Optical Networks Creating the Global LAN

The cloud is turning the whole world into one giant data center, which means the wide area network is becoming the local area network writ large.

Naturally, these are heady times for fiber optics, which offers not only the speed to support LAN-like responses over long-haul connections, but can also maintain longer links than electrical solutions and provide high bandwidth overhead to accommodate burgeoning workloads.

These facts are certainly not lost on the networking industry. According to Market Research Future, sales of global optical network hardware are growing at a 13.85 percent compound annual rate, which should push the field to more than $32 billion by 2023. The cloud is only one driver in this trend, however, as providers also seek to push fiber to IoT and mobile infrastructure as well. In practically all use cases, the increased consumption of virtualized applications and services is pushing data consumption to extreme levels.

All the while, development of new optical solutions continues. Networking executive Daniel Browning notes that a new material called dry fiber promises a sevenfold increase in network bandwidth by extending the wavelength range of today’s wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) solutions. As well, researchers are experimenting with optical solitons – single pulses of light – to vastly expand the number of channels within a single fiber and overcome propagation and interference issues. Meanwhile, light-based communications is making its way into the data center in the form of silicon photonics, which supports links anywhere from a few centimeters to several kilometers in length.

For the present, however, new optical solutions are allowing the enterprise to extend legacy networks across multi-cloud architectures more easily. Adva Optical recently demonstrated the ability of its FSP 3000 CloudConnect system to support 32G Fibre Channel networks between data centers 135 kilometers apart. The company says this will allow organizations to extend flash performance over distributed architectures with about a third of the latency and 50 percent more IOPS than current storage networking solutions. (Disclosure: I provide content services to Adva.)

Open cloud networking solutions also have a vested interest in faster, more efficient networking. The Linux Foundation’s OpenDaylight program recently upgraded its Flourine project to include a new implementation of the Open Reconfigurable Optical Add-Drop Multiplexer (ROADM), which should make it easier for the enterprise to transfer SDN traffic to wide-area WDM architectures. At the same time, the project supports a new Path Computation Element Protocol (PCEP) for improved IP transport among distributed data centers.

The world is getting smaller and has been for some time, first through improved transportation and now through better connectivity. We humans are a fickle lot, and we don’t like to wait for things, whether it is a sandwich at a deli counter or an application from the other side of the earth.

Sadly, our pattern is that every advance in computing technology is immediately followed by a new way to push it to its limits. With billions of IoT devices coming online in the next few years, it’s likely that even the most advanced optical solutions will struggle to keep up before long.

But that will just set the stage for the next big breakthrough to come along.

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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