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Photonic Switching for Data Center Operations: Three Use Cases

By: Kaylie Gyarmathy on August 27, 2014

Physical switching costs are falling. While this sounds like good news for on-premises and colocated data center operations, the availability of these switches brings to light a new issue: interconnection. According to a recent Tech Radar article, typical data centers dedicates 40 percent or better of its total switches to manage interconnect ports, meaning there's more than a little room for improvement. One potential answer is photonic switching for data center operations – here are three possible use cases.

Photonic What?

This technology is already in use by many large service providers, but hasn't yet made the jump to data centers. Tech Target defines it as “the technology used in optical networking to switch individual wavelengths of light onto separate paths for specific routing of information.” Using dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM), photonic or 'lambda' switching allows 80 distinct light wavelengths to coexist on single optical fibers. This means each light path acts like a virtual circuit which can be transmitted, recombined, and then sent on to another destination.

Use Case: Less Physical Infrastructure

Colocated data centers are running hotter than ever before, increasing cabinet densities and maximizing energy consumption to provide cutting-edge performance. Moving to phontonic switches could significantly reduce the amount of cabling required to perform the same functions – and fewer cables mean lower power use and less heat.

Use Case: Lowering Costs

Currently, the cost of implementing photonic switches across an entire data center is prohibitive. But advances in technology are quickly bringing the price of this optical alternative in line with traditional cabling. Once installed, photonic switches provide the ability to create dynamic information paths. For example, providing temporary network fast-paths or workarounds in turn lowers the total cost of data center operations.

Use Case: Scalability

Photonic switching also comes with built-in scalability. Dynamic information flow gives providers the ability to scale bandwidth up or down, even on static architecture. What's more, adding a single optical cable gives an 80:1 benefit over traditional switching. This means optical scaling is possible at low cost, with minimal time investment and results in significantly improved performance.

While there's still work to be done on photonic switches to bring base costs in line with cable mainstays, the idea has merit. Data center operations are increasingly governed by massive interconnects and thousands of silicon switches – reducing this footprint is the first step in designing next-generation data centers.

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