Preparing data centers for growing traffic with all-optical switching

Written by 

Mike Utley

Product Manager & Head of Policy Deployment

As data intensive applications such as video, cloud computing, and emerging 5G mobile technologies grow in popularity, mobile traffic is expected to explode. According to one leading supplier, it will continue to grow at an annual rate of around 55% through to 2030, totalling more than 600 exabytes in 2025 and more than 5,000 exabytes by 2030.

Current data center architectures have difficulties scaling to meet these expected increased traffic demands. Operators need both more capacity and more network flexibility to allocate resources dynamically when and where they are needed most. 

Automation is necessary to manage many complex connection demands. To make this a reality, optical switching can empower streamlined and reliable operations. All-optical (OOO) switching solutions help to efficiently automate connections while maximising uptime and reducing manual Moves, Adds and Changes (MACs).

In data centers today, signals are typically transported optically but switched electrically, requiring numerous ‘optical to electrical to optical’ (OEO) conversions. All-optical switches, ‘optical-to-optical-to-optical’ (OOO) fiber optic switches, maintain the signal as light from input to output without the need for switching the data on the fiber into an electrical signal. Compared to OEO switches, they have extremely low data latency as they do not need to buffer or re-generate the optical signals. This makes them ideal for applications that require low latency or for redirecting all the traffic on a fiber. They also help to redirect traffic remotely to maintain service levels and provision services rapidly to meet demands no matter how complex the connections are. OEO switches will continue to be needed for packet switching and traffic grooming.

OEO switches have a higher cost per port than OOO switches, so they are not the most efficient or cost-effective way to switch large amounts of traffic from one fiber to another. An OEO switch uses many transceivers and other electronic components that take up additional space, consume more power and generate more heat that must be dissipated. With the environmental impact of data centers under increasing scrutiny, there are significant benefits to adopting a lower power switching technology such as OOO switching wherever possible.

Unlike other switches, the HUBER+SUHNER patented POLATIS® DirectLight™ beam-steering technology occurs completely independent of power level, colour or direction of light on the path. That enables pre-provisioning of dark fibers and bidirectional transmission.

Traffic monitoring has become even more critical for data centers globally in response to the twin challenges of increased traffic flows, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and widening cybersecurity breaches. Therefore, monitoring is also an integral part of network operators' performance and availability strategies. 

Commercially available network monitoring and cybersecurity products and services are available from a wide range of vendors. Combining OOO switching with these tools enables operators to remotely deploy and share these expensive monitoring tools across hundreds or thousands of traffic lines.

All-optical switching does not need to be upgraded or replaced as signal formats change and bit rates increase over time. As we look ahead to future data center growth, using OOO technology will help data centers become future ready. It will also enable operators to streamline and automate connections to enable fast service expansion with scalable solutions to prepare for growing data-intensive applications. 

That said, OOO switching will not replace OEO switching. Data center operators need to combine the strengths of each technology to build more flexible, dynamic, low loss data center networks that can cost-effectively scale to meet future traffic growth requirements.