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How 5G affects data centers and how to prepare

New 5G networks increase connectivity between IoT devices, people and services. Data center operators must pivot quickly – transforming containers and virtual servers into cloud services and edge computing – or risk being left behind.

Data centers must plan for upgrading existing infrastructure, design new architectural approaches to manage hyperlocal edge data centers, and learn how to integrate automation for seamless 5G network management.

What is 5G?

5G wireless is the latest mobile networking technology for cellular networks. It is designed to connect everyone and everything, including machines, things, devices, people and systems, regardless of location. 5G networks offer higher peak data rates, lower latency, more reliability, increased network capacity and increased availability.

5G uses virtualized and software-driven architectures to simplify mobility. Users and mobile devices can stay connected as they move between connections without having to reauthenticate or change settings. This enables technologies such as autonomous vehicles, virtual reality or massive IoT.

5G networks also provide better geographic coverage and can improve connectivity in underserved areas without adequate broadband connectivity or in dense urban areas where demand exceeds current capabilities. They support a dense, distributed-access architecture and help bring data processing closer to the edge.

How the 5G network works

5G technology encompasses several parts of the network architecture. Generally speaking, however, 5G networks have two main components: the radio access layer and the core network layer. Their style of deployment depends on the 5G network and the underlying architecture.

The radio access network (RAN) includes 5G small cells and macrocells to which individual devices connect, such as base stations, routers, smartphones or autonomous vehicles. Clusters of small cells use high-speed, high-bandwidth spectrum that can only travel short distances. Small cells are typically short-range wireless base stations that handle wide area coverage for residential and business applications and cells. Depending on their configuration and deployment, they can relieve network congestion, increase data throughput, and expand network coverage.

Macrocells use multiple inputs, multiple outputs (MIMO) antennas to provide extended coverage to devices and small cells. Macro cells allow multiple connections to simultaneously send and receive large amounts of data so that more users can connect simultaneously.

5G technology encompasses several parts of the network architecture. Generally speaking, however, 5G networks have two main components: the radio access layer and the core network layer.

The core network includes all back-end technologies and software that manage data and internet connections for the 5G network, including beamforming, authentication and access control, user plane functions, and management session. Coordinating a 5G network requires powerful computing systems and architectures, such as cloud-based systems, machine learning, and AI.

How is 5G related to data centers and does it impact today?

The large amount of data that 5G networks must process, store and distribute can create pressure on data centers. It increases demand for computing capacity and associated infrastructure, such as storage, connectivity, and support for edge computing.

Many data center operators have taken a wait-and-see approach when it comes to 5G rollout. That’s partly because of the flexibility built into existing architectures, said Mike Wolfe, CTO of outdoor wireless networks at CommScope, during a recent webinar.

Some networking hardware and software has already been upgraded to be faster and more efficient, with containerization and virtualization leading the way. These technologies already support the increased use of 4G and can scale to handle existing 5G network infrastructure.

The future of 5G and data centers

Data center operators should be prepared for increased 5G networking demands in the future. Cisco reports that 5G will support more than 10% of global mobile connections by 2023, with an average speed of 575 Mbps. That’s 13 times faster than the average mobile connection today.

Data centers can augment their lifecycle upgrade processes by replacing simpler network hardware, like switches and routers, with 5G-enabled devices. They can study the effects of 5G on existing technologies, such as network functions virtualization and software-defined networks, to ensure they can handle the increased workload.

They should also learn about the Open RAN standards used by global network operators and major OEM vendors. Newer, more agile network vendors often use Open RAN standards in their 5G technologies, driving businesses away from traditional vendors. Data center operators and staff will need to become more familiar with these standards if they wish to remain relevant in the 5G landscape. This includes increasing internal staff training and certifications and hiring external resources with relevant expertise.

Colocation and convergence of 5G architecture and supporting technologies will likely increase between large data centers and hyperlocal data centers to ensure seamless data transfer, low latency, and frictionless communication.