The Biggest Datacenter Advances for 2018

From Software-Defined Interconnects to Affordable Photonics to Intent-Based Networking: The Biggest Datacenter Advances for 2018

By Lionel Snell, Editor, NetEvents

Datacenters are central to the IT strategy of most enterprises – and despite all the talk about clouds, datacenter technology is advancing on many fronts, all at the same time. Everyone knows about the areas of long-term, never-ending innovation, such as with advanced microprocessors, with ever-more cores, deep caches, and faster look-ahead algorithms.

While those oft-discussed areas are obviously important, one could argue that some of the more hidden areas of growth are more vital for unlocking maximum capacity, performance, reliability, and cost-efficiency from datacenters. So, what’s the biggest area of tech innovation? It depends who you ask.

“The biggest advance that we've seen in datacenter technologies is the abstraction of datacenter functions into software, away from hardware,” says Rajesh Ghai, Research Director, Telecom Network Infrastructure, at research firm IDC. “This abstraction is being done across the entire stack, starting from compute down to storage, down to interconnect.”

“The fact that you can abstract all that function into software allows us to make the datacenter a lot more agile, a lot more flexible, and a lot more efficient,” Ghai adds. “This definitely is the most significant advance that's happened in datacenter over the last 10 years.”

John Mein, Vice President at optical innovator Dust Photonics, has a different take on the top innovation, saying, “It's the ever-increasing speeds that datacenters are implementing, going from 10 gigabits to 40 gigabit, to 100, to 400, eventually to 800.”

The downside is that copper, the foundation of Ethernet cables, is running out of steam. “Copper just cannot switch fast enough, and so more and more datacenters are doing two things,” says Mein. “One is, they're putting fibre optic cable everywhere, and as part of that, they're switching from multi-mode fibre to single-mode fibre, for a couple of reasons. Mein explains that single-mode fibre goes a further distance, whereas multi-mode fibre only goes 100 meters. Secondly, single-mode fibre is much less expensive than multi-mode fibre. In fact, he observes, “single-mode fibre is cheaper per foot than dental floss.”

Optical infrastructure is good – but what about managing that datacenter? According to Mansour Karam, founder and CEO of Silicon Valley startup Apstra, the ever-more-complex needs of the datacenter and its applications are driving more intelligence, and more agility.

“The biggest advance in datacenter technologies is Intent-Based Networking,” says Karam. “Intent gives you the ability to automate, in a powerful way, the entire lifecycle of your network services, which results in order of magnitude reduction in costs, and enables you to really get into the businesses that you want to get into without being hindered by infrastructure.”

What’s the biggest advance? Datacenter as a Service, says Paul Gampe, Chief Technology Officer of telecom giant PCCW Global. “If you think about the logistics of operating a datacenter, there's a lot of telemetry that's being delivered by datacenter operators — power consumption, thermal monitoring, humidity monitoring. There's a range of datacenter operators that are delivering datacenter as a service products, so that I don't necessarily need to move to a datacenter, or go check out my rack, to be able to see the telemetry or to monitor my power consumption, for example.”

Credit the Hyperscalers
“The advances in datacenter technologies has essentially come from hyperscalers, like Google and Facebook,” explains IDC’s Ghai. “If you think about Google's technology, yes, the search algorithm is very important, but what drives that technology is the ability to build datacenters that span the entire globe and collect data from every facet of life across the globe.” Add to that the ability to analyze the data and give consumer search results in fractions of a second, and, “that's really what drives Google's success.”

Ghai adds that the hyperscalers “have driven a lot of innovation. A lot of companies — start-ups, private companies, and public companies — are bringing a lot of those innovations to the enterprise, and to the multitude of companies outside the hyperscalers.”
Don’t forget the research universities, says PCCW’s Gampe, citing software-defined networks (SDN) as an example. “We'd have to pay due credit to Stanford University.

They've made major contributions, particularly through their innovative design of a protocol called OpenFlow. Now, OpenFlow may or may not be the future evolution of SDN, but it certainly was the hallmark of thinking about the fluidity of network and making networking something that you could move as easily as you could move compute.”

Advances in Photonics
We’re seeing a major advance in photonics, said Dust Photonics’ Mein, in the move to silicon-based photonics for single-mode fibre. “This has been a promise for quite some time, but it really hasn't seen reality, because there's an alignment issue of connecting the fibre to the silicon photonics chip, or the laser, or the photodetector. It's harder for single-mode fibre, because the diameter of the active area of a single-mode fibre is only eight microns. For multi-mode fibre, it's 40 microns, so the alignment is much easier for multi-mode fibre than it is for single-mode fibre.

Fortunately, says Mein, companies like his have solved that problem and can bring silicon photonics into their next-generation products. “We will use the technology we've already developed for multi-mode fibre, passive alignment, and apply it to single-mode fibre.” Thereby reducing the cost, and bringing single-mode fibre into more datacenter applications.

Advances in Software-Defined Interconnects
The challenge for datacenter operators is that the co-location facility operators are really acknowledging that the value proposition is no longer ping, power, and pipe,” says PCCW Global’s Gampe. “Datacenter operators need to be able to have the ability to provide broad-scale connectivity to their facilities.”

Indeed, Gampe points out, “Nobody is operating infrastructure in isolation anymore. We're all seeing hybrid cloud deployments. So, the key thing that a datacenter operator needs to day is a rich sweep of connectivity. That's why we've focused on Console Connect platform, recently acquired by PCCW Global, as a partner for datacenter operators so that we can bring our point-of-presence into their datacenter and deliver them connectivity solutions they've never had before.”

Console Connect is a software-defined interconnect platform that makes linking datacenters to cloud-based, business-critical applications simple, predictable and secure, explains Gampe. Console Connect leverage PCCW Global’s Tier 1 global IP network and a unique ecosystem of service providers to provide software-defined connections.

The platform connects enterprise datacenters and headquarters to regional centers and branch offices, Gampe says. Console Connect also lets organizations quickly gain private, secure, high-bandwidth access to public clouds, such as Amazon Web Services, and other service providers.

Advances in Datacenter Management
Ghai believes that automation is a big driver of change in the datacenter of today. “The fact is that, you know, a datacenter as big as a football field can be managed by 10 people. That's really what the world's coming to. It's not happened in the enterprise yet, but the Googles and Facebooks are definitely doing that. Automation, the ability to use data, leverage data, and kind of have machines do some of the tasks that humans have been doing in the past, is the biggest advance that could happen over the next few years in the enterprise.”

That plays well in with Intent-Based Networking, says Apstra’s Karam. “Intent-based networking enables network operators to operate their networks with efficiencies that were never seen before, in a lot more automated way. They can get their infrastructure to do exactly what they want it to do, and they get visibility into their infrastructures like was never available before.”

What’s Next?
What will the next datacenter advances look like? There’s no doubt that while server microprocessors will keep getting faster, but that’s not all. We’ll see advances in many fields: Intent-Based Networking will make large, complex datacenters easier to manage. Silicon photonics will lower the cost of network infrastructure, while improving its bandwidth. And software-defined interconnects will make creating a link to the cloud as simple as clicking a mouse. That’s innovation.

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