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Optical Networking: There’s an App for that

By Dr. Ioannis Tomkos

“…so many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way…”
Both Sides, Now by Joni Mitchell, who was ahead of her time predicting the next evolution beyond client-server technology when she released the album “Clouds” in 1969

The future is here, and it’s ready for download.  It’s been said that we live in the App Economy, because of the staggering impact that software apps have had on our daily lives.  Consider that there were a whopping 50 Billion mobile apps downloaded in 2012, and over 20 million installed daily on Facebook.  These are numbers any leading technology company would find impressive.  Creating this content has become big business, driving over half a million jobs in the U.S. alone during the past 3 years, with much more to come in the future.  This fascination with apps downloaded from the cloud has disrupted some businesses while creating new ones, and the importance of a high bandwidth cloud backbone can’t be overstated.  So to quote Joni Mitchell again, let’s look at cloud from both sides, now, and consider not just writing the apps, but the fiber optic network infrastructure that gets them to our devices.

OFC is at the Forefront of Optical Networks

OFC 2014 is full of opportunities to explore these optical networks, from short courses and workshops to technical symposia by some of the industry leaders.  Of course, OFC has always been all about the internet and its evolution.  And you’d expect that with the “Internet of Things” getting so much attention, OFC would once again be on the forefront of that trend.  In 2013, there were an estimated 2 billion people worldwide on the Web – and over a trillion connected objects (cars, cameras, roadways, airplanes, oil pipelines, and toasters).  This is why the Internet of Things is such a big deal; devices now outnumber human beings in their use of network traffic.  Many of these appliances are getting automated so they won’t even need us to get on the Web any more.  This has all been made possible by some truly staggering feats of technology, and by another way in which devices outnumber us.  According to one of the OFC tutorial presentations, this coming year there will be more than a billion transistors for every person on the planet – and each one costs about one ten-millionth of one cent.  Huge volumes drive low cost, so in both of these examples we can see how data becomes more inexpensive to access each year.  Of course, the growth of network bandwidth at the optical core has also been significant, and the technologies which enable that capacity are sure to be hot topics at OFC.

CPU Utilization is not the Main Bottleneck

Interestingly, most of the servers driving these networks are only using a small fraction of their total processing power.  It’s been estimated that less than 25% of the servers used in cloud data centers reach peak utilization at any given time.  As you’ll learn from sessions such as the OFC short courses, CPU utilization isn’t currently the main bottleneck to workload consolidation.  Rather, sever memory capacity is often the primary constraint to adding more virtual machines to a single physical server.  With rapidly falling memory costs and increasing memory density, this could quickly change.  It’s expected that the number of virtual machines on a 2 socket server will continue current trends, increasing about 10 times every decade.  Based on these trends, we can expect increasing demand on the networks which enable one server to talk with another (don’t forget that machine-to-machine communication takes up the majority of traffic within a data center network).

Apps and Optical Networks

The apps which run over optical networks are becoming as interesting to Fortune 1000 companies as they are to high school students, since they enable remote access to cloud services.  According to analysts like Gartner Group, 20% of these companies already have hybrid clouds set up for selected applications, and half of them will be storing customer-sensitive data in the public cloud by 2016.  That’s a lot more traffic over the optical core.  The IEEE Cloud Computing Initiative (CCI) will be holding a special session in partnership with OFC, intended to help accelerate the development, use, and understanding of cloud computing technologies and coordinate related conferences, publications, standards, and education activities.  Since many of these cloud apps are driven by mobile device access, OFC will also be looking at the role of optics in gigabit wireless access networks. 
Clearly, optics has an important role to play in all of these systems.  So if you really don’t know cloud at all, OFC is the perfect time to get acquainted.  Hopefully I’ll see you there and we can share an app together, or just look for me on Twitter (@Dr_Casimer). 

 tomkos photoIoannis Tomkos (B.Sc., M.Sc. Ph.D.), has been with AIT since September 2002 (serving as Professor, Research Group Head and Associate Dean). In the past he was Senior Scientist at Corning Inc., USA (1999 – 2002) and Research Fellow at University of Athens, Athens, Greece (1995 - 1999). He is also currently an Adjunct Professor at University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences and at University of Cyprus. Together with his colleagues and students he has authored over 500 peer-reviewed archival scientific articles, including about 150 journal/magazine/book publications and 350 conference/workshop proceedings papers. Dr. Tomkos was elected in 2007 as Distinguished Lecturer of the IEEE Communications Society for the topic of optical networking. He was also elected Fellow of the IET (2010) and Fellow of OSA (2012) for “outstanding scientific contributions to the field of transparent optical networking”.


Posted: 24 February 2014 by Dr. Ioannis Tomkos | with 0 comments

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The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition (OFC)  or its sponsors.

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