Just like Buzz Lightyear and all the other toys from a certain very successful movie franchise, the data center industry never sleeps. Our insatiable appetite for bandwidth continues to challenge technology developers to keep pushing data faster and more efficiently than ever before. They are continually designing more engaging applications, processes, and products to enrich our social and professional engagements – dehumanizing the everyday mundane, complex tasks and enveloping them in the digital bubble we live in today. This is Demand and Supply 101. We demand it and, boy, are they supplying it in such a way that it creates a super dependence we never knew we had. My wife often jokes she doesn’t know how I survived before the search engine!
What’s behind this drive for faster, more efficient network speeds? Basically, it’s us. The human race. We get bored easily. We are constantly searching for new, more interactive ways to entertain ourselves, a more exciting and engaging method of communicating like never before and we expect it all to happen now. This instant. We don’t use the phone to talk to people anymore. Text messages are old school, and picture messages are rapidly becoming yesterday’s news. If you want to be down with the kids, it’s all about streaming ultra-rich content at every possible opportunity – day and night. But it goes further than this. We want to connect more devices to the information superhighway. We want improved analytics. We want more machines doing more for us than we ever imagined possible and we want it at our fingertips, like yesterday.
I remember back in 2010, when the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) approved 40 Gb and 100 Gb, thinking there’s no way we would ever need to call on these colossal speeds. My broadband connection back then was pathetic by today’s standards – like trying to blow a medicine ball with a drinking straw – but, at the time it served me well, because I wasn’t consuming anywhere near the amount of bandwidth that I can’t live without today. But once my kids started using their cell phones, tablets, and online gaming platforms, my poor little copper connection started to groan with the demands that were placed on it. Thankfully, today I have fiber delivering over 30x the speed I used to have. But with more and more devices at home, I could always do with more. Much, much more!
Let me give a little bit of background on the technology road map to bring us right up to speed (ahem) on where we are today. Up until 2010, life was simple. We were running 10 Gb across our fiber networks, using one fiber to transmit and one fiber to receive. It didn’t matter whose active devices hung off the end, or which transceiver was deployed, because they all operated the same. And then IEEE ratified 40 Gb using a different physical media dependent (PMD) interface with parallel optics.