KELVIN: A Guest Post

There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the benefits of Project KELVIN, a €30M investment in Northern Irelands telecommunications infrastructure. The issue is that when questions were asked, answers were not forthcoming. David Kirk, ex-AOL, ex-Cisco, steps in with some clarity. Let’s Get a Few Facts Right …, by David Kirk. In November, Matrix published … Continue reading “KELVIN: A Guest Post”

There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the benefits of Project KELVIN, a €30M investment in Northern Irelands telecommunications infrastructure. The issue is that when questions were asked, answers were not forthcoming. David Kirk, ex-AOL, ex-Cisco, steps in with some clarity.

Let’s Get a Few Facts Right …, by David Kirk.

In November, Matrix published “Telecoms Horizon Panel Report; Exploiting Northern Ireland’s Telecoms Infrastructure” claiming “international connectivity now gives us the distinction of being “closer” to the east coast of North America than California.”
Then on December 14th, in a piece by John Simpson in the Belfast Telegraph, an article on the report states

“The new Kelvin direct fibre link from Northern Ireland to the USA offers huge capacity, sufficient for 1 million concurrent 2Mbps users, and reduces the round trip time for contact with the USA from 120-150 milliseconds to 65-67 milliseconds. Operating in milliseconds is itself staggering.”

You’d get the impression from these claims that Kelvin just established Northern Ireland as the telecommunications gold medalist in the 2010 connectivity sprint. Unfortunately, the above statements are meaningless out of context – a fact that a number of telecommunications experts in Northern Ireland have been trying to tell the powers that be for 2-3 years now.

So, let’s step through this slowly.

But first, lest this article is written off as just another negative poke from another naysayer – there are LOTS of advantages to Kelvin, both strategic and tactical, but round trip latency IS JUST NOT ONE OF THEM.

And, I’ll keep this as simplified as possible to illustrate the point.
On a continuous run of fiber optical cable, data is transmitted as light pulses – and travels at the speed of – well – light. Long lengths of fiber optical cable need repeaters (passive repeaters) to get the light longer distances. This will slow the data down, but that’s not the major reason for delay. Two other network topology and routing considerations have vastly more significant delays on data transfer / throughput rates than round-trip delay – hubs and peering arrangements.

Round trip delay data, in this case, is the time to transmit from a Hibernia node, to another Hibernia node. This has NOTHING to do with the actual delay, transfer rate or throughput that an actual user may experience. The REAL impact of data transfer / throughput will depend on the “last mile”, i.e. what connectivity any user has to its ISP and which other ISP’s are peered.

For example, I am on Time Warner Cable in Palm Springs. To send an email to my neighbor who is on Comcast means that my data has to travel to the nearest peer exchange where Time Warner and Comcast have a peering arrangement, i.e. agreed to allow data to travel over each other’s networks (reciprocity).

Basically, it is impossible to predict generic data transfer / throughput rates from backbone round time delay, and making non-sense statements like “closer” just illustrates that the folks making these claims either know how facile the arguments are, or simply just don’t have a clue about networks and data transfer / throughput rates. A simple challenge to this claim would be to ask for the end-to-end transfer / throughput benchmarks.

By way of analogies:

  1. Basing claims on round trip delay is like saying that a car’s speed is only dependant upon the revs of its engine. A Porsche would be delivering around 400hp and in 3rd to 4th would be doing 100mph and a Prius can only deliver 100hp for a top speed of, maybe 95 mph.
  2. A slower (in terms of processor cycle speed) PC will print faster on a printer connected to a USB 3.0 connections, in comparison to a faster PC printing to the same printer but connected via USB 1.0.

To make these claims that are being thrown about will incur laughter from knowledgeable network engineers and discredit the REAL benefits and advantages of Kelvin. Perhaps the folks that are pumping out these claims should be listening to the folks that understand?

0 thoughts on “KELVIN: A Guest Post”

  1. Sir,

    In reading your blog article I feel you have missed the real strategic significance of Kelvin from a Northern Ireland perspective.

    Northern Ireland is now strategically positioned as the optimal telecommunications / Big Data – location in the North Atlantic. This capability is key for global organisations that need to both move and securely manage enormous volumes of data between the North American Continent, the UK and Continental Europe. Everyone in the IT infrastructure industry understands the exponential growth in the on-line storage of data and the challenges this provides. This indisputable massive growth is being driven much further by the emerging operational models within new Cloud Computing disciplines. Most people understand the take up of Public Cloud Offerings; email, social networks, IP/ telephony etc. The other aspect is the change within the way the world’s major organisations are developing Private Cloud environments (Internally secured- dedicated company systems). These are also driving huge new volumes of data, where immense network capacities and minimum network (latency) speeds are absolutely critical requirements for both inter-connecting their operational centers across the globe and thereby creating entirely new ‘globalised’ working environments.

    Thankfully Project Kelvin has now put Northern Ireland at the strategic heart of Cloud Computing developments by linking the North American and European continents in the shortest network time possible and economically offering enormous bandwidth connectivity into the commercial and technology centers of the USA, Canada, UK and Continental Europe. Effectively the faster the connection, the traditional management impact of distance is reduced. therefore it makes it easy for an organisation to dynamically share workloads from overseas operations with new facilities they can establish in Northern Ireland. Clearly this will have an increasing impetus for new job creation as many key multinational organisations are waking up to the fact that Northern Ireland has effectively become a close digital suburb of their primary operational centers. This enables global organisations to establish new operations here, where they can recruit the critical skills they increasingly require to seamlessly expand their global business operations with distance no longer being an object.

    Without Kelvin, Northern Ireland would be hugely disadvantaged in attracting Foreign companies to invest and create new employment in the burgeoning digital economy, whereas now ‘Kelvin’ has created a distinct competitive advantage.

    I feel you have taken just a technical single user level perspective of what Kelvin means and as such, no one will really dispute your points, individuals will still access the internet through conventional telecom operators. But your blog has really missed the real point which is that Kelvin now connects major companies at record speed to Northern Ireland from 2 continents and that is truly a very big benefit for Northern Ireland in this Digital age.

  2. Hi Mike,

    David will likely respond on his own time but my immediate comment would be: what exactly makes you think that KELVIN has significantly improved the telecommunications infrastructure around and out of Northern Ireland. KELVIN itself, a short link from the North of Northern Ireland to a pre-existing cable which anchored at Southport only has a limited bandwidth and a pre-set latency. Although figures are hard to come by, I was told that KELVIN itself is only a 4 Gbit link to the main transatlantic cable. This would not be sufficient for the “enormous volumes of data” you refer to.

    If you think the latency difference between LINX and Portrush and Newfoundland is significant, then you’re lacking a great amount of understanding in the whole point of latency measurements. The latency figures we see quoted are point to point, not B2B and are therefore meaningless.

    Others have said that “Northern Ireland is the most connected region in Europe” which is utterly preposterous. And saying it makes us look like yokels.

  3. Hi Matt,

    I think I can see where the understanding has occurred, the capacity of the Kelvin Link is massively greater than just 4Gbit. Also I do understand the significance of peer to peer networks, my point is that organisations now choose to locate data centres at optimal points of their global dark fiber networks, thereby shaving many milliseconds from round trip connectivity between each of their interconnected data centres located strategically around the globe – peer to peer latency then becomes a very big deal in these mass-data environments. Also the Kelvin cable connects Northern Ireland to the USA City of Boston through a mass capacity marine cable at near the speed of light, admit tingly refreshed at its Newfoundland cable station. As I said before Kelvin is a very positive move in an industrial development strategy and that doesn’t make anyone look like a yokel!

  4. Mike,
    Every fibre-optic connection connects “at the speed of light” for the medium so that’s hyperbole.

    I’m not decrying KELVIN by any means – I think its a great addition to the services offered by Hibernia Atlantic but it’s important not to mix that up with benefits to Northern Ireland as a whole.

    I’m told the Kelvin link is only 4 fibre-pairs. So what bandwidth is available over those 4 pairs? There are limits to what can be pushed and what is pushed over it. It was one of HA’s resellers that told me it was 4 Gbits. And how does it compare to the full North Atlantic cable connecting Newfoundland to Southport?

    I fail to see how/why anyone would put data or app centres in Northern Ireland considering that the mainland UK is better connected to Europe and has cheaper property and electricity (for example, Southport).

    If you’re serving Europe, then you’d put your data closer to the centre of Europe to beat those latency issues and get much better connections. Dublin, for instance. Paris. London. Frankfurt.

    If I was serving the US market, I would not put an instance in Northern Ireland. I’d put it in the US, where again property and electricity are cheaper and the connections between nodes are again fatter. Why add the alleged 54 ms Atlantic latency?

    I’ve yet to see anything other than hyperbole about KELVIN. I’d love to see some hard facts or even better a live demonstration of why it matters and why it is £30M better than what we had before.

  5. Mike, either you missed or ignored this sentence in the original post -” there are LOTS of advantages to Kelvin, both strategic and tactical, but round trip latency IS JUST NOT ONE OF THEM”.

    Just so you don’t think the post was an ill-informed spear chucking session, let me paint some background here:

    1. I was asked by DETI to describe to them the strengths and weaknesses of Kelvin about two years ago. I’ve had calls with Hibernia and dozens of discussions with some Matrix panel members, so I consider my option to be well informed.

    2. The company that designed and implemented the original fiber backbone of the Internet was bought by AOL. I ran sakes and marketing for them, for a while. So I know something about backhaul and peering.

    While all of your competitive advantages sound great, they are not based on reality. And you are missIng the real advantage of Kelvin.

    But, returning to the post – the point is that the “low latency” “closer to NY than CA” “best connected” bumper sticker tag lines are not true and insistIng on repeating that will discredit genuine claims. Even members of the matrix panel are “downplaying” those claims.

    So, stop repeating ridiculous claims and spend time on the real ones – the ones that can offer some genuine advantage.

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