B&V director advises careful planning in migration from frame relay networking

As telecommunications companies increasingly utilize new technology, power utilities also must take the time now to adapt to the changing landscape, said David Hulinsky, director of Utility Telecommunications for Black & Veatch (B&V).

“Only through careful planning can a utility make the best decisions on how to move forward, whether continuing with its current service provider, developing their own private network infrastructure, or some combination of the two,” Hulinsky told Power News Wire.

Specifically, utilities need to migrate away from using frame relay services for local area network connections, which continue to be made obsolete by advanced technologies, and begin adapting their network infrastructures to allow for those that are more scalable and flexible, Hulinsky said.

And because few utilities will have the capability to completely overhaul networks at a single point, he says a more viable solution would be gradual migration and phasing out older technology as it becomes inefficient. Among its services, B&V provides network assessments that are designed to help utilities with this process.

The following is an edited excerpt of a recent discussion between Hulinsky and Power News Wire regarding how B&V is equipped to assist utilities with their future plans. 

Q: With technology changing at warp speed, how quickly should power utility companies begin a transition away from frame relay networking? 

A: Network carriers are already beginning to notify their customers of the sunset dates for frame relay, 4-wire and ATM services. With mission critical services at stake, utilities need to be prepared on how they will act so they have sufficient time to migrate their networks. Developing a detailed project plan is important that consists of understanding the existing network infrastructure, defining future requirements, and developing an end-to-end delivery plan that has a supporting business case. 

Q: What benefits will these utilities experience by adapting their network infrastructures for new technology? 

A: Optical Transport Networks and virtualization through IP and MPLS technology provide higher speeds and bandwidth than frame relay and other legacy services. It will also enable them to better address the overall migration and trend toward IP automation technologies across their electric infrastructure. The next-generation utility network must support the capacity and latency required to support Smart Grid initiatives like distribution automation, advanced SCADA and renewable generation. IP also provides flexibility to address interoperability issues. 

By delivering a common, standardized approach, devices and applications can be seamlessly integrated. MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) allows utilities to converge networks or systems across a shared infrastructure and enables utilities to segregate traffic based on pre-defined routes and a network’s service requirements.

Q: How much will it cost them to do so in the short term and what is the gain in dollars over the long term?

A: Black & Veatch encourages utilities to invest the time to adequately plan the engineering and end-to-end implementation, so costs can be accurately determined and budgeted. Costs will vary, largely dependent upon the specific requirements of the utility, the number and location of connected facilities, and the utility’s starting point as far as existing infrastructure already in place. 

The physical make-ready work to support the new MPLS network is commonly overlooked, which can jeopardize project schedule and costs. Developing an overall master plan that accounts for the end-to-end delivery of the network and physical infrastructure required to support it is essential to ensure the business case benefits can be realized. 

Q: What value does Black & Veatch bring to the table for utilities that need to begin this process? 

A: Black & Veatch has a long history of designing and deploying both electric utility infrastructure and network solutions for our wide base of utility clients of all sizes, providing telecommunications master planning, network design and full network implementation. 

In our 100-year history, we have implemented both the legacy technologies in place and the new technologies that have emerged over time. We were there, helping utilities deploy SONET and TDM, frame relay and ATM technologies as they were adopted by our clients. We continue today supporting the next generation of utility telecommunications and automation networks. 

We believe our ability to work with a utility from concept through completion provides our clients with an engineered solution that best fits their unique requirements and provides a flexible network infrastructure that will deliver growth and scalability as utility requirements evolve in the future. For example, Black & Veatch recently designed and deployed an entire Smart Grid Communications System for a large investor-owned utility … to support the monitoring and control of transmission and distribution equipment and applications, and ultimately connect more than 1,000 smart grid assets. This network also required network migration from legacy TDM, frame relay and serial communications to IP.

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