Optical LANS Starting to Move From Cloud Giants to Data Centers

By Jeff Burt  |  Posted 2014-04-21 Print this article Print

In March, Intel and partners Corning, Molex, Tyco Electroncis and U.S. Conec announced a plan to begin rolling out new optical cables in the second half of 2014 that will leverage Intel's new MXC connector technology and bring speeds of up to 800G bps to the data center.

Also in March, Vello Systems announced the formation of the Open Source Optical (OSO) Forum, a group with such charter members as Accelink, Packetlight, Coadna and Pacnet that will promote the adoption of open-source optical networking solutions in the data center and cloud environments.

The same day, Mellanox Technologies and startup Ranovus introduced a new consortium—the OpenOptics MSA (multi-source agreement)—whose aim is to create a 100G Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) for that will offer a 2km reach for large cloud data centers.

Last year, IBM, Tellabs, Corning, 3M and others launched the Association for Passive Optical LAN (APOLAN) to advocate for the optical LAN market and technologies. The 20-member group's role is that of an information clearing house and education resource around passive optical LANs, rather than as a standards body, Jeffrey Jones, director of global technology services alliances at IBM and a director on the APOLAN board, told eWEEK.

There also have been a range of field trials carried out by vendors, such as the test run earlier this year by the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION) and Alcatel-Lucent on 400G optical transmission running between Toronto and York University's campus in North York.

So there is industry momentum behind the idea of fiber optics in the data center, but it's unclear when glass will become widespread and overtake copper, according to vendors and analysts. The benefits of optical LANs can best be seen when a building is just going up. The elimination of wiring closets, various electronics, and power and cooling infrastructures, as well as less cabling and reduced space requirements, can offer significant capital expense and construction cost reductions.

"In a greenfield environment, it makes the most sense," Mark Fabbi, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, told eWEEK.

As with the Santa Fe school example, in a brownfield situation—where plans are in place for significant upgrades or changes—fiber optics also becomes a more viable option. The Santa Fe project "is both a greenfield and a brownfield," said Al Curtis, executive account director for Tellabs, who work with school officials on the deployment.

However, in the typical enterprise data center, it may take a while for an enterprise to embrace the idea of an optical LAN. The speed of Ethernet continues to rise—just as it has gone from 1Gb to 10Gb and now 40Gb, work is underway for 100Gb and even 400Gb—and many data centers are just making the move to 10GbE, with many fewer getting to 40GbE. For many enterprises, Ethernet gives them all the speed they need, according to analysts and vendors.

"For a lot of companies, they're just now seeing 10 gigabits," IDC analyst Brad Casemore told eWEEK.

IBM's Jones agreed, saying that "if the speed is adequate today, I'm not sure there's a business sense to" jump into optical networking.


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