Facebook just put a face on a very significant trend.
We have been hearing for some time about how the web-scale companies -- Internet content providers, social media giants and cloud service providers -- are becoming bigger and more frequent buyers of optical networking technology. Though in many cases those customers didn't want to be identified in earnings reports or in news of contract awards, we could pretty much guess who they were, or at least get pretty close.
Finally, this week, one of them did appear by name in a vendor press release. So, why is it such a big deal that Facebook consented to be named by Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN) as a customer? (See Infinera's Big Customer Reveal: Facebook.)
Infinera's announcement didn't offer a tremendous amount of detail about the project, but did refer to it as "the world's longest terrestrial optical route" without regeneration, at 3,998 km. Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Sterling Perrin speculated via email earlier this week that maybe Facebook wanted "the cache" that comes from being able to make such a claim.
That probably has something to do with Facebook's optical coming out party, but it's also fair to wonder if it means that Facebook and other web giants are ready to become more public players -- and influencers -- in the optical network sector.
Just a few days before Infinera touted Facebook as a customer, Facebook Network Hardware Engineer Yuval Bachar appeared at OFC 2015, offering his opinions on a number of optical market topics, from the need to more consolidation to the sluggish pace of standards development. (See Facebook Wants to See Optical Sector M&A.)
We talked about Facebook's desire for sector consolidation in our previous story, but here's what Bachar had to say about some other topics:
- On Facebook's bandwidth upgrade cycle for its data center networks: "Our data centers are growing by two-times to three-times their size every six to 10 months. We need a bandwidth upgrade every 12 to 18 months, so 40G is not working for us anymore, and we are looking at silicon photonics to take us to 100G, 400G and to 1 Terabit."
On Facebook's view of fiber and module economics: "We are committed to making the transition from multi-mode fiber to single-mode duplex because it will be less expensive. Silicon photonics must be manufactured to scale. But, we trying create a direct channel to buy from the optical module manufacturers, and cut the middleman out. We have vendors [six to eight of them, he noted earlier] we can do this with, and the cost gets down to where we want it, about $1 per 1 Gbit/s."
On pluggable optical modules: "Pluggable modules one day will not be viable. They are expensive and there are the problems of faceplate density and dissipation of heat. We are trying to drive down the cost [of pluggable modules], and this is why we like optics integrated onto the board."
On industry standards: "Standardization in the world today is really slow, so we adopt a new technology, create an ecosystem for it, and then go to the standards bodies. We don't have time to wait for a standard to be adopted first, so we try to adopt the technology we think is best. We want to create inflection points for technology, but we want to be sure those inflection points also help create good business models for others across the industry."
It was clear long before the week's announcement and long before OFC last week that Facebook has an increasingly active voice in networking. That much has been clear from its involvement in the Open Compute Project and development of the open Wedge switch. (See Facebook in Production Testing of Open 'Wedge' Switch.)
But, in recent days, Facebook's voice on networking issues has been growing louder, and its identity as one of the top influencers of networking technology developments becoming ever more certain. This is a trend that both vendors and other big service providers need to understand. Face it.
— Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading