Evaluate 5G networks versus 4G for data centers

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5G networking promises faster connection speeds, lower latency, and more capacity for multiple devices than 4G. Enterprises continue to accelerate the deployment and use of 5G in all areas of their organization, including data centers.

Data centers must prepare to support the additional use of 5G. 5G networking uses more decentralized components and services than 4G, which affects current data center designs and architectures. It has the potential to kick-start increased use of local or mini data centers located closer to edge computing devices found in 5G networks.

The rollout of 5G networks has increased the demand for fast connections and download speeds. Enterprise uses are expected to dominate the 5G landscape over the next few years and break even in 5G investments by 2030.

5G vs. 4G network

When it was released, 4G networking was a significant step up from 3G technology. It enabled greater bandwidth capacity, higher cell density, and improved VoIP capabilities. In the case of 4G LTE, it supported different types of traffic on the same networks. This era of networking has seen an explosion of innovation thanks to the growth of IoT, the increase in the number of smartphones around the world, and the rise of remote working.

To support 4G networks, many data center operators have simply added more hardware to their facilities, such as routers and switches. This has led to an increase in carbon footprint, electricity consumption and cooling costs. As a result, data centers have started adding more virtual machines and containers to their architectures to reduce the number of physical machines and optimize systems across infrastructures.

5G networking improves the capabilities of 4G, but requires more significant infrastructure changes.

5G networks use a different networking approach. Data centers can’t just add more hardware or virtual machines to support 5G. 5G represents a decentralized networking platform that can exist entirely outside of a traditional data center. It uses small, macro cells the size of shoeboxes located closer to the devices it connects to. The antennas and grouped cells transmit on all frequency bands – low bands below 1 GHz, mid bands from 1 to 6 GHz and high bands called millimeter waves. This enables 5G networks to take advantage of bandwidth speeds of up to 20 Gbps in maximum data rate and more than 100 Mbps in average.

The core network infrastructure of a 5G network handles all data and internet connections between devices, such as beamforming, authentication and access controls, and session management.

Data center operators can prepare for 5G in several ways. They can buy real estate closer to the intended connection access points or learn how to optimize the various contact points that these networks need, including microcells, core networks and radio access networks. Those who are ready to switch from 4G network to 5G network could have a market advantage and better support new customers sooner.

5G networking uses more decentralized components and services than 4G, which affects current data center designs and architectures.

4G in the data center

4G networking affects the data center primarily in the last mile of access, as external devices connect to hardware or software. These devices include smartphones or computers, routers and switches, gateways and data stores. Most devices connect machine to machine. Although some, such as 4G-capable routers, include dual-packet data network connections and allow multiple cellular connections, most 4G devices have limits on how many other devices can connect simultaneously.

The 4G-based data center has a linear architecture in terms of how it connects devices and services. This can make scaling difficult. Setting it up requires significant investment, so many companies use collocated data center options. Compared to owning 4G infrastructure, colocation is more cost effective to manage and use as networks expand.

The move to 5G makes this model unsustainable from a technology, resource and cost perspective. There are simply too many last-mile devices in enterprise IoT fleets and too many demands for always-on connections.

5G in the data center

5G networking has a more decentralized approach that moves some of the network infrastructure outside of the data center. Small cells and antennas are installed around public infrastructure or at customer sites to provide low latency and meet SLAs for their customers. Businesses can deploy micro data centers near a 5G micro cell to enable unlimited data processing with faster bandwidth and more reliable connections to larger data centers. The traditional data center can be redesigned to complement the new micro data centers and other 5G networking cells and handle different workloads than it does now.

5G networks generate and transmit higher volumes of data than 4G, and micro cells or mini data centers can’t handle everything, especially over long distances. Smaller data collection and processing tasks can take place at the edge and then be transferred to a larger data center for aggregation or final storage.

The physical footprint of the 5G mini data center resembles a traditional data center. It includes small VM racks and environmental controls to manage temperatures and keep contaminants out. What changes is the physical access to this equipment. These spaces may not have support personnel nearby or be easily accessible, as they may be in areas that require third-party authorization to enter.

The 5G architecture must have additional physical resistance to vibration, dust, temperature, and heavy handling because it is portable and can be installed virtually anywhere. Self-repairing 5G devices and systems with no single point of failure can also help, so that non-specialists can maintain them. The 5G network must be durable enough to withstand multiple component failures until it can be repaired, no matter who is sent to fix it.

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