Dark Fiber and the Data Center

It almost goes without saying - literally, there is almost no mention of it - that data centers need dark fiber in order to actually be a data center. 

Without dark fiber there would be nothing to light. Without lit transport there would be no "networks". Without the networks the data center would just be a warehouse with lots of power and cooling.

There have been many issues for data center developers that selected sites for their power and other infrastructure benefits only to forget, or trivialize the importance of access to dark fiber. After millions, even tens of millions, of dollars were spent to build-out a data center site the developer would summon the network people to "bring in the fiber". Not so fast!

More than typically the data center owner/operators do not own and operate there own dark fiber network. They may lease fiber pairs from a dark fiber / carrier that has them, but they do not go out and build their own dark fiber networks. This minor point becomes a major point the further the new data center sites get away from the existing clusters. The further the site is away from the existing dark fiber the more difficult it is to bring dark fiber there.

Actually, the existing data center clusters, or heavy areas of concentrated data center sites, began that way due to power and dark fiber availability. Now power has become a high profile cost factor for the long term and new site selection is being driven by where power is abundant and inexpensive. Moving the data center site to where power is plentiful and cheap is a great idea in theory, but in practice it is unwise to travel beyond the reasonably cost-effecitve reach of the dark fiber.

Most dark fiber builds in to new data center sites are built from existing fiber as laterals, or subtending dark fiber rings. This is what happens because it is the way things are. Most of the base-fiber used to extend from is considered "metro". The term loosely means within a city, but that has branched out over the years (as lateral extensions were made) to include surrounding areas. Some of the metro fiber networks are now "regional". Regional can basically mean anything in a particular area. That's all good as long as the buyer can access it and lease it as dark fiber.

Again, typically, the data center owner/operator does not buy/lease dark fiber and light it for the purposes of providing lit transport to its tenants from that site to others. This is changing though. In sites meant for carriers it is not proper etiquette for the landlord to be in the carrier business. Pure real estate data center, or colocation businesses are referred to as "carrier-neutral", or not offering any carrier services. Data center sites meant for the enterprise, or public sector do not have this unwritten rule for success, so now certain data center owners/operators are buying/leasing their own dark fiber and lighting it. This has been happening for a while.

One of the reasons this happens is because when a data center owner builds a new site it is a "chicken and egg" situation trying to get a carrier to build fiber in. The carrier will not build in to the site until they have enough committed revenue in the form of signed, binding contracts. No tenants will commit to the site until they know they have connectivity. The data center owner may not realize this, or care, but the operator does and will. In some cases they are one in the same. So, how does the site get dark fiber? The owner/operator signs a binding contract with the carrier to bring in the fiber - and pays for it!

This is reality today. It is a process, a pattern basically. It repeats. The parts are interchangeable. The outcome is predictable. With proper dark fibre network planning all budgets and timelines can be met. Customers will be happy and the business model will be proven out. Without proper dark fiber network planning a new site can be cut-off from the connected world and the site could fail. Cost over-runs would be a blessing compared to no dark fiber access at all.

Aside from these facts there is another shift taking place in the data center business. A shift to "cloud computing" which is widely misunderstood as a public-Internet platform and a shift to "green", or being more energy efficient and earth friendly. This is also misunderstood in that "green-tech" is about money - saving it and making it - and not really about the planet, although it sounds nice and is true that the planet and all creatures on earth will benefit from it.

The "cloud" confusion stems from the use of the term cloud to describe the Internet. It is true that many cloud apps exist in the public Internet cloud, but there are also many private cloud apps. There are also hybrids with certain levels of security between the core and the user.

These two elements seem to be converging on something old that is becoming something new - Container Data Centers.

There are many players in this developing and evolving space, including, Cisco, DataPod, Dell, HP, IBM, SGI, Verari (just changed their name to Cirrascale) and others. There are event integrators, such as Dialectic, that puts the container and servers together as a package. Many things are happening in this arena.

The benefits of modularity and mobility converge on the containers as they can be moved and shifted along a dark fiber system to where utility power can be located in abundance and at the most inexpensive rates possible. 

Many different types of designs are being contemplated. Container campuses, shell and core buildings with containers within, containers standalone, etc and all of the above. The bottom line is in the efficiency of power and cooling, the ability to purchase/deliver the amount of data center space required and put it where the customer needs it.

Over the next several months there will most certainly be a slew of annoucements around this exciting and growing dimension of the data center and dark fiber network industry.

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