For a business that will, in two short years, celebrate its 100th birthday, one might assume that the VIAVI team is well accustomed to change. Yet, the world around us has transformed dramatically in recent years as we welcome the increasingly close embrace of technology and communications into our everyday lives.

Our own roots as an organization are firmly planted within the bits and bytes of testing, and enablement of every form of high-performance network. And we still relish rolling our sleeves up with network teams as they drive their networks faster and further. However, as we gain a deeper understanding of project workflow demands, this has subsequently directed a greater focus upon taking time, complexity, and risk out of the equation.

Qualifying installation is key

This is, perhaps, more important than ever, as renewed data center expansion around the world applies increased pressure onto supply chain and service enablement teams. Accelerated delivery targets may force installation companies to accept increased risk to ensure on-time delivery. We acknowledge the reality that network testing can be very time-consuming, and by its nature tends to occur towards the latter stages of a project, neither of which is ideal as time pressure increases.

It can therefore be a temptation to assume, after all the development and quality work done by cabling vendors, that your brand-new fibre infrastructure will deliver on expectations fresh out-of-the-box. We see this occasionally factoring into teams being instructed to do a minimum of testing, just enough to get a feel for the network, but not enough to impact delivery dates.

With disaggregated networking becoming more commonplace and software defining the deployment and subsequent management, one might question whether it is still necessary to test fibre network deployments at all any more. After all, if there is a problem, then the network can probably work around it on-the-fly or spin-up resources at another site.

While there is a degree of resilience that may be built into networks, both physically and through intelligent software intervention, this represents a workaround rather than a prevention. There will still be a cost associated with identifying and resolving their root cause, the complexity of which may be significantly higher on a live network.

What do we need to test?

Time and again, we have observed the root cause of network problems often points towards errors during installation, ineffective or incomplete testing or poor maintenance of the fibre network. In comparison to most active network elements, there can be some significant physical work involved in deploying cabling infrastructure. A recent industry study undertaken by VIAVI, found that installers can spend as much as 20 percent of their working week troubleshooting physical network issues.

Network connectivity issues with the fibre connections between data centers are among some of the costliest operational problems due to their high ‘mean time to repair’ (MTTR). Pulling many kilometres of fibre through congested ducts, unpacking and dressing-in new cable assemblies, even something as simple as leaving dust caps off connectors, may result in issues that can be extremely disruptive and expensive to correct – something the hard-working operations teams whose job is to manage networks will no doubt attest to.

Consequently, failing to test properly represents somewhat of a false economy, focusing excessively on the short-term wins without considering the potential longer-term losses.

Collaboration & planning simplify & accelerate high speed network tests

But how can this be made easier and faster, without sacrificing network assurance on the altar of speed?

Centralised planning and testing automation are one part of the equation, but so too is early and close collaboration between infrastructure vendors, primary and secondary (and sometimes tertiary) contractor teams and, of course, the network owners themselves. Recent efforts of note here have led to dramatically simplified MPO-based (multifibre) network testing and troubleshooting workflows, as well as the definition of client-specific best practices to help them overcome persistent and disruptive network performance issues.

Fostering this kind of deeper engagement and understanding is a big focus today for VIAVI and for Blue Helix, a leading distribution partner of ours based in the UK, but servicing throughout EMEA. By engaging on a global level and then leveraging their unique strengths to deliver together in partnership on a local one, our combined efforts are already proving their worth for data center build and operational teams throughout the region.

In 2021’s fast-moving data center market, choices made today must deliver immediately on revenue and business values, including enhanced process efficiency, maximised resource availability and more effective network monetization. The decision to test is a critical one, to maintain installation quality, resolve challenges before they become crises and to maximise a network’s return on investment.

Despite perceptions that the process will consume vast quantities of time, this is no longer the case thanks to the optimised tools and efficient automated workflows which are at our disposal. Success however is not simply down to clever technology, it also requires talking, teaching, trust and teamwork, a combination that will stand up to any test you care to throw at it.