On the Cusp of a Radically New DCI

Connectivity between data centers is becoming a critical enterprise asset as organizations seek to scale infrastructure and push data and application processing closer to the edge. This is leading to a wealth of activity around the Data Center Interconnect (DCI), particularly in new optical platforms that strive to recreate local data performance over wide area infrastructure.

According to ACG Research, the DCI industry will more than quadruple by the end of the decade, going from about $1.1 million today to more than $4.7 billion in 2019, a compound annual growth rate that is just shy of 45 percent. The field is drawing interest from a variety of providers, each specializing in various cloud, network and interexchange platforms, while at the same time some large enterprises are even looking to craft their own interconnects on carrier or long-haul fiber topologies. The DCI is also being tasked with more than just basic connectivity, however, as users demand increased levels of automation, configuration flexibility and resiliency as well.

What we’re really seeing is the dawn of the new era for the data center interconnect, says ADVA Optical’s Jim Theodoras (disclosure: I provide occasional content services for ADVA). Not only is deployed bandwidth climbing at about 30 percent each year thanks to 100 GB technology, but new software-driven platforms are fueling advanced orchestration and open APIs that lend a high degree of programmability to geographically distributed infrastructure. Regardless of the size or architecture of the underlying network, the enterprise will soon be able to drive the same kind of abstract networking functions that are taking hold within the data center across the wide area, virtually eliminating distance as a factor in the creation of virtual data environments.

Abstraction on the DCI will likely become a basic requirement sooner rather than later, says Steve Vogelsang, CTO at Alcatel-Lucent’s IP Routing and Transport business. In an interview with Light Reading, he notes that the Internet of Things and the increased prevalence of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications is going to wreak havoc on the data flow between processing centers, which is a far cry from the largely predictable traffic currently populating the wide area. In order to fully meet emerging data center requirements, the DCI will need the ability to automatically reconfigure and re-optimize itself in conjunction with the automated workloads it is carrying.

Building the transport layer to support this level of functionality is not going to be the fork-lift upgrade it sounds like, however. New solutions are stressing high throughput on small platforms, matching the high-density, high-modularity that is affecting the rest of the data center. Coriant’s new Groove G30 platform, for instance, features a highly dense hardware footprint that delivers 3.2 TB within a single RU box. The system offers power consumption as low as .45W per GbE of duplex traffic and can provide 10, 40 and 100 Gbps service over dynamically adjusted modulation formats ranging from 8 and 16 QAM to QPSK. The company also offers a pay-as-you-go cost structure with mix-and-match pluggable interfaces to scale the system as traffic requirements change.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the WAN is starting to look increasingly like the LAN, with the same erratic traffic patterns and varied application loads. Pushing this level of functionality outside the data center walls is the next step in the establishment of the geo-distributed data environment, where it won’t make a difference if the data or applications being accessed are in the next room or the next continent.

To the end user, pesky details about networks and infrastructure are irrelevant. They want their stuff now and in the proper format for their current device. The enterprise, however, has a vested interest in forging a wide area data center, but it cannot come at the expense of greater latency or shaky reliability.

And ideally, the advanced DCI should emerge simultaneously with the software defined data center, not as an afterthought. 

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