When seen purely as a telecom network, the postal service is fascinating and unique. It shares with any other government network the reality of hundreds of thousands of users, often handling very sensitive data.
What makes it unique is the vast geographic spread of the network, the sheer volume of daily throughput and of course the number and variety of sites – small, medium and large, which can be seen as a web of hubs and spokes – with differing network requirements. Postal networks typically have hub offices throughout the country that manage sorting and mail collation for the region. A network of spoke offices connects into these hubs. A group of hub offices feeds into a larger hub, and so on.
The network needs to be sensitive to the size and function of each type of office. In some cases the post offices could be situated remotely, possibly in areas without access to fibre backbones. These remote post offices need to be networked into the central system nonetheless.
Network equipment that was laid down at the turn of the century has now become obsolete and needs to be upgraded if not totally revamped. A number of considerations and key criteria need to be fulfilled in deploying a postal network.
Performance is paramount. Advances in sorting and routing technologies mean that image and video data need to be shared seamlessly across a huge, complex, mega-network. Superior quality of service is needed to maintain network performance and manage bandwidth allocation. As network loads can be predicted to a certain degree in postal networks, automated load scheduling capabilities should be built in. Ten Gigabit Ethernet products ensure maximum data throughput to support multiple simultaneous network applications. Virtual chassis stacking provides an uninterrupted network service, and maximises the use of available network bandwidth.
Security is of utmost importance both due to data privacy and sensitivity issues, and the legal ramifications of mishandling mail. The importance of security cannot be overestimated, especially given the fact that a number of postal networks offer banking facilities as well. At their most basic, security issues can be addressed through strict access controls, traffic filtering to ensure malicious content is kept out of the network, the setup of virtual private networks and providing users in different locations with different levels of access.
Reliability is important as with any mission critical network. The network needs to support the efficient delivery of letters and parcels and effective systems in order to maintain its reputation and customers. This can be achieved through built-in network redundancy as well as other innovative new technologies, including Ethernet protection switching, link aggregation and other features that enable a network to maximise bandwidth and enable failsafe switchovers from a network pain point to a different route.
Postal employees are extremely busy and networks cannot afford extended learning curves. Hence network equipment should be easy to learn, use, install and manage. Integrated management of the network infrastructure is needed to ensure that performance can be monitored and network resources easily managed. In addition, any equipment upgrades and other add-ons need to be compatible with existing network parameters.
Ensuring built-in scalability and future proofing postal networks allows them to grow seamlessly and adapt in order to keep up with technological advances in the future, as well as to allow the network to sustain increasing throughput and different business lines. Features such as VCStack can increase port density and resiliency without increasing management complexity. Flexible expansion modules allow the network to offer speeds of up to 10 Gigabit Ethernet even for increased network loads. Investing in hardware that conforms to IPv6 specifications offers support for the next generations of Internet Protocol as well as inbuilt security and traffic control features.
Ensuring that all network equipment chosen satisfies the criteria of reliability, security, performance and future proofing at an optimal cost will ensure that postal networks are easy to install, manage and upgrade over the long term.