Bandwidth-intensive technologies like virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI) — along with the rising popularity of streaming media services — all mean that communications providers have to figure out how to scale up their infrastructures to support the growing data transmissions and the dependence on cloud computing.
In many cases, that means pushing the limits of fiber-optic cables. If those efforts continue to gain momentum, how could they impact data centers?
If the news headlines are any indication, 2019 may be the year when companies realize they've yet to reach the limit of fiber-optic cable capacity. At a fiber-optics gathering in San Diego, two announcements gave people plenty of food for thought about what's possible.
In the first instance, researchers developed a laser-specific method that can boost the capacity of fiber-optic cables without needing new cables. They tested it on a transatlantic network going from Virginia Beach, Va. to Bilbao, Spain. The team designed a toolkit that modulated the lasers, and that approach led to a record-setting top speed of 26.2 terabits per second — 20 percent faster than what they thought possible.
It's notable that the impressive speed happened despite such a significant distance. If this laser method to increase capacity gets more widespread usage, data centers could benefit from boosted data rate transmissions without needing to make cable upgrades. However, because this method is so new and still confined to a research environment, data center managers could encounter unforeseen challenges when carrying out these plans.
Another newsworthy achievement in fiber optics came from Ciena, which announced two innovations using coherent optics. In short, that approach takes the ones and zeros constituting the blinking light within a fiber and modulates the phase and amplitude of the light. The signal gets sent across each of the two polarizations, allowing more data to get encoded into the light waves.
Ciena calls these latest offerings WaveLogic 5 Extreme (WL5e) and WaveLogic 5 Nano (WL5n). WL5e offers programmable bandwidth, allowing customers to adjust their needs as necessary. It's the first single-wavelength 800G solution and gives 50 percent more capacity per wavelength, and an increase in spectral efficiency of up to 20 percent compared to older options.
The company says this improvement aligns with the pending introduction of 400G interfaces in data centers and will equip customers to take advantage of them.
Then, WL5n offers footprint-optimized options for 100G-400G applications. Ciena believes WL5n will reduce costs while meeting scalability needs. It will bring both these offerings to the marketplace later in 2019.
Data center managers who invest in one or both of these technologies from Ciena could give themselves competitive edges in the marketplace, especially if they also utilize Ciena's Data Center Interconnect (DCI) option.
Given these fiber-optic-related enhancements, it's not surprising that market analysts forecast the global fiber-optic cable market to reach approximately $7.52 billion by 2025, which is a combined annual growth rate of about 8.5 percent. Data centers will undoubtedly play a role in that rise, especially as they seek to meet customers' needs through better fiber-optic cables.
However, data centers may be put under pressure as they balance how to budget for fiber-optic upgrades and anticipate the needs of their current and future customers.
Having cables that can handle more data could enable data centers to assert how they're ready to handle more intense data center processing and storage needs their clients may have. But, data centers must ensure it's highly likely those fiber-optic investments will pay off.
The information above collectively represents some of the most recent efforts in fiber-optic cable capacity, but there are other things in the works that could also impact data centers.
In early 2018, researchers showed off a real-time bi-directional transmission system capable of error-free, 400-gigabyte-per-second transmissions with 8-bit-per-second spectral frequencies over a single-mode fiber.
When data centers need to up their capacities, they typically rent more fiber-optic cables or figure out how to increase the capacity of the current ones. The latter option is the preferable one due to cost efficiency. The researchers who came up with the new transmission system could help data centers increase their capacities associated with current data center interconnections.
It's also necessary to clarify that Facebook wants to build a fiber network of approximately 275 miles in West Virginia, a state that has one of the lowest broadband coverage rates in the U.S., as well as some of the slowest speeds. The company says this move will increase broadband access in rural areas. Once it does, the uptick in internet users could affect the information coming into data centers, making those facilities need to ramp up.
The innovative measures covered here are exceptionally crucial considering that large segments of society use data-heavy applications regularly.
Also, that reality will become more apparent as more areas of the world get internet access, and as new technologies that send or receive data continue to get developed in various industries.
Kayla Matthews writes about data centers and big data for several industry publications, including The Data Center Journal, Data Center Frontier and insideBIGDATA. To read more posts from Kayla, you can follower her personal tech blog at ProductivityBytes.com.