By Jennifer Cline and David Hessong
Data centre optics
As befits its status as a computing giant, Microsoft’s musings about the internet’s future are poised to reshape the optical communication industry. In August 2015, following discussions with colleagues and suppliers, Brad Booth, principal engineer at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, helped found the Consortium for On-Board Optics (COBO). The move answered a question: looking at network speeds of 400G and beyond, will networking equipment that uses faceplate pluggable optical modules continue to make sense?
When Google published an insider’s view of its data centre operations, one image showed a branded bicycle that is their employees’ preferred method for getting around the company’s warehouse-sized facilities. Google builds some of the largest data centres in the world, although it considers the precise details to be commercially sensitive. One thing is clear, however; data centres are getting bigger and bigger, and this has major implications for the way they are designed.
Multimode fibre has been the workhorse of data centre networks for many decades because it provides the lowest cost cabling system for high-speed connections between servers, switches and storage. Although the optical fibre is more expensive, the larger core size enables the use of cheaper transmitters based on vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs), which reduces the overall cost of the system.
Existing 100 Gig interfaces have reaches that are either too long and costly or too short - and web companies' demands have stirred a flurry of industry activity, with four optical module initiatives announced since the year's start. Cheaper 100 Gig mid-reach interfaces also promise to benefit telecoms, with wireless being one application already identified.
Optical module designers must reconcile two contradictory trends: data centres are getting larger, inevitably lengthening the links between systems, yet optical reach gets shorter with increasing channel speed.
As data demand ramps ever higher, researchers are looking to innovative amplifier designs to help transport a broader light spectrum through optical fibres, finds Andy Extance
Duncan Ellis shares his views about the increased focus on automation from network operators, and how the physical layer has so far stubbornly resisted the move
Switching off copper networks where fibre has been deployed is the end game, so why are so few operators doing it, wonders Pauline Rigby
With demand for fibre to the premises increasing, Keely Portway looks at the role training plays in ensuring installation skills remain available to meet this growing demand