Autumn 2019 - Optical Connections Magazine

ISSUE 18 | Q3 2019


OPTICAL TRANSCEIVERS Putting testing in the spotlight | p6

FIBRE IN THE DATACENTRE More fibres, smaller cables | p11

HIGH FIBRE COUNT CABLES How to manage them | p20

OPTICS IN THE DATACENTRE Datacentre connectivity | p22



4 6

Industry News

Sophie Legault Optical Transceivers

11 Ellen Manning

It’s that time of year again. Autumn is fast approaching and with it comes ECOC 2019, the optical communication industry’s biggest European Conference and Expo. In this bumper 60-page issue we pick out some of the event highlights and look in depth at one of the biggest issues facing the industry at present – datacentre connectivity. It’s not just about connectivity within the datacentre anymore; the prospect of 5G and IoT rollouts is spawning datacentres of all sizes, from hyperscale to portable container-based datacentres in an attempt, among other things, to reduce latency at the user end. Indeed, bringing networks closer to the edge and deploying many smaller distributed data centres seems the most viable solution to the problem of latency, writes Huber + Suhner’s Andreas Sila. To begin with however, Sophie Legault, director, Transport & Datacom Business Unit at EXFO, looks at how in today’s hyperconnected world, data centres are truly at the heart of the network supporting exponential growth in optical speeds and feeds. Regular contributor Ellen Manning takes a look at how datacentre developments have impacted on cable and connector design as the fibre count goes up and the cables get smaller. Still on the subject of connectivity, Antony Savvas looks at the market arena around both the spread of hyperscale datacentre connectivity through the likes of AWS, Microsoft and Google, and distributed edge datacentres that will better support 5G, IoT, driverless cars and AI applications. Indeed, the rising fibre count is having implications in other parts of the industry, as MicroCare’s Jay Tourigny explains. Of course, the speed with which data can be transmitted is crucial and veteran journalist John Williamson explores what impact the introduction of 400G will have on the datacentre, while power constraints and interoperability are issues explored by five experts in a feature which looks at the progress of the Open ZR+ project. Also in this issue, Ciena’s Patricia Bower looks at two technologies underpin the electro-optical transmit and receive chains for today’s coherent systems: indium phosphide and silicon photonics. All this, plus the usual industry news and a look at past and upcoming industry events and a very personal conversation with Gemain Lamonde, EXFO’s founder and Executive Chairman, means there’s something for everyone in this issue. The jam-packed Product News section is full of products that visitors to ECOC 2019 will be able to see and discuss with their manufacturers as well as taking part in the many activities and discussions on oer in Dublin. I for one will be there for the whole show and I’m looking forward to meeting and greeting as many of our readers and supporters as time will allow. See you in Dublin! IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DATACENTRE

Fibre in the Datacentre

14 Germain Lamonde The View from EXFO 16 John Williamson 20 Jay Tourigny 22 Antony Savvas 26 Andreas Sila 28 Matthew Peach 32 Peter Dykes MOCA 34 Various Authors Open ZR+ 36 Patricia Bower 38 Peter Dykes 42 Peter Dykes 44 Peter Dykes AngaCom Wrap 46 Matthew Peach Bidirectional Testing ECOC 2019 Preview ECOC Market Focus 48 Connected Britain Wrap 50 IP Expo Preview 52 Broadband World Focus Preview 53 Product Focus High Fibre Count Cables Datacentre Connectivity Reducing Latency in 5G Networks

400G and the Datacentre

Coherent Optical Networks

Laser World of Photonics Wrap

Peter Dykes Contributing Editor, Optical Connections




Optical Connections is published by NEXUS MEDIA EVENTS LTD

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ISSUE 18 | Q3 2019


“Datacentres are driving innovation in fibre optics“

EllenManning - See page 11

Good news for optical industry as hardware spending grows across the board

Optical hardware spending grew in every region and for every business segment during 2Q19, according to the most recent Optical Hardware Report from research firm Cignal AI.

for the past few quarters settled down to a more moderate pace with Ciena, NEC, and Huawei as the prime beneficiaries. “Huawei managed to retain market share in what is typically its strongest quarter of the year,” said Scott Wilkinson, Lead Analyst at Cignal AI. “Despite the export ban of many optical components and the reports of competitive wins against Huawei in EMEA and APAC, Huawei market share remained steady.” Additional key findings included: WDM long haul spending up, recovering in every region except Japan, as compact modular equipment and new high- speed coherent optics impact investments; WDM

other regions –contributing factors to the NA decline are the lower price per bit of new high-speed optics and competing priorities like the 5G rollout; SONET/ SDH hangs on with growth in APAC and EMEA offset SONET/SDH’s ongoing decline in NA. This growth comes from expansions and upgrades to existing networks; there are no new builds; growth in China appears dramatic due to the ZTE shutdown and the absence of revenue a year ago. Excluding ZTE’s results, growth slowed; and finally coherent optic shipments tracking will reach nearly 1 million 100G equivalent ports in 2019, representing a 40% increase in bandwidth over 2018. The Cignal AI Optical Hardware Report is

published quarterly and includes market share and forecasts for optical transport hardware used in optical networks worldwide. In addition to the interactive tracker, analysis includes a detailed Excel database as well as PDF and PowerPoint summaries. Subscribers to the Optical Hardware Report also have access to Active Insight, Cignal AI’s real-time news service on current market events. The report examines revenue for metro WDM, long-haul WDM and submarine (SLTE) equipment in six global regions and includes detailed port shipments by speed. Vendors in the report include Adtran, ADVA, Ciena, Cisco, ECI, Ekinops, Fiberhome, Fujitsu, Huawei, Infinera, Mitsubishi Electric, NEC, Nokia, Padtec, Tejas, Xtera, and ZTE.

Perhaps surprisingly, Huawei retained top

market share worldwide and held steady despite a slowdown in China and increasing competitive and

political pressures. This quarter marked a turnaround for CALA,

reversing multiple quarters of decline with a YoY surge of 30%. EMEA also grew with expansion across all product segments. Overall growth in North America was minor and would have been negative again if not for an enormous SLTE revenue increase this quarter. Finally, the rapid expansion in Japan

Metro declines in North America but grows in all

Ericsson, Vodafone launch Irish 5G network

Molex opens state- of-the-art optical R&D facility

Molex has announced the opening of a new research and development facility in Bridgewater, New Jersey. The building completion represents a significant investment by Molex in the future of optical wavelength solutions for telecommunications networks. The state-of-the-art Molex facility features eco-friendly clean rooms and extensive capabilities for designing and prototype manufacturing of optical solutions for the rapidly emerging segment of metro and long-haul telecommunications networks. Doug Busch,

Ericsson and Vodafone Ireland have launched the first commercial 5G network in Ireland. Live across locations in Cork, Limerick, Dublin, Galway and Waterford, the partners will continue expanding their network throughout the country over the coming months. At the launch in Cork on 13 August, Ericsson presented their Mixed Reality (Urban Planning VR) Demo. It was also the launch of the Vodafone Global Centre of Internet of Things excellence in healthcare in partnership with Assert.

vice president and general manager, Molex Optical Solutions Group said, “Global consumer IP traffic has approached 100 exabytes per month and with the emergence of 5G connectivity, data centre traffic will continue to explode. Molex scalable WSS modules and signal routing solutions simplify and automate the dynamic routing of wavelengths in demanding networks.” In 2018, Molex acquired the business of Nistica, which had a long entrepreneurial history within the New Jersey ecosystem.

At the launch, John Griffin, Managing Director of Ericsson Ireland said, “Ericsson has been investing in Ireland for 60 years. Our Research and Development centre in Athlone is still one of the biggest in the country, where they’re currently developing key components of 5G networks and firmly putting Ireland on the map of 5G innovation. With the Ericsson Consumer Lab report highlighting that consumers in Ireland expected 5G in 2021, this launch puts Vodafone and Ericsson ahead of local expectations.


| ISSUE 18 | Q3 2019


Researchers turn off backscattering, aim to improve optical data transmission

OIF launches higher baud rate coherent driver modulator and low-rate service multiplexing projects

At this year’s Optical Interworking Forum’s

this project is the next generation of the High Bandwidth Coherent Driver Modulator (HB-CDM) Implementation Agreement published in 2018. The second project start is for a white paper on low- rate service multiplexing using FlexE and 400ZR aimed at eliminating ambiguity and providing clarification on how 400ZR should be leveraged in multiplexing applications. Various network operators are looking for a multiplexing scheme to support lower-rate Ethernet clients (e.g. 4x100GE) into a 400ZR coherent line. This technical white paper will educate the market on how FlexE can be used to aggregate low-rate Ethernet services (e.g. 4x100GE) into 400ZR interfaces.

(OIF) 3Q19 Technical and MA&E committees meeting in Montreal, Canada, the organisation announced the launch of two new projects; a higher baud rate coherent driver modulator and a white paper detailing low-rate service multiplexing using FlexE and 400ZR. The Higher Baud Rate Coherent Driver Modulator project will define a new version of the coherent driver modulator supporting at least 96 Gbaud for the low modem implementation penalty segment of the coherent market for single optical carrier line rates beyond 400 Gbps. Designed for higher data rates and longer reach and optimised for performance,

Engineers at the University of Illinois have found a way to redirect misfit light waves to reduce energy loss during optical data transmission. In a study, researchers exploited an interaction between light and sound waves to suppress the scattering of light from material defects – which could lead to improved fibre optic communication. Their findings are published in the OSA journal Optica. Some previous studies have shown that undesirable backscattering

properties. However, these are not viable options for today’s optical systems that use transparent, nonmagnetic materials like silicon or silica glass. Trying the experiment in fibre optic cable will be the next step in showing that this phenomenon is possible at the bandwidths required in optical fibre communications. Light waves scatter when they encounter obstacles, be it a crack in a window or a tiny flaw in a fibre optic cable. Much of that light scatters out of the system, but some of it scatters back toward the source in a phenomenon called backscattering.

can be suppressed in special materials that have certain magnetic



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ISSUE 18 | Q3 2019


Sophie Legault, Director, Transport & Datacom Business Unit at EXFO, looks at how in today’s hyperconnected world, data centres are truly at the heart of the network supporting exponential growth in optical speeds and feeds. She also looks at how other factors driving demand, such as the consolidation of Internet Content Providers (ICPs) – including search engines, streaming providers and social media companies that have created their own networks and interconnections, have impacted server to server (S2S) interactions and data centre interconnect requirements.

B urgeoning optical capacity coupled with increased automation has shifted emphasis to data centre operations where trac within data centres and between them will represent 86 percent of total data centre trac by 2020, according to Cisco’s Global Cloud Index 2015-2020. Rapid service activation and deployment for data centre interconnections are emerging as important factors for service providers and data centre operators striving to support increased demand while maintaining a competitive edge. THE ROLE OF TRANSCEIVERS IN THE DATA CENTRE Ideally, providers would access and implement high-capacity, low cost and energy ecient optical network elements that can be quickly and easily

to newer 400G QSFP-DD and OSFP. The technology used in each of these pluggables is complex and constantly evolving. With many new entrants to the market, reliability and performance can be problematic. Many transceivers responding questionably during installation are discarded when in fact they prove to have no fault found if properly tested – which translates directly to increased equipment costs. Some operators proceed with transceiver installation without testing. That approach can be expensive because devices may appear to be functioning, but without adequate validation they fail at some future point. And with higher- cost, high-speed transceivers needed to support up to 400G operations, it’s increasingly dicult for operators to keep spare units on hand. Faced with higher bandwidth demands, increased transceiver costs, and variable

tested and deployed within an operating environment. Among those elements are transceivers which are essential to supporting increased demand for storage, replication, and authentication processes between servers. However, with a plethora of transceivers in the marketplace, it has become increasingly challenging for service providers to cost-eectively select, test, and deploy transceivers as well as maintain the many thousands of these devices already installed in today’s networks. The type and density of transceivers used for connections inside and between data centres, also referred to as pluggables, are variable according to data rates and desired reach, with cost of transceivers also varying. Optical transceivers have quickly progressed from low-rate SFP to SFP+, and higher rates such as CFP, CFP2, CFP4, QSFP28,


| ISSUE 18 | Q3 2019

Our InP-based coherent pluggable transceivers enable superior performance, higher density, and proven reliability.

The Lumentum CFP2-DCO pluggable transceiver is a CFP2 MSA-compliant digital coherent optical module designed for terrestrial applications including long haul, metro, and access. The CFP2-DCO module is designed to allow fast integration, ease-of-operation, and low maintenance. Its many features include very low power

consumption, interoperability, ‘exible client side interfaces: OTL4.4 and CAUI-4 signaling, user-de”ned spectral shaping, and digitally compensated CD and PMD. The CFP2-DCO is part of Lumentum’s leading-edge coherent product portfolio.

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reliability, how can operators ensure eective transceiver performance, streamline deployments, and avoid outages? CHALLENGES FOR DATA CENTRE OPERATORS AND MANAGERS A recent EXFO transceiver survey found that the top transceiver-related challenges faced by data centre operators and data centre managers are: lack of methods or standards to test transceivers; uncertainty of root cause of failure; and the inability to pinpoint where the fault is occurring. Operators need to be able to quickly and accurately assess the quality of pluggable transceivers to ensure that deployment and service activations are done correctly – with a single test and in minimal time. Accurate and quick testing can reduce the risk of future failures and avoid performing costly, time-consuming troubleshooting down the road. (See Fig 1). Recognising the industry reality, EXFO addressed the needs of data centre operators, contractors, Network Equipment Manufacturers (NEMs), and Communications Service Providers (CSPs) with the launch of the iOptics intelligent pluggable optics test solution. iOptics is the industry’s first solution capable of assessing any deployed transceiver today and, in combination with EXFO’s Open Transceiver System, it will also be compatible with future transceiver designs. iOptics is fully automated with one-button pass/fail capability. The iOptics app needs only configuration of a few parameters, with the majority of configuration completed for the user by the application. iOptics can be used: prior to installation of a pluggable in a network element; before the pluggable is used for a test; and during troubleshooting activities to confirm or reject failure on suspicious interconnection elements. The test validates the device signal continuity,

Fig 1

integrity and excessive skews. (See Fig2)

running 24/7 is a critical task. Statistics show that the average cost of data centre downtimes could rise to $9,000 per minute (source: Cost of Data Centre Outages Ponemon Institute). In some situations, any delay or loss in real-time processing may produce catastrophic results, so reliability is a priority. The need for troubleshooting tools that help data centre operators to quickly identify problems will be the key to success, and the iOptics intelligent solution is an eective way to quickly identify the condition of transceivers within these interconnections. POWER Due to the increasing density of routers, switches and servers inside hyperscale data centres, energy consumption within these centres is huge: energy consumption has grown 90 percent during the last decade (source: Report to Congress on Server and Data Centre Energy Eciency, Berkley Lab). The transceiver manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon with the hyperscale companies to develop smaller and more power ecient transceivers capable of maximising the number of elements per rack unit. Recently, data centre contractors, ICPs and CSPs have focused on the energy consumption readings of power consumption and voltage in a graphical and easy-to-read manner for data centre operators to plan and implement ecient network infrastructure. THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT With the advent of 5G networking now a reality, network complexity and demands will only continue to grow at exponential rates driving significant new requirements for data centres at the edge. Eective testing and installation of all optical networking elements will ensure continuity and support services of the future. of transceivers during installation phases. iOptics provides detailed

HELPING TRANSCEIVERS SHINE The ability of a simple and fast transceiver validation methodology to positively impact network operations is evident in several user scenarios: VIDEO CONTENT In the past, network infrastructure for video transmission relied on copper. However, HD and today’s explosive bandwidth demands have impelled more and more operators to use optical fibre as it is now being used by ICPs to transport video. Development in fibre optic technologies is making it easier and more cost eective to migrate to 10G, 100G and now 400G. This migration process generates aggressive implementation schedules requiring automated tools like iOptics to ensure the deployment of optical high rate interconnections. RELIABILITY Considering the amount of information processed and transported in a data centre, keeping the centre up and

Fig 2


| ISSUE 18 | Q3 2019

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MORE FIBRES IN SMALLER CABLES E very minute, across the world, more than 3.5 billion Google searches are carried out. There are also 100 million messages sent via SMS and in-app FIBRE IN THE DATACENTRE innovation in the fibre optic cable industry. Ellen Manning reports. Datacentres, both hyper- and micro- scale, are driving developments and

messages, 474,000 tweets tweeted and nearly 70,000 Instagram posts posted. YouTube users reportedly also upload more than 300 hours of video every minute. The sheer volume of data being carried around the world is staggering and continues to grow. Mordor Intelligence’s report ‘Fiber Optic Cable Market - Growth, Trends and Forecast’, recognises that the “explosion of information traffic owing to the internet, electronic commerce, computer

ongoing to ensure the gargantuan amount of data moves as efficiently as possible. For Corning, the growth in data and shift in datacentre design to accommodate it continues to challenge the way networks are deployed, including the optical fibre that connects them and new systems to tackle those challenges, says Sebastian Schreiber, market development manager, Carrier Networks,

vendors. “The transmission of data inside and between datacentres has grown significantly, with 80% of the world’s data created in the last two years, and the infrastructure needs to keep up with that. One way is to increase speed, and the other obvious way is to increase the number of fibres.” SPAGHETTI SITUATION Datacentre development doesn’t just demand changes to fibre, but to components too. SENKO Advanced Components has to make sure connectors are fit-for-purpose for the datacentres of the future. “Today’s datacentres’ biggest problem, and has been for a while, is the cost of the power,” says Miguel Miyamoto, SENKO’s European general manager. As well as saving on this cost, the industry is looking to simplify connectivity within datacentres, which has become what he calls a “spaghetti situation.” It’s an ongoing issue, but a tipping point seems to have been reached where it is no longer a case of simply squeezing

networks, multimedia, voice, data, and video, the need for a transmission medium with the bandwidth capabilities for handling such vast amounts of information is paramount”. That exponential growth forces architecture changes, including to datacentres. Whether through the development of hyperscale datacentres used by internet giants like Google and Facebook or ‘containerised’ versions to cater for the advent of 5G and Edge Computing, changes are

EMEA. Corning started in the early 2000’s with pre-terminated Plug and Play systems but saw densities increase towards the end of the decade prompting a newer, denser infrastructure with the EDGE™ solution. In 2015 it launched eight- fibre based systems, designed around the transceiver roadmaps of the active electronics

Sebastian Schreiber, market development manager, Carrier Networks, EMEA


ISSUE 18 | Q3 2019


successful deployments,” says Group CTO Badri Gomatam. “As the world of datacentres evolves to higher density interconnects, we see tremendous opportunity in both hyperscale as well as smaller segments such as containerised solutions. Our product R&D is strongly focused on providing solutions that enable datacentre operators to reduce latency and enable connectivity between multiple datacentres with superior reliability and density.” SHRINKAGE “Shrinking has been a long trend in the industry,” adds Schreiber. “Increasing the performance of CPUs and switch ASICs in a given footprint. Connecting from these devices to the outside world requires space as well and that needs to

has coped so far, work has gone in to making it and MPO connectors smaller - in some cases almost ferrule-only - which help in datacentre patch panels as well as plug & play modules. But as datacentres continue to evolve, SENKO has gone a step further to develop its CS and SN connectors. “The LC connector and multi-fibre MPO connector are a perfect fit for today’s datacentre,” says Miyamoto. “But it is not necessarily the most efficient way to make the infrastructure inside the datacentre.” That’s where the CS comes in, he says, allowing ‘direct patching’. “The data, the speed and the volumes that we’re able to send and digest through one fibre has completely changed from 10 years ago to today. Because of the old technology we didn’t have a choice - we had to use the

in more fibres. Space is at a premium, whether in hyperscale datacentres, smaller centres in intermediate locations or ‘containerised’ datacentres serving individual businesses’ needs. At Corning products and solutions are designed to cater for changes to datacentres, making deployment easier and cost-effective. Higher consolidation of in excess of 3000 fibres per cable in slimmer cable designs – enabled by reducing the diameter of the fibre itself from 250 µm to 200 µm - take up less space. “That helps to deploy faster and also save space in the already congested ducts that connect buildings on campuses or just the trays in datacentres,” says Schreiber. These cables also need to comply with heightened safety standards for datacentres and other facilities, providing high flame resistance and low smoke and hazardous substance generation in case of fires, according to the latest European Construction Product Regulations (CPR). Corning’s not alone in fibre developments. Prysmian launched a 6,912-fibre single cable at the FTTH Europe expo - something that appealed to customers faced with endlessly congested ducts. Philippe Vanhille, Prysmian EVP, telecom business, previously told Optical Connections they developed specific products for hyperscale datacentres which need interior cabling as well as strong connections between buildings on the campuses. Describing the 6,912-fibre cable as a “breakthrough,” he said: “We developed cables of up to three thousand fibres, and now we are up to nearly seven thousand, but it’s still relatively small and it will still go into a two-inch duct. It is also important not to be intrusive. In some parts of the world it does not matter if a cable is visible, but 5G is on its way and there will be an antenna every 200 metres and you will need a cable to feed the antenna with data and power, so we are working on that as well.” Among other technologies, Sterlite Technologies Ltd (STL) has developed advanced versions of optical fibre ribbon cabling, specifically compatible with emerging standards for 100 Gb/s Ethernet (GbE), 200GbE and 400GbE. “As transceiver form factors evolve, robust connectivity, size/face-plate density and reliability become paramount for

The data, the speed and the volumes that we’re able to send and digest through one fibre has completely changed from 10 years ago

LC connector and MPO connector - but today you can do a lot more things in one fibre with the data.” SENKO’s intention isn’t necessarily to immediately eliminate the LC and MPO connectors, but to introduce the CS and SN connectors that are more capable of coping with future speeds of 400G and above, he says. “If you’re using MPO even if it’s eight fibre MPO you need to split those eight fibres into channels which are pairs of fibre, which means you need a separate patching panel to do that,’’ explains Nigel Moore, Manager Middle East and Africa at SENKO. “If you are using SN with the same footprint more or less you have four duplex cables so it’s all ready to patch, it can go direct to the recipient channel rather than going through a patch intermediary. So that’s saving a lot of metal, a lot of floor space, it’s saving on your optical budget because every time you go through a patch you lose some of the power. At some point we expect the penny to drop and people will see that there are so many benefits from breaking out directly from the transceiver that the old topology of having a patch panel in between becomes obsolete.” In addition, SENKO is exploring on-board optics as well as other connectivity requirements. “We do a lot of outdoor connectivity because the other next big thing is 5G and that’s all about small antennas everywhere and anywhere so we’re looking at how we can help those solutions be more plug and play.”

shrink accordingly. Corning works with transceiver manufacturers to respond to their ideas and co-design micro-optic connectivity with them to accommodate current and future needs. The resulting density also needs to be handled and managed. Corning builds connectivity hardware and integrated solutions to make configuration, deployment and operation easier while preventing service interruption through handling errors. An example is the new MDC connector that triples the density of the well- established LC connector.” There is more to it than just connecting two optical ports, he adds. Other functions such as port tapping - allowing the analysis of traffic flow without interrupting the traffic itself - need to be integrated with minimal impact on space utilization. With new datacentre technologies also come more radical infrastructure changes such as the adoption of a latency-optimized Spine and Leaf architecture that increases the size and complexity of the physical network. “The number of links between switches in this mesh architecture multiplies compared to legacy networks. We consolidate that in what we call a mesh module to do all fibre shuffling, significantly reducing complexity and effort in the deployment of Spine and Leaf networks,” explains Schreiber. CONNECTORS At SENKO, they’re tackling the connector issue. While the standard LC connector

Philippe Vanhille, Prysmian EVP, telecom business


| ISSUE 18 | Q3 2019

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From a student fascinated by fibre optics to the founder, CEO, and now

Executive Chairman of the world-leading

fibre optics testing and measurement company EXFO, Germain Lamonde has come a long way. The visionary businessman, one of Canada’s leading entrepreneurs, was recently selected by Ernst & Young to represent Canada at the prestigious EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 event in Monaco. Optical Connections editor Peter Dykes spoke with him about his vision for the future of the company and the fibre optics industry.

In light of my studies of physics, optical communications and the theories behind them, it was pretty obvious to me, both as a scientist and entrepreneur, what fibre optics could do. Their technical capabilities were virtually unlimited, as I already knew from a theoretical point of view, since they could carry multiple wavelengths simultaneously. Of course, no one was thinking about amplifiers at that time—not until Sir David Payne from Southampton University brought that disruptive concept to the world. There were a lot of unknowns, but it was clear to me that fibre optics were poised to become the communications medium of the future and would overcome the limitations of copper, with its inevitable compromises between speed and distance. Add to this that Canada, a vast country where coast-to-coast communications had always been a challenge, was one of the earlier adopters of fibre optics, it was clear in my mind that fibre optic communication was ready for primetime. With this in mind, I went to the CEO of the laser company I was working for and told him that fibre optic measurement held a lot of promise as a marketable technology. He looked at me and

PD: When did you first realise that fibre optics would be the future of telecommunications networks and how did you reach that conclusion? GL: It was pretty early in my life, at a time when the experts were saying that single-mode fibres would never be commercially deployed because they were too difficult to manufacture and next to impossible to interconnect. I was the fifth of seven children raised on a small dairy farm in a little village, so money was far from abundant. I raised and sold rabbits to pay for my first bicycle, then started two discos to be able to buy my dream sound system. So, in a sense, I was born to be an entrepreneur! I always loved science so I decided to study to become a physics engineer at Polytechnique Montréal. I finished in three and a half years instead of the usual four in order to save money. After that, I went on to a full-time master’s degree in optics at Université Laval in Quebec City while also working full-time for a small Quebec City–based company in the area of high-power pulsed CO2 lasers and laser measurement.


| ISSUE 18 | Q3 2019


for the launch of those first products on the market, and some of our first customers were Bell Canada; Bell Atlantic, NYNEX and GTE Telecom (now all part of Verizon); France Telecom; and Ameritech. The long succession of ground- breaking innovations which followed and for which EXFO is renowned, has changed the way fibre optics could be tested and deployed. The company now delivers 60%+ in average annual growth and now controls over 40% of the world market in optical communications testing. We keep pushing the envelope with new innovations, like the first optical fibre multimeter (Optical Xplorer™), a new category of fibre testing solution launched at ANGA COM and Fiber Connect this year. In a nutshell, EXFO is a company that believed that with the right mix of talent, innovation and team work, it could fulfil the mission statement I wrote in the summer of 1985 while sitting on the balcony of my student apartment: “to become the uncontested world market leader by focusing on excellence and people.” GL: I think we’ve built a reputation over the last thirty-four years as a “radical innovator” that operators can always count on to bring the most advanced solutions to the market. We tackle the challenges our customers bring to us by applying out-of-the-box thinking to ensure we come up with solutions that are radically disruptive, and often well ahead of what our customers would have asked for. We come to market with solutions that are twenty percent better and twenty percent cheaper than anything the competition can provide. EXFO is known for disruptive innovations that change the game. Indeed, new products like our Optical XplorerTM line do just that. It’s an entirely new industry category. PD: How has EXFO addressed the shortage of skilled technicians in the optical communications industry? GL: We’ve put ourselves in the shoes of the front-line technicians who install FTTH; FTTC or fibre to small/micro-cell. We know that the UK and Germany are among the countries that have massive plans going in that direction. We are currently the market leader in FTTH, with over fifty percent of global market share for helping operators to deliver FTTH. We were the very first in the industry with Verizon’s FiOS project back in 2003. We currently work with around four hundred operators globally as their supplier of choice to build FTTH. We believe that by putting automation and intelligence in the test sets, we can reduce requirements for training. If you’re in the UK for example, you can train people easily, but in more remote places it’s often more PD: How would you characterise EXFO’s current market position?

difficult to get access to fully trained technicians.

PD: What about the future, which promises new technologies such as PAM4 and coherent? Are you planning for a future that perhaps few of us can yet see? GL: With our strong innovation capabilities, we’ve expanded beyond fibre optic testing into high-speed optical testing like 200G or 400 Gbit/s and advanced lab and factory test systems. We’ve also branched out into large scale software-intensive systems that combine active, passive, fibre and RF monitoring systems with highly advanced big data analytics and AI algorithms to take network automation to a new level. We can now collect and analyse as much as 100 Tb of data or more in real time to prioritize the problems that may exist at any given time in very large-scale networks. Our technology automatically determines the most likely root cause of these problems, often predicts problems before their effects are felt, and dramatically reduces resolution times during massive network outages—often from as much as 10–15 hours to just 1–2 minutes! We are working with all key system vendors, all webscale operators (Google, etc.) and 95 of the world’s 100 largest network operators (nearly 2,000 operator customers in total) to ensure we are already tackling the problems that will be important to them in the future. We’ve remained true to our tradition of trying to see as far ahead as we can so we can plan and execute better. With nearly 2,000 employees in over 25 countries, some US$300 million in revenues and about US$4 billion in cumulative revenues, we are proud of our accomplishments and continue to build on our strong tradition as an innovative disruptor. GL: Operators around the world now know they can rely on EXFO to bring them the next level of innovation. They understand that EXFO products and solutions from our Test & Measurement and SASS (Service Assurance, Systems & Services) divisions are worth more and won’t let them down. To me, it’s a real privilege to have operators from around the globe come to us to share their transformation strategies and the complex challenges they are facing because they’ve come to see us as a trusted strategic partner with an important role to play in their growth. All PD: How would you sum up EXFO’s market advantage? this is made possible thanks to an amazing team and company-wide culture that cherishes innovation, trust, employee contributions and all-around excellence.

said, “No, we’re not going to go in that direction. I don’t believe in it.” So, I asked him if it was OK if I set up my own company. He replied, “Kid, you’ll fall on your face,” and told me that I was sure to fail. In hindsight, it was the best answer I could have hoped for; I was determined to prove him wrong. PD: You obviously didn’t have much money to get started. How did you manage to parlay that simple idea into such a successful global enterprise? GL: I started EXFO with C$100, then borrowed close to C$100,000 through some government programs that existed at the time in Quebec. It was barely enough to cover the design costs of the first two products: a modular optical power meter and an optical light source. With the launch date for the products fast approaching, I entered a business start-up competition sponsored by Université Laval and Desjardins Group. First prize was C$25,000 for the best business plan submitted by students or recent grads. The plan I submitted was, for all intents and purposes, EXFO’s first five-year plan. We really needed the money, and fortunately, we won, which helped pay


ISSUE 18 | Q3 2019


Inside the datacentre, emerging 400 Gigabit Ethernet optics will help alleviate the power and real estate challenges facing hyperscale datacentre operations.

NETWORKING O ne estimate from the Arizton Advisory & Intelligence research company is that the global datacentre market size could reach revenues of around US$174 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of about 4% Datacentres, increasingly powered by optical networking technology, are currently proliferating around the world. In large part this is due to the on-going rise of digital and online economies, and the increasingly PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS

between 2018 and 2023. Meanwhile, over the years Cisco has variously calculated that over 70% of datacentre events/ content stays within the datacentre. Dr Radha Nagarajan, CTO, Interconnect, at high-speed data movement interconnect specialist Inphi, reckons, in some instances, such estimates might be conservative. “In reality this number could be higher in datacentres with heavier artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) type and cloud workloads,” he suggests. As their numbers increase, higher speeds and lower latencies than were previously delivered are expected to become critical in datacentre operations. “Higher Ethernet speeds, cloud computing, smart cities, IoT and autonomous vehicles have upped the ante for datacentre operators,” points out Tony Campbell, senior business development manager, Optics, at interconnection systems supplier Molex. “More connected devices are driving more need for compute and more need for bandwidth and reduced latency.” And latency is not just a concern for the

connected and networked nature of modern life, writes John Williamson.

datacentre compute and communication cycles. “The storage/memory type and access speeds configurations also play a large part in managing the unprecedented amount of data and the speed of access,” reports Dr Nagarajan. According to Helen Xenos, senior director, Portfolio Marketing at networking systems, services and software company Ciena, the biggest challenge global content network providers are currently facing is continuing to meet capacity demands within existing real estate and power constraints. “In the metro, hyperscalers are distributing their metro-regional datacentre fabric across multiple buildings or campuses, resulting in growing requirements for single-span, high capacity optical connectivity,” she

observes. “AI/ML are the latest drivers for

bandwidth,” adds Dr Nagarajan. “Data analytics and big data also drive the need for compute machine-to-machine traffic. These drive east-west traffic.” In this context, though, Dr Nagarajan offers the important rider that there is a whole range of datacentre types: “The cloud datacentres, especially from mega scale datacentre operators such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon, drive the higher end of the technology, and face the biggest speed and latency issues.” 400 G-WHIZ? With traffic volume and service performance demands placed on datacentre operations becoming more


| ISSUE 18 | Q3 2019


rigorous, industry attention is turning towards the use of 400G technology. “Inside the datacentre, emerging 400 Gigabit Ethernet optics will help alleviate the power and real estate challenges facing hyperscale datacentre operations, by doubling or quadrupling the data rate between switches and routers,” says Xenos. She also describes how one of the main advantages of 400G is that the technology offers better system performance and tuneable capacity, which is great for hyperscale datacentres, as well as double channel capacity across applications, an arrangement that can extend the life of fibre investments. For his part, Campbell views the progress towards 400G as an architectural upgrade that is by way of a continuation of the recent move from 40G to 100G fabrics. “With 400G switches, optical transceivers and copper cables becoming available, large datacentres can again upgrade,” he says. There are, however, impediments to the widespread deployment of datacentre 400G in the immediate term: the present expense and availability of the kit. “The cost of deploying transceivers is considerably high; this coupled with the fact that switch platforms are not readily available, means that the widespread commercial implementation of 400G is not likely to happen this year,” judges Anthony Clarkson, technical director at compatible transceiver supplier ProLabs. “Once the switches and routers are widely available, the volume of products will help to drive the cost down – making the rollout of 400G a more justifiable option.” But ready access to 400G is thought unlikely to signal the end of datacentre bandwidth expansion history. “400G optics is just the next stage of evolution in the datacentre “pipe” size. This is by no means the end of the cycle,” states Dr Nagarajan. “People are already talking about 800 Gbps and 1.6 Tbps optics inside the datacentres.” bandwidth and latency ladders may be, by themselves they aren’t the only factors transforming today’s datacentre networking landscape . Datacentre architectures are changing. “Higher radix and highly interconnected datacentres are being designed,” points out Dr Nagarajan. “This allows for smaller data pipes and larger interconnected mesh architectures.” Improved connectivity and scalability are two key components that need to be addressed to keep up with the volume of requests likely to be facing hyperscale datacentres. “With improved speed to ensure instant connection, the ability to rapidly scale in order to meet demands when there are spikes in traffic will allow datacentres to offer flexibility DATACENTRE SPREAD As important as moves up the

QSFP-DD GEES UP 400G? Many experts believe that Quad Small Form Factor Pluggable Double Density (QSFP-DD) modules will play a pivotal role in the wider adoption of 400G in datacentre networking. ProLab’s Clarkson predicts that QSFP-DD will help to drive costs down as it will be the volume option for 400G. “With the ability to use QSFP28 and QSFP+ transceivers in QSFP-DD ports - in the same way you can use a 1G SFP in an SFP+ port - there will also be upgrade options available, addressing future unprecedented demands that datacentre operators may face,” he explains. “Other options like CFP8 will have their uses, for example in longer distance transport, but the lower power and familiar footprint of QSFP-DD will make it the form factor of choice for hyperscale datacentres both now and in the future.”

switching will allow for resource management for improved levels of utilisation, scalability, reliability and power efficiency. It will also improve the efficiency of high-performance computing towards exascale computing.” Dr Nagarajan is also on board with the disaggregation theme, stating that the trend of building a single, large, contiguous datacentre building is not sustainable. “Recent architecture changes involve a series of regionally interconnected datacentres, within the compute latency constraints, to emulate a “large”, logically connected datacentre,” he remarks. Longer term, Dr Nagarajan thinks there may be challenges concerning pluggable optics given that, as switch ASIC speeds increase, the faceplate density of a switch chassis becomes more of a premium, and pluggable sizes can only be reduced by so much. “The current generation of switch ASIC has a 12.8 Tbps capacity, and pluggable modules are still the favoured optical interconnect technology,” he acknowledges. “For the next generation 25.6 Tbps and 51.2 Tbps switches, people are talking about switch ASICs with co- packaged optics, to solve the faceplate density and power constraints.” In terms of greater component integration, Molex looks to be on the same page. “Silicon photonics will become more important as speeds continue to increase,” predicts Campbell. “Future switch designs will likely incorporate silicon photonics- based optical engines in a co-packaged format with the switch ASIC, effectively eliminating the need for pluggable optics.” Ciena is of the opinion that future datacentre networking solutions will need to have a wider focus in their functional remit. “Platforms must not only support open application programming interfaces, they will need to allow application and back-office integration efforts as well as the compatibility of vendor specific or agnostic third-party software components,” concludes Xenos. “Increased network health and status information will also be key.”

Helen Xenos, senior director, Portfolio Marketing, Ciena

to clients,” comments Xenos. “Without network scalability and re-configurability, a hyperscale datacentre simply can’t function.” Drew Martin, market manager at optical switch technology innovator HUBER+SUHNER Polatis, believes optical switching is set to play a key role in the future of datacentre networking as the shift towards automated networks and software defined networking gathers pace. “Optical switching applications will offer a host of benefits for datacentre operators who are moving towards network automation, including automated fibre management, self-service connectivity, zero touch provisioning and bandwidth on demand,” he ventures. CENTRE FORWARD What might be coming down the datacentre networking turnpike? As might be anticipated, projected scenarios differ somewhat depending on who you ask. Martin envisages more mileage for optical switching. “The future will see a disaggregation of datacentres and the rise of edge computing, in which optical switching applications will be paramount,” he reasons. “Optical


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