NTT Gears Up for More Trans-Pacific Growth

Don't linger too long over today's announcement by NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT) that it has reached 400 Gbit/s (gigabits per second) of capacity on its trans-Pacific network, because the 500-gig level is a few months away and NTT will hit 600 gig on this route by year's end, company officials say. (See NTT Hits 400 Gig on Transpacific Link.)

The time span between 100-gig leaps on that trans-Pacific link is shrinking -- an indication of how quickly traffic is growing. NTT hit the 300Gbit/s milestone in February of 2010. The trans-Pacific link is unique in NTT's network because of the carrier's incumbent status in Japan and its presence throughout Asia, and the growing traffic between those sites and its U.S. customers.

As a result, the trans-Pacific link is often where the latest and greatest is deployed first, says Michael Wheeler, VP, Global IP Network at NTT America Inc. "The great thing about this path is that it highlights the growth of the overall network," Wheeler says. "It is a unique path where the traffic growth is definable versus a mesh network, where there are multiple different points, and those traffic trends are happening, but it's in the bigger mix, like a big bowl of spaghetti."

For example, the global carrier, which is closing in on the third spot on the Renesys Baker's Dozen largest global Internet carriers, is leveraging its 2010 deployment of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) ASR-9000 edge routers in many of its points of presence, using the Cisco NetFlow tools to better manage that volume of traffic. (See NTT America Boosts Aggregation Network.)

The NetFlow tools replace older MPLS-TE tools that NTT had been using, Wheeler says, and enable NTT to manage what is now 40 (up from 30) individual 10Gbit/s circuits required for 400Gbit/s capacity on an undersea link, where distance limitations render 100Gbit/s circuits impractical with today's technology.

"It doesn't seem like a very big deal, but when you are talking about trying to route all that traffic across that path over what is now 40-plus circuits, the amount of operational kind of work and the types of tools and applications that we are using to support that is significant," Wheeler says. "We have to make sure those are not only running effectively, but we are using the best tools available. The Cisco NetFlow technology allows us to do things from a traffic management and traffic visibility perspective that are helpful."

Much of that traffic-management process is automated, but there is still a human element, managed from NTT's Dallas Network Operations Center, that responds to the automated alerts and alarms as needed.

Wheeler expects to see 100Gbit/s Ethernet interfaces deployed in NTT's network this year, but only if prices drop, and only on the customer side of the network, not in long-haul undersea links, because of the distance issues.

"We have lots of customers with hundreds of gigs of capacity in the U.S. or even globally," he says. "Those customers take those 10 Gig Es in bundles -- bundles of four, bundles of eight -- and any customer that has an eight-gig bundle with us, that's only 20 gigs away from 100. And they have the same operational challenges we face -- eight circuits is harder to manage that one, whether it's in a given PoP or across the ocean."

The use of 100 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces in an undersea cable is farther off because of the science involved in transporting 100 gigs over that distance, and the expected high costs, but NTT would like to see that "sooner rather than later," Wheeler says.

As for the traffic driving all that capacity across the Pacific, Wheeler hesitates to attribute much of it to the Internet video explosion or to new traffic from cloud computing, which he says remains a growing but relatively small piece of the traffic pie.

Instead, he says the general volume of Internet traffic of all types continues to grow, especially mobile data and traffic from deeper deployments of high-speed access to the home.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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