Google Cloud is just getting started
Big Interview

Google Cloud is just getting started

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With Google’s Dunant cable due to be RFS by 2020, Michael Francois, technology lead manager of global network infrastructure, EMEA at Google Cloud, talks to Natalie Bannerman about the increasing data demands that made the cable possible

Content cables are changing the landscape of the submarine cable world. The increasing need for cost-effective bandwidth is changing the paradigm of traditional consortium cables as over-the-top (OTT) providers move away from being buyers to owners of capacity. One of the key players in that space is Google. Since 2010 the global technology company has invested in 12 subsea cable projects, some privately and others as part of a consortium.

Google’s most recently announced project, soon to bring the total to 13, is its privately-owned Dunant cable connecting France to the US. The new system, due to be completed in late 2020, will enable the company to better serve its users and customers by increasing bandwidth.

Michael Francois, Google Cloud’s technology lead manager for global network infrastructure, EMEA, says that the decision to build this route was driven by growing user traffic across the Atlantic, as well as the need for reduced latency.

“Our users have traffic that needs to cross the Atlantic, and after a careful analysis of existing and planned systems, we chose the Atlantic coast of France and Virginia in the US as the landing points for this specific system,” he says. “This provides diversity of landing points, and provides reduced latency and increased resiliency to the Google Cloud network.”

Francois says that choosing to land specifically in Virginia and on the French Atlantic coast over other US and European hubs, gives Google Cloud the much needed route diversity and close proximity to its existing data centre and backhaul infrastructure. Overall, the plans involved a lengthy and detailed process that weighed up such factors as environmental considerations, fishing activities, government established cable protection zones, the type of undersea terrain near shore and the availability of diverse terrestrial fibre networks from the cable landing to locations that are more inland, like Paris or Berlin.

“Google needs to build a robust, low latency network to meet the requirements of all types of users,” explains Francois. “Getting these cables closer to our data centre and cloud regions improves the experience for the end user. It is also important to diversify the landing locations, to increase overall network availability.”

Though no capacity or specific latency details have been given about the much-talked-about 6,600km cable system Francois assures me that it is “right-sized and deeply scalable”.

He adds: “The higher network resiliency provided by private cables impacts our customers in a positive way, and we will continue to build cables to ensure the right capacity is in the right place at the right time.”

To Francois, the fact that cable systems are increasingly connecting directly into the data centre is simply a natural progression brought on by connectivity needs of the users of the cable systems. Despite this, he says that power-feeding equipment (PFE) will continue to sit close to shore in the cable landing station (CLS), “but to meet the needs of users we need to be more efficient, and bring the terminating equipment close to the same locations where interconnections occur to metro networks and traffic exchange points”.

As for the Dunant cable, it will terminate at a CLS, but the final location of line terminating equipment has yet to be decided.

Despite the fact that Dunant is a private system, Google is honouring the long-standing industry tradition of allowing customers to exchange capacity for a stronger communications offering.

“As part of that effort, we have been happy to honour a tradition in the submarine industry where people who have capacity on similar routes exchange capacity or fibre pairs between systems to strengthen the communications network lattice between continents for all involved,” he explains.

At the time of the announcement, TE SubCom was named as the designer and manufacturer of the four-fibre pair cable system. The company says that Dunant will be built using SubCom’s A1 cable family, which is optimised for projects compatible with higher design and construction regulations. And while TE SubCom may have beat the competition this time, Francois says that Google works with all of the suppliers to the submarine industry.

“Each cable is designed to meet our unique requirements around capacity, geography, wet plant capabilities, etc,” says Francois. “Each decision takes into account factors such as our capacity requirements, vendor experience in different oceans, knowledge of shore approaches, marine maintenance, repeater spacing and the like. We will continue to select the best supplier that is able to meet the specific timing, route and engineering requirements we have.”

Cable builders aren’t the only partnerships that Google is forging. It recently confirmed that is working with Orange as the Dunant cable landing partner in France. Under the terms of the agreement Orange will build and operate the landing station on the French Atlantic coast and provide backhaul service to Paris. In turn, Orange will benefit from fibre-pairs with a capacity of more than 30Tbps per pair, enabling Orange to boost its capacity to meet growing data and content demands between Europe and the US. And its these very French assets that make Orange the ideal French partner.

“Orange has unique assets and capabilities that accelerate the development of the Dunant cable, and in return we are able to make sure that all of our combined users and customers have access to deeply scalable infrastructure which will serve their needs,” says Francois. “Orange has a long history and many capabilities in this sphere. Knowledge, experience and shared objectives are a good basis for successful collaboration.”

As the relationship between telcos and OTTs continue to change, Google maintains that it has a strong relationship with the industry as a whole and collaboration with Orange is a good illustration of that.

“We enjoy working with telcos on everything from submarine cables to Android handsets, from e-commerce enablement to cloud computing partnerships.”

In the official blog post announcing the new cable back in July, it is mentioned that the new system will allow Google Cloud to “plan for their business in the future”.

When questioned on what this means, Francois explains that modern systems deliver scalable capacity allowing the company to serve long-term traffic demands and to connect any additional data centre they may build.

“We often hear about how internet traffic growth is ‘off the chart’, but at Google we know that our charts scale, just as our submarine capacity does,” he replies.

One particular region that is on the lips of most infrastructure providers is Asia and the incoming surge of data that it’s creating. Google is also seeing this trend and has already started preparing for it.

Earlier in 2018 the company announced plans to expanded Google Cloud to Hong Kong and Indonesia, adding to its existing locations in in Japan, Taiwan, Australia and Singapore. He says Google foresees continued demand in Asia driving the need for more cables. “Google has spent $30 billion improving our infrastructure over the last three years, and we’re not done yet.”

It comes as no surprise that Google is at the forefront of emerging technologies like 5G and the internet of things (IoT) and planning for the effect that more connected things will have on its networks, particularly as a manufacturer of devices themselves.

“Every ‘thing’ that gets attached to the internet increases the need for infrastructure, whether it is a Nest Thermostat or a Google Home Smart Speaker. Technologies like 5G will allow for the bandwidth for applications that brilliant engineers are developing all over the world,” explains Francois.

Interestingly he describes the role of applications and devices as picking up where content and data traffic has left off, but ultimately bringing everything closer to the end user.

“YouTube and other video traffic has always been a driver for increased infrastructure spend, and new applications and devices will continue that trend. IoT will push the edges of the network farther and closer to users wherever they are.“

It’s foolish to assume Google Cloud is any one thing, operating in any one sector. The company has seen “tremendous growth in all areas”, says Francois. It has the world’s largest and most interconnected network, and it is “growing every day”.

It has and will continue to invest in cloud regions and zones all over the world, with planned developments already on the way. In addition, it will continue to build on features and products, many of which were initially developed as solutions for search, YouTube, Android, Google Maps, Gmail and other products.

Is this the last of Google’s cable investments? Unlikely, Francois says. “We’re just getting started.”

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