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Cloud Computing: Sky-High Opportunities For Photonic Pioneers

By David Nugent

By David Nugent

If you haven't already contemplated how cloud computing will affect optical networking then fasten your seatbelt because 2011 is squaring up to be a transformational year for this industry.

In the wake of voice and increasingly data commoditisation, communication service providers have unfurled a raft of software-as-a-service (SaaS) initiatives, network upgrades and strategic manoeuvres to capitalise on the trade winds now billowing towards the cloud delivery model. The recent acquisition of Navisite and Terremark by Time Warner Cable and Verizon respectively imply deep-pocketed service deployment plans.

This year shall also witness the birth of Microsoft 365, an online version of the familiar Office desktop suite. Unlike its antecedent, the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, MS 365 shall feature 24/7 telephone-based customer support for business customers. Microsoft as a service provider? You bet!

The transition to server-based computing will create threats and opportunities equally for hardware vendors. Dell alone has invested more than $2.7 billion since late-2007 buying cloud specialists such as Boomi and Compellant, whilst Cisco forged the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) alliance with EMC and VMware.

Such trends may prove particularly pertinent for the optical networking community since the growing use of commodity processors means the performance of datacenters have become reliant on the capabilities of the communications infrastructure. At OFC/NFOEC 2011 we shall hear how device and networking specialists are responding to the resultant challenges in terms of latency, bandwidth, costs and energy efficiencies.

Outside financial services and certain HPC niches, cloud computing has generally been constrained to near-time applications such as email and archiving. Whilst CAD specialists such as NVIDIA Corporation have offered cloud-based rendering since 2009, demands for real-time object manipulation have intensified appetite for low-latency storage area network solutions.

In truth the latencies of ultra-long-haul networks already approach the practical limit of SMF fiber. For example the round-trip delay achieved routinely between Sydney and London (200 ms) is within 10 percent of its theoretical minimum over an ITU-T G.652-compliant cable strung directly between each city (181 ms). Meaningful reductions in ULH latency may therefore depend on alternative dispersion mitigation techniques such as the digital pre-distortion method presented by Kametani (OThE2).

At the metropolitan level, demand for low-latency packet and circuit switching will intensify as next-generation LTE networks push air interface delays below 20 ms compared to 120 ms over GSM. Herein lays one of many drivers for novel optical switch fabrics such as the 150 ns delay 40Gb/s 8x8 device presented by Proietti (Talk OMV4).

To fulfil the exponential growth of bandwidth, cloud operators are bundling multiple 10GE links in parallel via link aggregations (LAG). According to Google this approach is complex and prone to load imbalances across multiple links in a LAG group, making it difficult to scale. In this context the invited talk by Scott Kipp (OMV1) on 100 GbE switching via 4x25Gb/s electrical lanes should be particularly interesting.

With many cloud applications provided free of charge, datacenter operators are confronted with the challenge of meeting exponentially increasing bandwidth demands without exorbitant increases in infrastructure cost and power. Ultra-low-cost active optical cables such as Light Peak Modules are generally expected to replace copper links, at least in the top-of-rack market segment. Additional cost reduction opportunities arising from plastic optical fiber (POF) and VCSELs innovations shall also be presented at the conference.

Energy efficiency
No article on optical networking would be complete these days without some mention of energy efficiency. This is a complex topic to which my next blog will be dedicated. Watch this space.

Overall OFC/NFOEC 2011 promises to serve a great range of papers for components and network specialists with particular relevancy to cloud computing. Fasten those restrainers 'cause the flight ahead seems certain to be turbulent yet ultimately positive for this dynamic and highly innovative industry.

Dr. David Nugent is Founder and CEO of Elucidare Limited, a boutique technology development and investment advisory business.

Posted: 24 February 2011 by David Nugent | 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.