Rob Coenen breaks down the top considerations data centre managers should make before plunging into the dark
Between Q1 2018 and Q1 2019, mobile data traffic surged by 82 percent. That eye-popping number is just the latest increase in an almost parabolic curve of mobile data use since 2013. At the consumer level, recent years have seen an explosion of video streaming. For businesses, demand for data-hungry cloud computing and edge computing applications keeps increasing. And the launch of 5G will enable IoT to scale up.
In other words, demand for data is only going to increase from here.
For data centre managers, that means finding ways to enable the flow of data at high speeds – often on a limited budget. One technology that may make that performance boost possible is dark fibre.
What is dark fibre?
First, some quick background: laying fibre-optic cables underground (and especially under oceans) is expensive. In fact, the fibres themselves account for less than 10 percent of the overall cost of setting up this infrastructure.
So when companies lay fibre-optic cables, they typically put in far more than they need to hedge against future increases in data demand. In practice, this means that, alongside the “lit” fibres that run data around the world, there are many “unlit,” or “dark” fibres that aren’t being used.
An organisation can buy or lease one of these fibres – or even a single wavelength within a fibre – to meet its data connectivity needs. Doing so offers an alternative to paying a commercial internet service provider (ISP) like Comcast or AT&T.
Dark fibre vs. ISPs
So why would an organisation go to the trouble of leasing a dark fibre when ISPs are already established and ready to sell their services? The short answer is that it might not – dark fibre doesn’t always make sense.
But for organisations interested in achieving extremely low latency, superior redundancy, privacy, security, or high growth, dark fibre can be an excellent option. Here’s how.
Because of the volume of traffic they manage, ISPs tend to shift data around before delivering it to its destination. The result is (relatively) high latency. This isn’t typically a problem for home use or even many types of business use, but in applications that demand extremely low latency – like a stock exchange – dark fibre offers a direct connection and therefore superior performance with extremely low latency.
Many businesses have redundant networks set up as part of their disaster recovery / business continuity (DR / BC) plan. But often, different ISPs share the same physical infrastructure. In the event of a natural disaster or even a construction accident that caused one provider to go down, the “backup” provider might go down as well. Dark fibres offer true redundancy, as they are completely separate from the physical infrastructure used by ISPs.
Another key benefit of dark fibre networks is that they’re extremely private. Organisations required to maintain certain data security standards (including those in the healthcare industry) may be able to save money on external security measures by opting for a dark fibre network.