Enterprises Seeing the Light on Dark Fiber

Enterprise data loads are becoming so large that some organizations are turning to a wide area connectivity solution that has traditionally been the domain of metro carriers and other communications providers: dark fiber.

Virtually every fiber trunk has unlit strands that can be activated if and when the need arises. To save costs, many providers simply lease this capacity from the owner rather than lay their own trunks. This capacity can then be leased to end users who typically require the speed, but not the full carrying capacity, of a fiber link.

But this is changing now that the enterprise is moving large — and steadily growing — amounts of data between fixed locations like the data center and the cloud provider. If this trend continues, what was once a niche service between carriers is likely to become a vibrant new offering for enterprise users.

CenturyLink’s Ed Morche, president of strategic enterprise and federal government business, told Fierce Telecom recently that enterprises are already requesting dark fiber connectivity as a way to maintain secure links between sites. With many organizations gravitating toward 100G and even 400G in the data center, the economics of forging dedicated fiber links over the wide area start to make sense, particularly when it comes to sensitive data and intellectual property. The company recently completed its acquisition of Level 3, which brought in 200,000 route miles of fiber in more than 350 metropolitan areas around the world.

From a cost management perspective, says communications attorney C. Douglas Jarrett, dark fiber has a lot to offer, as long as your bandwidth requirements are sufficiently steady. For one thing, fiber is a fixed, durable asset with lifecycles that extend over decades even as its derivable bandwidth increases due to advances in multiplexing and other underlying technologies. And since the “sunk costs” of gaining rights-of-way easements and permitting, not to mention construction itself, have already been born by the provider, start-up costs for the enterprise are relatively modest.

Some providers are already promoting their dark fiber capacity as the key to next-generation service levels, particularly in areas like security. Quantum Xchange, which provides long-distance fiber connectivity across the U.S., recently launched its new Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) service on dark fiber infrastructure between Washington, D.C., and Boston. The service, based on the company’s Trusted Node technology, utilizes quantum algorithms to overcome the shortcomings of current SSL encryption approaches, which are already being targeted by hackers equipped with quantum capabilities of their own.

Meanwhile, British Telecom is offering what it calls “virtual dark fiber” through its Openreach subsidiary. The company uses a technique called Optical Spectrum Access Filter Connect (OSA FC) that gives users the ability to maintain their own electronics on top of service that is managed by Openreach. This setup is said to offer more flexibility and control over bandwidth without compromising management and service levels. And according to Light Reading, it is seen as part of a response by an effort from U.K. regulator Ofcom to compel BT to begin offering dark fiber services to businesses.

To paraphrase Coco Chanel, wide area connectivity can never be too fast or too cheap. By maintaining their own fiber links directly rather than leasing them as services, the enterprise gains both the speed and control it needs over its data center-to-cloud-to-edge infrastructure, while at the same time lowering its overall cost of operations.

But again, this is true only if your data requirements are broad enough to warrant fiber-level speed and capacity.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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