Feeds

Commercial math attracts NBN Co’s attention

No, we don’t mean “creative accounting”

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Australian software company Biarri has won a contract to supply software and co-development work to NBN Co, the government-owned company building the country’s National Broadband Network (NBN).

The contract itself was announced in more-or-less boilerplate fashion, but Biarri’s description of itself as a “commercial mathematics” company piqued The Register’s curiosity. We spoke to Biarri’s co-founder and director, Joe Forbes.

He said the basis of Biarri’s work is in “operations research” – the application of maths to business problems to, as Wikipedia puts it, “arrive at optimal or near-optimal solutions to complex decision-making problems”.

Fobes put it more simply: “The applied maths is generally wrapped in lots of IT,” he said – meaning that the solutions most business-people are familiar with are embedded in software products that address single problems.

“Operations research gets used a lot in transport and logistics – scheduling, rostering, routing for trains, aircraft, ports and mining.

“Our aim in Biarri is to try and ‘democratize’ the mathematics – make it easy for the enterprise to use an digest. They don’t understand the underlying mathematics, and it’s hard to get at.”

In a project like the NBN, the famous “traveling salesman” problem (see Wikipedia) provides a good example of how maths can be applied to problem-solving: what’s the most efficient way to connect a given set of points? The problem is described as “NP-hard”, with no ‘generic’ formula that will solve all possible versions of the problem.

“It’s hard to formulate algorithms that solve a ‘general class’ of problem,” Forbes said. “The shortest path problem is one of those examples – we’re trying to provide as close as possible to an optimal solution in a robust way."

Without the background mathematics expertise, Forbes said, the combinatorial explosion can "kill you quickly".

He noted that the basic NBN architecture makes it a little easier to find solutions. “One of the best parts of the architecture is that it’s a ‘low degree’ design,” he said. Wherever possible, each node in the network only has to connect to two other nodes.

However, the NBN also poses an unusual challenge: it’s a brownfields rollout that has to cover a whole nation. Most network design challenges build on previous networks, Forbes explained, which means the network designer usually only has to deal with the most efficient way to connect a given number of new nodes to the system, rather than starting with a completely clean sheet.

“That was the fundamental issue we’ve been asked to solve: given a particular fibre demand and a reference architecture that embodies the design constraints [such as the number of premises served by each access node, the estimatechted trenching cost and so on], what is the most efficient layout?”

This kind of work demands a close relationship between Biarri and its customers, Fobes said, which is why the contract also covers ongoing R&D for its solutions. “We’ll stay close to the domain experts. NBN Co has great people who have spent years around fibre networks; our job is to get the mathematics working.”

NBN Co’s CTO Gary McLaren believes Biarri’s solutions could help “save substantial costs in both design and construction”. The initial purchase contract is worth $A6.5 million. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Special pleading against mass surveillance won't help anyone
Protecting journalists alone won't protect their sources
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Apple's iPhone 6 first-day sales are MEANINGLESS, mutters analyst
Big weekend queues only represent fruity firm's supply
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Bill Gates, drugs and the internet: Top 10 Larry Ellison quotes
'I certainly never expected to become rich ... this is surreal'
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
EMC, HP blockbuster 'merger' shocker comes a cropper
Stand down, FTC... you can put your feet up for a bit
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.