One World, One Cloud

February 11, 2017

Subsea operators are no longer forced to compromise cloud web-scale flexibility and performance against the need for ruggedness and reliability with the launch of a new suite of advanced subsea networking solutions. Cloud scale, programmable, flexible and secure networks can now span the globe.
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Hans Christian Andersen is famous for his fairy stories, but less well known for his visionary zeal for advanced technology. In his story Millennium, written in 1857, he anticipates young Californians touring the whole of Europe by air – plus a rail tunnel under the English Channel – in just eight days, with their progress cabled ahead by an “electromagnetic wire under the ocean”. Remarkably prescient – except that he assumed the air travel would be steam powered, and those American tourists would be visiting a ruined Europe a thousand years in the future.

He would have been astonished that the communications network snaking across the ocean floor could be transmitting photons instead of electromagnetic signals! He might also have been amazed by the scale of today’s communications: TeleGeography predicts that trans-Atlantic bandwidth will grow at 40 percent annually through 2025, with most of this traffic generated by private networks.

Optical networks, especially subsea networks, are designed to exacting standards. Historically subsea networks have cost a lot more because of the need for ruggedness and even more stringent reliability standards. The greater demands for reach and reliability often require costly custom components and sophisticated pre-testing to ensure that the network can reach far enough in the toughest of environments. Conservative solutions are chosen so that subsea public networks still typically rely on 2.5G and 10G wavelengths, while terrestrial networks are migrating to 100G.

The good news is that recent technological innovations are extending to the subsea market. Last year, innovations began that began transforming cloud-scale terrestrial networks, meaning that it is now possible to support faster ROI by simply integrating terrestrial and subsea operations without the need for back-to-back transponders.

The pressure on subsea operators
The surge in private traffic is predominently N x 100G “elephant flows” between internet content providers’ data centers as they move and pre-position content around the globe. Three other trends are forcing subsea operators to rethink their networks:

· The first is the 10 to 15% per year decline in end-user cost of international bandwidth. The cost of owning and operating subsea networks is forcing them to reconsider their reliance on custom equipment and look to volume manufactured equipment that can promise optimal service reliability.
· The second is competition as more countries want fiber connection, preferably on shorter, higher performance routes and for the best possible prices.
· The third is the demand for more agile subsea upgrades at shorter notice, with lower prices and faster innovation.

Meanwhile new cloud-based applications such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Network Function Virtualization (NFV), “as a Service” XaaS, video and virtual reality are forcing greater bandwidth demands across service provider subsea, long-haul, metro and data center interconnect networks. This growth is also driving migration to a new, layered architecture with Layer C (Cloud Services) and Layer T (Intelligent Transport) that can adapt to changing traffic flows and support smooth scale-out expansion.

In November 2016, Infinera launched a number of DTN-X upgrades and innovations that promised “a new generation of Intelligent Transport Network architecture that blends the best of web scale technologies with the best of telco-grade technologies, yielding over 50 per cent better total cost of ownership (TCO) over conventional networks”. Among the promises were that cloud scale networks would be:

· Scalable and sliceable – with multi-carrier super-channel technology delivering massive bandwidth per optical engine plus software defined networking (SDN) to independently tune, modulate and route each wavelength
· Integrated and disaggregated – with integrated dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) and switching platforms working in harmony with disaggregated server-like platforms to build the most cost effective networks possible
· Secure and open – with completely open and programmable solutions while featuring in-flight line-rate encryption and other critical security features

These would allow service providers to efficiently address both large N x 100 gigabit Ethernet (GbE) linear connectivity requirements driven by web scale operators as well as the diverse mesh connectivity requirements driven by more traditional telco enterprise and residential customers.

If subsea operators are to match their terrestrial counterparts, they too must upgrade to cloud scale networks that are scalable, programmable, and flexible, with best-in-class techniques for robust security and rapid reconfigurability – without any compromises on ruggedness, reach and reliability.

Subsea equipment is embracing innovations such as photonic integration, soft-decision forward error correction (SD-FEC) and programmable modulation along with ultra-long reach, 500G and future terabit super-channels, ultra-reliable photonic integrated circuits (PICs) and intelligent generalized multi-protocol label switching (GMPLS) control plane enable scale and reliability.

Scott Jackson, Vice President of Subsea Business Group at Infinera said that these new solutions offer “unprecedented ease of installation and scale-out, advanced transmission performance, and the power of Instant Bandwidth to deliver real value to cable system operators”. Larry Schwartz, Chairman and CEO of Seaborn Networks agreed that: “The true metric for fiber capacity in subsea applications is the capacity-reach product. Submarine network operators always seek to regenerate only when required” and that these new systems “claim to have up to 60 per cent better capacity-reach performance for submarine and terrestrial networks than the current generation of optical technologies.”

Integrated subsea and terrestrial networks

With these innovations, subsea networks need no longer be a special case, needing separate control and management. The coexistence of subsea and terrestrial transponders on common platforms in cable landing points means that services can now be provisioned between any two customer locations in the world, even across a subsea link.

Submarine line terminal equipment sites replace back-to-back transponders with full photonic integration. This cuts power demand and footprint with no compromise on transmission performance, while increasing reliability by reducing the number of potential points of failure. Control plane technologies allow services to be provisioned end-to-end basis.

The reduction in operational as well as equipment costs is a sure way to accelerate return on investment. And offering greater service flexibility as well as performance is the best way to survive in an increasingly competitive business environment.

Environmental and other factors mean that subsea networks will always be a special and demanding case. They still need exceptional reliability and reach but, since PTC2017, we need no longer see them as a weaker link in the global network chain. They will be better than anything Hans Christian Andersen imagined.

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