Shedding Light on Dark Fiber for Data Centers

Jerry Gilreath

When evaluating your data center connectivity, there are many reasons to consider dark fiber, including cost control, flexibility, security, and scalability. To quickly understanding the basics of fiber optics, see my blog posting, “Tech Primer: Dark Fiber, Lit and Wavelengths.

Importance of Dark Fiber for Data Centers

The number of internet connected devices known as the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to reach 20+ billion by the year 2020, according to a recent Gartner report.

Gartner report - IoT growth from 2014 - 2020Likewise, cloud usage has been escalating at a similar rate, year over year. The reliance on cloud platforms such as Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM SoftLayer and Google Cloud also continues to skyrocket, as indicated by cloud revenues seen in this report from Synergy Research Group.

These growth markets are driving enterprises and online businesses to a level of network dependence that is becoming hyper-critical.

Growth of Cloud Providers - Synergy Research Group Report

Connectivity is King

A loss of network connectivity or degraded network performance across a network connection can cause more than the loss of revenue. Poor network performance could even cause the loss of a life in the case of some environments like healthcare, public safety, and the military.

How vital is your network? When stability, along with latency, security, and bandwidth are at the forefront of the decision makers mind, then dark fiber may be the answer.

RagingWire understands that connectivity is of paramount value in a data center. As such, RagingWire has both partnered with connectivity providers and made a significant capital investment in telecommunications infrastructure to service our customer’s unique needs.

For example, in our Sacramento data center campus, we partner with multiple carriers to provide lit and dark fiber services that deliver excellent network performance of ~2ms latency to San Francisco, and ~4ms latency to the South Bay – a location jam-packed with cloud providers.

In our Ashburn, Virginia data center campus, we offer both lit and dark services to multiple carrier hotels and cloud locations, including AWS and Azure, providing sub-millisecond latency between your carrier, your data, and your data center.

In Garland, Texas, within the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, RagingWire has built a fiber network that connects its 1,000,000 square foot of data center campus to over 128 locations in the Dallas and Fort Worth market, including popular carrier hotels and cloud providers.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Dark Fiber

Dark fiber may be the right decision for many of today’s infrastructure connectivity needs, but make sure you go into it with full awareness of its advantages and disadvantages.

The Good:

  • Cost-control: Dark fiber costs the same whether you intend to use 1Gb, 10Gb, or 100Gb.
  • Flexibility: You may run any protocol and any service. You may even choose to install your own multiplexing equipment and slice the fiber into multiple channels (generally 16 channels, but current off-the-shelf hardware allows for up to 160), each usable for 1Gb, 10Gb, or 100Gb.
  • Security: Public access telecommunications networks generally have multiple access points at various nodes throughout the network, whereas dark fiber routes are accessible only at each of the two endpoints of the fiber run.
  • Scalability: Service may be upgraded as required by simply using higher performance equipment. Available bandwidth on dark fiber is limited by only three things: Physics, current technology, and your budget.

The Bad:

  • Cost-control: When your bandwidth requirements are 1Gb or less, lit services will usually be less expensive than fiber when considering the initial lease of fiber and capital outlay for hardware. Additionally, long-distance dark fiber may be more expensive than purchasing a wavelength. You’ll have to do the math and figure out which meets your needs and budget.

The Ugly:

  • Reliability: Your architect will need to design around the fact that there is no built-in fault-tolerance or connectivity failure protection. This will usually require the purchase of a second diverse dark fiber path between your two locations.
  • Scalability and cost-control: Dark fiber is point-to-point. Unlike many other carrier products available, dark fiber does not allow for multiple end-points on a network. It may be necessary to purchase multiple fiber paths for larger networks.

Summary

When considering dark fiber from fiber providers instead of lit fiber or carrier services from telecom providers, it is beneficial to map your unique IT connectivity needs with the strengths and weaknesses of dark fiber. This mapping exercise should help shed some light on the best connectivity options for your custom environment.

Connectivity Questions

Is your data center carrier neutral? Carrier neutrality is vital when choosing a data center. You want your data center to freely allow interconnectivity between all carriers and other colocation providers. This protects your interests and allows for future scale, plus it maximizes your flexibility.

What types of lit connectivity are available? It is less important to focus on the number of carriers in the campus; instead focus on whether the carriers you care about are available. Also ask if their direct competitors are available. This will be helpful for bidding – to keep your primary carrier as cost competitive as possible.

Is dark fiber available? If so, where does it go? Does the data center have a dark fiber product or a partnership? Where does it go and is the pricing competitive? Does the data center have lit connectivity options or a partnership?

 

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