7 February 2014 4:33:49 PM
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At the beginning of the new year, it seems that everyone wants to predict the Next Big Thing (NBT) in any given field of human endeavor. Top 5 lists are a handy way to do that; in fact there’s a whole website devoted to it. Many technology companies, including IBM, have their own vision of the future. In keeping with this trend, I’d like to offer my take on the Top 5 amazing trends that you’ll see at OFC 2014.
1 - Light in 3D (packaging, that is…)
Historically, optics and electronics have each lived in their own mechanical packages, with different form factors depending on the application. For example, optical modulators, drivers, and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) work closely together in many systems, but historically these components have been developed in their own separate packages, with completely different technologies. To achieve higher speeds, lower power consumption, and smaller footprints, the optics and electronics must start to cohabitate. We’re seeing trends like ball grid arrays, interposers, silicon photonics, and through-silicon vias entering the optics world. Some optical devices have traditionally been packaged in hermetic containers, but this too is changing. At the special seminar on advanced packaging, OFC attendees will get to see all the latest three dimensional packaging options for optical systems.
2 - Light in the Clouds
Cloud computing is creating new requirements for the optically interconnected data center. It’s also driving innovations in network services such as infrastructure-as-a-service, storage, bandwidth on demand, platform-as-a-service, and software-as-a-service. The cloud is accelerating the evolution of network architectures both within and between data centers. At the OFC special symposium on cloud, these topics will be covered in two technical sessions. One will discuss data center architectures enabling the cloud, while the second will focus on network virtualization and control. The volume of data traffic in the cloud is not only huge, but changing dynamically in ways that are difficult to predict. This introduces a unique set of requirements related to security, dynamic resource optimization, multi-tenancy, and reliability. All of these topics will be explored in this session. We’ll also look at the bottlenecks in data center networking, and how emerging optical technologies can help resolve these issues.
3 - When will the Internet break?
It’s no secret that internet traffic is growing at a staggering pace. Applications such as mobile data and always-on connectivity have driven traffic growth figures of 30% or higher, depending on whose prediction you believe. Until recently, this growth was accommodated by fiber optic networks, filling up available wavelength channels in the C-band to add bandwidth. However, there is ultimately a limit to the amount of traffic we can drive before noise and nonlinear effects start to become fundamental limitations. Significant innovation is required to overcome this issue, and to keep bandwidth costs from spiraling out of control. By adding multiple wavelength bands, cores, modes, or multiple fibers, we might address these issues before the Internet breaks, but which technologies should we use and in what timeframe? At the OFC special rump session on this topic, we’ll discuss when and how fundamental limits on fiber capacity might be reached, how long we can extend these timelines if we do a better job of network optimization, and whether disruptive trends like coherent transmission will be required. This is a free, audience participation discussion, open to everyone, with a strict time limit on how long anyone can hold the floor. Spontaneous hand-written slides are very much encouraged!
4 - PICO-networks (programmable, intelligent, converged, open)
With personalized content and applications more pervasive than ever, the industry structure is being transformed by an entirely new model for data fabrics and architectures. Many feel that we’re at the beginning of a multi-year evolution of network service architectures which will offer new features and functions, greater bandwidth, and better performance. One of the keys to creating programmable, intelligent, converged, and open networks may be virtualizing the network in much the same way as server and storage resources. This would allow us to run a variety of services as applications in an open ecosystem, which adapts as the end user needs change, and which self-optimizes to make the best possible use of available physical resources. The so-called intelligent photonic layer can be realized through a combination of software-enabled control, reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexers (ROADMs), coherent receivers, and digital signal processing (DSP) techniques. The OFC plenary session on this topic will discuss how we can achieve an optimized packet-optical solution for Ethernet, traffic management in optical transport networks, and software-defined networking.
5 - Optics for The Rest of Us
By now, you may be feeling a bit intimidated by this list. How can we possibly keep up with all of the new trends in optical technology, and gain the skills needed to stay competitive in this rapidly changing industry ? OFC has the answer – an extensive catalog of short courses intended to “sharpen your ax” and help you navigate this exciting new world of dynamic, converged, open, energy efficient optical systems. Presented by leading subject matter experts in the field, OFC allows you to quickly get up to speed on a wide range of topics, without worrying about whether the latest corporate sponsored “free” webinar will conflict with an important meeting, or just not be worth your time. You won’t waste a minute in these high impact, fast paced courses, but you’ll also have plenty of time to interact with your instructors and get answers to all your questions.
What’s your top 5 list? Drop me a line on Twitter (@Dr_Casimer) or track me down at OFC, and we can compare notes.