[EN] Equinix: Brasil PoP de comunicação espacial à laser via rede global de satélites
Data will beam up and down from the satellites at 100Gbps, while data can travel between satellites at 200Gbps. The resulting HALO all-optical network will bring together terrestrial fiber, a constellation of 8 to 12 satellites, and the Equinix data center network.
October 11, 2016
Equinix will house a system of lasers to beam data around the globe, using satellites to transfer data across space at high speeds, the company said today. The laser system from Laser Light Communications will be installed in the company’s newest data center in Virginia, and will move international data across space rather than through undersea cables.
The agreement with Laser Light Communications makes Equinix an early player in the field of space-based laser technology, known as free space optics, which was initially developed for use by the Department of Defense and national space agencies. Laser Light will deploy its initial point of presence (PoP) in the Equinix DC-11 data center in Ashburn, Virginia, and then add PoPs in Equinix facilities in the UK, Japan, Brazil, Australia, the Middle East, and Europe.
Laser Light plans to use free space optics to connect to a network of satellites in medium-earth orbit, about 10,000 miles above the earth. Data will beam up and down from the satellites at 100Gbps, while data can travel between satellites at 200Gbps. The resulting HALO all-optical network will bring together terrestrial fiber, a constellation of 8 to 12 satellites, and the Equinix data center network.
“We are excited to work with Laser Light as the interconnection provider for this cutting-edge satellite technology that greatly increases access to many parts of the world that are underserved by current fiber and wireless networks,” said Ihab Tarazi, chief technology officer, Equinix. “By adding ‘SpaceCable’ as an equivalent offering together with terrestrial and submarine cables, Equinix customers looking for low latency solutions to reach new or emerging markets will have access to a full suite of data transport options.”
The emerging technology could be useful in bringing Internet connectivity to areas that are underserved by current undersea cables and terrestrial fiber. Lasers are among a number of new technologies hoping to bring wireless connectivity to the developing world, using everything from balloons to drones to satellites. These initiatives have major implications for where data centers are located and how they’re built and powered.
Table Stakes in New Connectivity Technology
With Laser Light, Equinix gains a tenant that will lease space in multiple data centers across its footprint, but also a foot in the door on a new technology that could fill the gaps in global connectivity plans.
Lasers concentrate a beam of light of a single color (monochromatic) that can carry data. They can be used as weapons (as in James Bond movies) but are more commonly seen in tasks like eye surgery or reading data from an optical disk (Blu Ray) or barcode scanners.
Lasers can transmit a large capacity of data, which provides advantages over traditional satellite communications using radio waves. Using medium-earth orbit satellites offers lower latency than geosynchronous satellites commonly used for TV transmissions, which are more than 22,000 miles from the earth and thus involve a longer round-trip for the data.
“The benefit of a laser-based network is the increased volume that comes from optical versus (Radio Frequency) RF,” Robert Brumley, CEO of Laser Light, recently told Via Satellite. “You can get approximately 1,000 times more data capacity in an optical frequency band than you can with an RF system.”
Working Around the Weather
The challenge is that lasers can be affected by weather, and thus typically require backup via terrestrial systems. This is also an issue with microwave signals, which have been used to provide straight-line data transmission for high-frequency traders. At least initially, space lasers are likely to be a solution for areas that have poor coverage, or in use cases suitable for an intermittent connection.
Free space optics technology has been developed through 20 years of civil science and federal investments and deployments by government entities such as Department of Defense (DOD), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA) and Japanese Space Agency (JSA). It is now being commercialized for the first time by private firms, including Laser Light.
With its deployment at DC11, Laser Light will commence installation, testing and demonstration of its leading-edge laser communications and SD-WAN equipment. Laser Light is commercializing free space optics technology in its SpaceCable offering, which will offer services to carriers, enterprises and government customers through Equinix facilities around the globe. Laser Light says it hybrid satellite-terrestrial network will be capable of connecting any two points on the globe with 100Gbps service links.
Laser Light is partnering with Autralia’s Optus, which will provide the constellation of satellites, which should be completed in 2018. Optus also operates a terrestrial network, and says the space lasers can help provide broadcast. mobile and Internet services to remote areas of Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica. Among other businesses, Optus provides dedicated connectivity for mining operations in the Australian Outback.
Equinix operates 145 data centers across 40 countries. Tapping into Equinix provides Laser Light with potential business from more than 1,400 networks and 2,500 cloud and IT service providers.
Equinix Offers Marketplace Access
“A partnership with Equinix permits Laser Light to become a truly tier 1 global carrier with access to facilities, and incumbent local fiber providers, in a ‘one stop shop’ partnership,” said Brumley. “Also, Equinix’s mix of enterprise, global carriers, and government customers, permits Laser Light to be present in the marketplace for high volume data services in the key regional markets around the globe.”
There are challenges in using space lasers, but some analysts see the potential for free space optics to become a viable part of the global connectivity solution, particularly as new technologies bring massive volumes of data onto the network.
“With 60 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020, petabyte level processing, and zettabyte level data growth, global networks face being imperiled by the sheer onslaught of massive data traffic,” said Maureen Rhemann, Senior Strategist at Trends Digest. “Lasercom is the most viable solution because it’s rapidly deployable, secure, can be optically integrated ubiquitously with terrestrial and satellite networks, and has proven its resiliency and reliability for high speed transport of large data sets. Like the evolution of cloud computing, lasercom is the next logical progression in communications transport technology and firms like Laser Light are leading the pack.”
A breakthrough technology developed initially for defense purposes and later commercialized for civilian use is a familiar cadence. One of the most recent examples is free-space optics – a way to use lasers instead of fiber-optic cables to transmit data.
Wide adoption of self-driving cars is on the horizon; industrial manufacturers are quickly moving toward a world where not only every machine on the factory floor communicates with a server somewhere through a network, but every piece of equipment they sell does the same, for the duration of its useful life. From connected homes to cheap smartphones in everybody’s pockets, skyrocketing growth in the number of network-connected devices coupled with advances in optical technology are driving fundamental changes in the way global network infrastructure is designed.
A whole new global network backbone is being built, consisting of intercontinental submarine cables, capable of handling unprecedented amounts of bandwidth, 5G wireless networks, and satellites that beam data down to earth using lasers. This backbone is being designed to bring connectivity to places that either didn’t have it before, or didn’t have anywhere close to the amount of bandwidth they will soon need. It is enabling a lot of data to come in from the edge of the network rather than outward, from centralized computing hubs.
Ihab Tarazi, CTO at Equinix, the world’s largest data center provider, says we’re witnessing the beginning of the next wave of investment in global connectivity driven by the need to collect data at the edge. The company has been talking about this trend for some time, but it hasn’t been clear, until now, how exactly this new global backbone will take shape. “The pieces are finally becoming clear,” he says.
Tarazi believes a company Equinix recently partnered with is implementing one of those pieces. Laser Light Communications is planning to launch a “constellation” of eight to 12 laser-enabled satellites – called HALO – that will circle the planet and together with terrestrial networks create a hybrid high-capacity network capable of bringing connectivity literally anywhere in the world. “This one is about massive global coverage,” he says.
Equinix data centers, places where the bulk of the world’s networks interconnect, will be the primary hubs for distributing data coming from space onto terrestrial networks and vice versa. Each of those hubs will be equipped with three “ground nodes” – 4 feet in diameter, 6 feet tall, 1,000 pounds heavy – and each ground node will have three laser heads, so it can “see” three different satellites, Robert Brumley, CEO of Laser Light, explains.
The interconnection hubs will not be the only buildings equipped with ground nodes. Laser Light will also deploy them directly in places where data originates, such as corporate campuses. That’s an example of the edge Tarazi is talking about. A financial services firm, for example, or a Hollywood studio, will be able to beam data directly to Medium Earth Orbit – that’s where Laser Light’s satellites will reside – for instant transfer to a bank in Singapore or a video editing outsourcer in Bangalore.
Major cloud and content companies, some of whom recently started investing directly in new submarine cable construction projects to improve global reach, are also potential customers. These are companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook, or Netflix. Traditional telcos, such as Telefonica or Vodafone, could use Laser Light’s services as another way to connect to regional long-haul networks.
Another important type of ground-node location will be submarine cable landing stations. “Cable landing sites are points of aggregation and disaggregation,” Brumley says, meaning landmass networks converge at these points to transfer data across the oceans and pick up data traveling the other way to distribute it to its countless destinations on dry land.
Data will travel at 100 Gigabit per second between ground nodes and satellites and at 200 Gigabit per second from satellite to satellite – about 100 times faster than radio links used in satellite communication today.
AI to Route Data Packets Around Clouds
US Department of Defense, as well as American, European, and Japanese space agencies have been developing free-space optics technology for decades, and Laser Light is making what is probably the first effort to commercialize it at global scale. “This is the first company we know of in that category,” Tarazi says.
The Reston, Virginia-based startup’s parent company is Marble Arch Partners (formerly Pegasus Holdings), which specializes in commercializing military technologies for global markets and vice versa, adapting commercial tech for military use.
On the ground, Laser Light’s network will include dozens of SD WANs located in major metros throughout the world. SD WANs, or Software-Defined Wide Area Networks, are enterprise-grade WANs enabled by software that’s disaggregated from hardware it runs on, making them more agile and easy to automate. They are an emerging alternative to WANs that rely on proprietary and expensive, tightly integrated hardware-software bundles networking vendors have sold for decades.
With free-space optics technology around for some time now, and with carriers already starting to deploy SD WANs, the real technological innovation Laser Light is bringing to the table is the software that will manage its global network. “It’s not only the coolest thing that we’re doing, but it’s also going to be the most important thing that we will have done,” Brumley says.
One of the biggest barriers to implementing free-space optics is weather, and Laser Light’s plan is to build a network operating system that will literally route traffic around clouds, which interfere in beaming data between Earth’s surface and its orbit. “Lasers have challenges when it comes to atmosphere,” he explains.
If you are located in Emeryville, California, for example, and it’s a cloudy day in the Bay Area, the system will not send the signal directly to Emeryville. Instead, it may drop it down further south, say in Sacramento, where the sky is clear and from where the data will be routed along terrestrial fiber to its intended recipient by the SD WAN.
Rather than simply tracking the weather in real-time, the system will use a machine learning model, trained over several years with weather data, to predict the best routes automatically. Laser Light recently received a US patent for the concept and is currently talking to vendors that may be interested in writing the software. It will “probably the most disruptive part of our program, because it’s really converging predictive analytics with software-define networks and ever changing atmospheric conditions,” Brumley says.
New Breed of Enterprise Networks Emerging
Building the network OS, the SD WANs, the satellites, and, crucially, raising money to fund it all, are parts of the execution phase Laser Light has now entered, following about three years of design and development. To date, the startup has been funded by its parent company.
Some of the elements are already under contract, including satellite payloads and ground nodes at network interconnection points, Brumley says, with the company waiting for the funding to execute those contracts.
Equinix’s Tarazi thinks there’s little doubt that the market for the type of service Laser Light is planning to provide is there. The question, he says, is how big that market will end up being. Will it be limited to places that are extremely underserved by terrestrial fiber, or will there be broader use cases? “It’s not a question of if people will use it,” he says.
There are potentially convincing use cases for companies that are now investing in the new breed of enterprise networks to enable distributed infrastructure for the Internet of Things. They are combining their own backbones with their own wireless spectrum for last-mile device connectivity and lots of edge computing nodes that aggregate device data. Any company that needs to push lots of data from lots of connected devices through its network will benefit from a service like Laser Light’s, which would provide many more network access options.
It is clear that new technologies will be needed to enable more data to come in from network edges, and, while he believes Laser Light is the first to make an attempt to make commercial free-space optics at global scale a reality, Tarazi thinks there will be more players using this and other kinds of tech that will change the way global networks are architected. “I think there will be more than one company,” he says. “It’s just the beginning of it.”