the wider team around us. We need to accept our weaknesses. Work on them. Learn by placing ourselves in the uncomfortable situations we could easily avoid and the best way to measure this and truly understand it is to get down and dirty every day. Do sweat the small stuff. Truly understand the small stuff because when we get the small stuff right and we can communicate down and listen up effectively, communicating all the way down and listening all the way up, we will find ourselves at the centre of a team that really will begin to reflect the hopes and dreams we all have for our own organisations.

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Could ants power Web3.0 to new heights? OSPF v's ANTS

Having recently completed my latest M.Eng block on the subject of "Natural and Artificial Intelligence", I became aware of advances made in the recent decade towards a new paradigm of network traffic engineering that was being researched. This new model turns its back on traditional destination based solutions, (OSPF, EIGRP, MPLS) to the combinatorial problem of decision making in network routing  favouring instead a constructive greedy heuristic which uses stochastic combinatorial optimisation. Put in more accessible terms, it leverages the emergent ability of sytems comprised of quite basic autonomous elements working together, to perform a variety of complicated tasks with great reliability and consistency.

In 1986, the computer scientist Craig Reynolds set out to investigate this phenomenon through computer simulation. The mystery and beauty of a flock or swarm is perhaps best described in the opening words of his classic 1986 paper on the subject:

The motion of a flock of birds is one of nature’s delights. Flocks and related synchronized group behaviors such as schools of fish or herds of land animals are both beautiful to watch and intriguing to contemplate. A flock ... is made up of discrete birds yet overall motion seems fluid; it is simple in concept yet is so visually complex, it seems randomly arrayed and yet is magnificently synchronized. Perhaps most puzzling is the strong impression of intentional, centralized control. Yet all evidence dicates that flock motion must be merely the aggregate result of the actions of individual animals, each acting solely on the basis of its own local perception of the world.

An analogy with the way ant colonies function has suggested that the emergent behaviour of ant colonies to reliably and consistently optimise paths could be leveraged to enhance the way that the combinatorial optimisation problem of complex network path selection is solved.

The fundamental difference between the modelling of a complex telecommunications network and more commonplace problems of combinatorial optimisation such as the travelling salesman problem is that of the dynamic nature of the state at any given moment of a network such as the internet. For example, in the TSP the towns, the routes between them and the associated distances don’t change. However, network routing is a dynamic problem. It is dynamic in space, because the shape of the network – its topology – may change: switches and nodes may break down and new ones may come on line. But the problem is also dynamic in time, and quite unpredictably so. The amount of network traffic will vary constantly: some switches may become overloaded, there may be local bursts of activity that make parts of the network very slow, and so on. So network routing is a very difficult problem of dynamic optimisation. Finding fast, efficent and intelligent routing algorithms is a major headache for telcommunications engineers.

So how you may ask, could ants help here? Individual ants are behaviourally very unsophisticated insects. They have a very limited memory and exhibit individual behaviour that appears to have a large random component. Acting as a collective however, ants manage to perform a variety of complicated tasks with great reliability and consistency, for example, finding the shortest routes from their nest to a food source.

These behaviours emerge from the interactions between large numbers of individual ants and their environment. In many cases, the principle of stigmergy is used. Stigmergy is a form of indirect communication through the environment. Like other insects, ants typically produce specific actions in response to specific local environmental stimuli, rather than as part of the execution of some central plan. If an ant's action changes the local environment in a way that affects one of these specific stimuli, this will influence the subsequent actions of ants at that location. The environmental change may take either of two distinct forms. In the first, the physical characteristics may be changed as a result of carrying out some task-related action, such as digging a hole, or adding a ball of mud to a growing structure. The subsequent perception of the changed environment may cause the next ant to enlarge the hole, or deposit its ball of mud on top of the previous ball. In this type of stigmergy, the cumulative effects of these local task-related changes can guide the growth of a complex structure. This type of influence has been called sematectonic. In the second form, the environment is changed by depositing something which makes no direct contribution to the task, but is used solely to influence subsequent behaviour which is task related. This sign-based stigmergy has been highly developed by ants and other exclusively social insects, which use a variety of highly specific volatile hormones, or pheromones, to provide a sophisticated signalling system. It is primarily this second mechanism of sign based sigmergy that has been successfully simulated with computer models and applied as a model to a system of network traffic engineering.

In the traditional network model, packets move around the network completely deterministically. A packet arriving at a given node is routed by the device which simply consults the routing table and takes the optimum path based on its destination. There is no element of probability as the values in the routing table represent not probabilities, but the relative desirability of moving to other nodes.

In the ant colony optimisation model, virtual ants also move around the network, their task being to constantly adjust the routing tables according to the latest information about network conditions. For an ant, the values in the table are probabilities that their next move will be to a certain node.The progress of an ant around the network is governed by the following informal rules:

    • Ants start at random nodes.

 

    • They move around the network from node to node, using the routing table at each node as a guide to which link to cross next.

 

    • As it explores, an ant ages, the age of each individual being related to the length of time elapsed since it set out from its source. However, an ant that finds itself at a congested node is delayed, and thus made to age faster than ants moving through less choked areas.

 

    • As an ant crosses a link between two nodes, it deposits pheromone however, it leaves it not on the link itself, but on the entry for that link in the routing table of the node it left. Other 'pheromone' values in that column of the nodes routing table are decreased, in a process analogous to pheromone decay.

 

    • When an ant reaches its final destination it is presumed to have died and is deleted from the system.R.I.P.



Testing the ant colony optimisation system, and measuring its performance against that of a number of other well-known routing techniques produced good results and the system outperformed all of the established mechanisms however there are potential problems of the kind that constantly plague all dynamic optimisation algorithms. The most significant problem is that, after a long period of stability and equilibrium, the ants will have become locked into their accustomed routes. They become unable to break out of these patterns to explore new routes capable of meeting new conditions which could exist if a sudden change to the networks conditions were to take place. This can be mitigated however in the same way that evolutionary computation introduces mutation to fully explore new possibilities by means of the introduction of an element of purely random behaviour to the ant.

'Ant net' routing has been tested on models of US and Japanese communications networks, using a variety of different possible traffic patterns. The algorithm worked at least as well as, and in some cases much better than, four of the best-performing conventional routing algorithms. Its results were even comparable to those of an idealised ‘daemon’ algorithm, with instantaneous and complete knowledge of the current state of the network.

It would seem we have not heard the last of these routing antics.... (sorry, couldnt resist).

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Forget about 3G, here comes 4G (LTE)

The LTE hits just keep coming: Chunghwa Telecom said this week that it plans to start testing LTE with Ericsson gear, in northern Taiwan. Meanwhile, in Japan, Ericsson customer NTT DoCoMo has started its 4G upgrade. It plans to launch commercially in 2010.

Along with Cisco's recently approved purchase of Starent Networks, these are the latest moves in a market that is rapidly heating up, putting a spotlight on the opportunities for infrastructure vendors. Ericsson has been in the spotlight all week, since Swedish incumbent TeliaSonera launched the first commercial LTE network on Monday, using equipment from Ericsson as well as Huawei.

It’s likely that an infrastructure vendor battle will soon heat up as more trials get underway. Huawei is looking like a big threat to the Tier 1 vendors; it’s signed on to 25 trials and deployments worldwide, it says, including plans to integrate Belgium incumbent Belgacom’s GSM, HSPA and future LTE networks in a converged radio access network and all-IP core. The Chinese vendor will also replace Belgacom’s existing RAN supplier, which happens to be Nokia Siemens Networks.

Also, Telecom Italia said it is working with Huawei for an LTE trial in Turin.

That said, NSN and Alcatel-Lucent are determined to also be a part of the LTE story. NSN recently announced that global operator Telefónica will run a six-month 4G trial in the Czech Republic on NSN’s end-to-end LTE solution. Meanwhile, it also has been tackling the voice-over-LTE goal, and completed successful IMS-compliant voice calls and SMS messaging using 3GPP-standardized LTE equipment, and says it will also soon conduct VoLTE test calls with a fully implemented IMS system.

Not to be outdone, Alcatel-Lucent said that it too has called and texted across standard LTE equipment, but using the interim standard from the 3GPP known as VoLGA.

The first carriers out of the gate after TeliaSonera with the 4G broadband technology – which promises 20mbps to 40mbps in throughput, initially – will likely be Verizon Wireless and NTT DoCoMo. Regional carriers MetroPCS and U.S. Cellular also have plans to deploy LTE next year, along with KDDI in Japan, and Tele2 and Telenor in Europe. AT&T and China Mobile are planning LTE rollouts for 2011. Most incumbents have LTE on their to-do list at some point, making for a rich new vein for infrastructure vendors to mine.

Some markets will be richer than others. "Spectrum availability is the primary factor impacting deployment plans," said senior ABI analyst Nadine Manjaro. "In countries where telecommunications regulators are making appropriate spectrum available, many operators have announced plans to launch LTE. These include the U.S., Sweden, China and others. Where no such spectrum allocations exist, operators are postponing LTE plans." The United Kingdom, surprise surprise, will likely be slower to roll out LTE because of spectrum availability.

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Cisco finally given the go ahead to buy Starent Networks

starentLooks like Cisco's move into the world of radio/wireless is a go. The company announced yesterday that they have been given regulatory clearance and have now satisfied the regulatory approval requirements under the merger agreement to complete the acquisition of Starent Networks.

 

The have paid $2.9 billion, for Starent Networks, which makes products that help wireless telecommunications companies ship large volumes of data to phones and computing devices.

The deal represents about a 20 percent premium over Starent’s closing price on Monday 12th Oct  of $29.03 a share. After the announcement, Starent’s shares rose $4.88, or almost 17 percent, to close at $33.91 on the following day.

Starent counts carriers like Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, Vodafone Group and China Telecom as customers.

The company’s recent deals reflect that optimism about the growing importance of video traffic to mobile networks. In October, Cisco began a tender offer to buy Tandberg, a Norwegian maker of videoconferencing systems, for $3 billion. And in March, Cisco agreed to pay $590 million for Pure Digital Technologies, a start-up that developed the popular Flip video cameras. The purchase of Pure Digital bolsters Cisco’s video and nascent consumer electronics efforts while also giving the company a way to promote devices that create bulky files that consume great deals of bandwidth.

While the Starent purchase has a video element, it is primarily a sign that Cisco expects smartphones and wireless data plans to rise in popularity. In addition, the acquisition offers another door through which Cisco can approach telecommunications companies that have turned to Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei Technologies for networking equipment that feeds mobile devices.

In a research report, Mark Sue, a networking analyst with RBC Capital Markets, valued the mobile carrier infrastructure market at $47.5 billion.

Starent, was founded in 2000 and has traded publicly since 2007. Last year, the company reported a 74 percent rise in revenue, to $254.1 million. Starent Networks is a leading provider of infrastructure solutions that enable mobile operators to deliver multimedia services to their subscribers. Their solutions combine significant computer power, memory, and traffic handling capabilities with highly distributed software architecture designed to provide high availability, flexibility, and performance built on the power of a Linux operating system. 

They have created solutions that provide several core network functions and services, including access from a wide range of radio networks to the operator's IP, or packet core network, mobility management of subscriber sessions, and call control. Their access-independent solution integrates multiple network functions needed for the delivery of advanced multimedia services, such as video, Internet access, voice-over-IP, e-mail, mobile TV, photo sharing, and gaming. 

They have developed multimedia core platforms and proprietary software specifically to address the needs of packet-based mobile networks. These products are designed to provide mobile operators with new revenue opportunities while also reducing their costs and they possess a high degree of system intelligence, which allows a mobile operator to understand the details of each subscriber session, enabling individual subscriber management and network traffic flow control.

Their products also enable mobile operators to continue to evolve their core networks to the Long Term Evolution (LTE) Evolved Packet Core (EPC) specification to provide multi-megabit bandwidth, latency reduction, and improved mobility to their subscribers.
Other product areas include CDMA, HSPA, WiMAX, WiFi and Femtocell which make for an interesting complement to Cisco's existing portfolio.
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