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Taking IP interconnection to the next level

Rafael de Fermin
Rafael De Fermín

Rapid digitisation, 5G and developments at the edge mean a need for new forms of data centre and cloud interconnection platform to help facilitate this transformation. Rafael De Fermín, senior vice president for network infrastructure in Europe at Nokia, maps out how the industry can take things to the next level.

The huge digital acceleration seen in recent years has wide-ranging implications for how enterprises and players in the cloud ecosystem pursue their ongoing data centre and cloud strategies.

A faster-than-anticipated transition amid Covid in the past couple of years means it’s even more pressing to nail down long-term approaches to IP interconnection in data centres to pave the way for the future. Now that 5G rollouts are also well under way, with massive IoT and Industry 4.0 becoming a reality, there’s much to consider about how to improve service latency, reliability and security.

That raises the demand for platforms that enable seamless, secure and scalable IP interconnection between end customers and the whole broad ecosystem of cloud, data centre, colocation and hosting, interconnection and carrier-neutral network providers.

“It’s an interesting landscape because multiple things are happening,” says Rafael De Fermín, senior vice president for network infrastructure in Europe at Nokia. “One is that there’s clearly growth in data centre infrastructure spending.”

Reflecting just how speedily things are changing, the prevalence of infrastructure strategies that integrate on-premises, colocation, cloud and edge delivery options is expected to rise from 20% to 85% in the space of just five years to 2025, according to Gartner.

De Fermín outlines what lies in store for the industry. “Ahead of us, we have this long and winding road of transforming the whole interconnection market,” he says. “We will do more of the things that we’re already doing today, such as providing more bandwidth, but we also see more complexity in providing additional features – such as security and traffic optimisation – and a big transformation in the location of data centres.”

Expanding on this last point, he highlights how the trend towards more data centres closer to the user means a different outlook in the future. “If the environment in a few years from now is that you run several dozens to, over time, hundreds of those edge data centres, your world just changed dramatically,” he says.

Fresh approaches 

All these trends together mean a need for new approaches, says De Fermín. This will be aided by automation in an increasingly NetOps-type set-up to manage connectivity between data-centre fabrics, edge clouds and everything across the wide area network (WAN) in a non-homogeneous environment.

Catering for simultaneous demands for more bandwidth and features, having a presence in more locations, and interconnecting all those things has “very complex” implications for the network, he says. “We see a strong demand to automate that network and make it more manageable.”

Players aiming to facilitate this landscape are looking to leverage higher-speed access via 400- and 800-gigabit Ethernet (GE) technology, along with interconnection platforms to make it easier to connect to cloud services, customers and partners. “It’s growing so fast, which is why I believe that the move to 800G will be faster than previous waves,” says De Fermín.

At this rapid pace of evolution, the plethora of players in the market can therefore benefit from platforms that improve the supporting technology and links to key interconnection providers, with De Fermín citing the likes of DE-CIX and the London Internet Exchange (LINX), as well as multi-tenant data-centre provider Equinix.

Referring to their changing and increasingly involved role in the market beyond providing just capacity, De Fermín talks of how players that previously called themselves internet exchanges have now evolved into interconnection players.

He explains how there is more demand now for additional features, including guaranteed quality-of-service, service-level agreements (SLAs) and security – giving these interconnection providers strong scope for adding value. “We see these providers thinking, ‘I’ve got a very good grasp of this market, I’ve got an incredibly good relationship with customers.’ Should providers want to offer additional services, I think they’re ideally positioned to expand their services beyond just pure interconnection.”

Yet to make the most of this opportunity, market players also need the type of equipment from vendors that matches the pace of evolution.

Muhammad Durrani, senior director of global network architecture at Equinix, says that while technologies like 5G provide massive potential, they also place demands on the network to provide ultra-low latency, a high level of performance and mission-critical reliability. That brings a need for routers from vendors that can provide a “highly dynamic and programmable network fabric”, he says.

Building an ecosystem 

Nokia has aided webscale providers in their journey to build high-performance, high-capacity global interconnection and peering platforms for the future. Its approach focuses on keeping rich features such as traffic engineering and security at the network edge, while scaling, simplifying and increasing the efficiency of the core.

This helps streamline the interconnection process for partners by adding the extra functions they need where they need them and making the whole interconnection ecosystem more attractive for the new era of digitisation.

With Equinix, for example, Nokia has supplied IP/MPLS network infrastructure to support global Equinix Fabric software-defined interconnection services; with DE-CIX, it is upgrading edge routers in the company’s Frankfurt exchange to pave the way for the future of 800GE technology; and with LINX, it is supplying 400GE IP edge routing platforms powered by Nokia’s FP silicon technology to aid high-speed IP routing for interconnection and peering.

At LINX, CTO and executive director Richard Petrie says that such partnerships back up his company’s commitment to delivering high-speed IP interconnection and peering. “Integration with our automation platform will enable us to respond to our members’ needs more quickly, offering them better connectivity, improved network performance and more control,” he adds.

De Fermín explains that innovation in areas such as silicon, which is at the heart of IP networks, is made easier if a company has control of its own purpose-built technology.

“The portfolio of edge and core routers that we have is based on our own silicon,” he says. “We think that to lead in innovation, there are some parts of the products that we absolutely need to own and master… having control of the silicon is crucial to us.”

Nokia recently unveiled FP5, its fifth generation of routing silicon, making leaps forward in capacity and network security, as well as a 75% cut in power consumption compared with earlier generations. It includes support for high-density 800GE routing interfaces, allowing customers to evolve their networks and services into the future.

Coherent scaling 

But as the market evolves, players face key challenges to scaling up to make the most of the opportunity, says De Fermín. This requires new approaches to routing, with coherent optics one such method that has also been fuelled by rapid advances in silicon technology. Vendors such as Nokia have been adding pluggable 400G ZR and ZR+ optics to their products to allow for closer integration and coordination between IP and optical transport layers.

Nokia’s solution also enables virtual paths between any two points over complex fibre topologies, rather than treating IP and optical in separate silos with multiple point-to-point links.

Coherent routing is a major architectural transition in the way transport networks are being built,” says Sasa Nijemcevic, vice president and general manager of network automation software at Nokia. “The teams that are building those networks are pushed to be better coordinated, and the tools that they’re using are becoming one.”

De Fermín says that ultimately, the future will be about mastering the unexpected, with market players handling a range of smaller locations in multiple places rather than a predictable set of large data centres. This will be aided by automation and methods such as the creation of digital twins to simulate and configure processes in data centres, but one of the key needs is to ensure that flexibility is built in for the future.

“Whatever you put there today is the first brick of what you’re going to be building,” says De Fermín. “Think about it, because you don’t want to have to swap the totality of the infrastructure that you’re putting in your network today.”

Whatever happens, the rapid changes taking place today with development of data centres at the edge will mean a “revolution” for how the IP interconnection ecosystem works, says De Fermín: “It’s a fundamentally different proposition and you need to build it in a fundamentally different way.”

Learn more about how Nokia takes IP data centre interconnection to the next level

This article forms part of the special supplement Data Centre Interconnection. Click on the link to access the full supplement.

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