“With photonics, data centers can be designed more flexibly. This enables them to have separate purpose-built compute and storage environments, with a high-speed network running between them – accelerating the network as a result,” says Stephen Green, CTO, NTT Ltd. UK&I, in an exclusive interview with EnterpriseTalk.
ET Bureau: Do you think there are still any challenges faced by today’s enterprises to communicate on a global scale?
Stephen Green: There are definitely still challenges across industries when it comes to global communications. Many communication services become overloaded due to limitations in the current computing and networking models. This is why the technology industry has been working to find solutions to support high-performance computing and networking.
The bigger issue that enterprises are facing in the present platform can be attributed to the fact that copper is the foundation of both computing and networking models. For example, copper is a primary congruent of integrated silicon chips, as well as the integrated motherboards utilized in large-scale servers. While it has many great properties and has served society well, copper generates a large volume of heat in the compute model. This has led to challenges when it comes to operating data centers, particularly in terms of negative environmental impact and cost.
In addition, the infrastructure can no longer move beyond the heat generated in the chips at a certain point. As a result, instead of increasing capacity by making the chips denser, enterprises have to scale out and spread out the load more widely. Also, copper can only traverse a limited distance, further increasing the barrier.
To overcome these challenges, enterprises should consider implementing photonics, which introduces fiber and optical networking into all of these elements. From a server point of view, photonics dramatically reduce the heat overhead in the chip.
By using silicon photonics for CPUs, operations teams should see improved dissipation of heat, making operational environments much cooler. Fundamentally, this means that they could redesign data centers in new and improved ways. In the future, photonics will help to move away from the traditional, energy-hungry data center towards a more sustainable model. This transition is critical for the entire industry from a sustainability point of view.
The breakthrough in data centers and chips is also being replicated across networks. Through photonics, enterprises can create far higher network efficiency, enabling them to address issues around overutilization and slow network speeds. In fact, it can help to increase network speeds from 100 GB to over 400 GB, and in an Ethernet environment, photonics networks can reach speeds of 12 terabits per second. As a result, the performance of these networks and compute environments will rise by almost 100 fold.
With such notable increases in speed and performance, the ability to deploy high-performance computing will also grow. This is hugely beneficial for collaboration. In the current working environment, for instance, large amounts of computing power are used for video calls and remote working, leading to a significant amount of intensity in the network. By opting for the photonics, enterprises can move these obstacles and accelerate their ability to go into the next level of performance efficiency.
ET Bureau: How does an All-photonics network enhance the ability for more efficient global communications?
Stephen Green: The main gains we’ll see is in the distances photonics cabling can support. In a traditional networking environment – in a building, for example – an Ethernet cable can only reach up to 100 meters, creating substantial challenges within data centers. On the other hand, photonics cabling can reach between one to ten kilometers, hugely increasing the distance.
With photonics, data centers can be designed more flexibly. This enables them to have separate purpose-built compute and storage environments, with a high-speed network running between them – accelerating the network as a result.
Network acceleration will also be driven by the introduction of 5G, which will expand the existing wireless environment. With this, enterprises will need a high-performance network to connect from the edge to the center and the cloud in a much more meaningful way.
Overall, by using photonics, large IT services providers – such as cloud providers and large enterprises – will see costs lower to operate these environments. They’ll also experience the increased capacity that hybrid networks can deliver with photonics as the basis of the server.
ET Bureau: According to you, what breakthroughs could we witness in the network industry in the coming years?
Stephen Green: In the coming years, the networking landscape will dramatically evolve. Industries are still in the early stages of understanding software designed networks. Looking ahead, these networking environments will move beyond being software-defined to being controlled by programs. Enterprises will witness more programmable infrastructure emerge, whereby programmers and application developers will determine the kind of network required based on the type of transaction being run by the application.
AI-based operations will also accelerate. Due to its ability to connect and create network environments rapidly, AI will begin to determine the routing and optimization of large-scale enterprise and service provider networks.
At NTT, we’re using photonics breakthroughs and core principles to build a version of a quantum system. This will allow us to develop difficult mathematical solutions and graphing to solve intricate problems, in turn enabling us to drive progress around photonics and data centers.
Stephen was recently appointed Chief Technology Officer for NTT Ltd., UK and Ireland where he is responsible for Go To Markets and Alliances. He is a seasoned technologist having served in senior leadership positions for several technology companies including Dimension Data, Microsoft and VMware. Stephen has led a number of transformation projects for both clients and NTT itself, across a range of industries and domains. As a keen technologist and change agent, he is actively involved in client engagements working with them to drive innovation and cultural change. Outside work, Stephen enjoys astronomy, motor racing and bird watching.