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Powering the future of data centres with optical fibre

Powering the future of data centres with optical fibre

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Gavin Faulds – Regional Sales Head-MEA, Sterlite, tells us how hyperscale data centres require reliable, high-bandwidth components to power their network’s physical infrastructure and discusses how investment in the UAE data centre space compares to the global picture.

Gavin Faulds is a distinguished business development and marketing leader who has worked in Telecommunications, Oil & Gas and Utilities sectors. With more than 20 years of experience, Faulds is an expert in negotiations, sales and go-to-market strategy in the Middle East and Africa region. Before joining STL, Faulds was working with Oman Fiber Optic where he was the General Manager, Fiber Optic & Cable Manufacturing Division. He grew the company’s market share in the MENA region and created and implemented business plans to support the company’s financial objectives. Faulds holds an MBA degree from the University of Stellenbosch.

How are new megatrends such as Industry 4.0, IoT and 5G impacting the demand on data centres and business models?

With the introduction of 5G services, IoT etc. which will be enabling smoother and faster service in this sector when combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), robotic and cloud, to name a few, the adoption of technology is looking more promising. I believe the megatrends have changed the question from ‘if’ to ‘how much’. The increasing need for data and tremendous growth in cloud adoption has left hyperscale cloud providers and large-scale enterprises with no choice but to expand. 5G companies will massively increase the number of access points and develop new data centres with the aim of unlocking new services with unimaginable bandwidth and latency. The question of ‘if’ they would expand is pretty much non-existent. All that counts right now is ‘how much’ they are going to expand.

What difference do you see in the data centre market now compared to before the pandemic?

It always seemed that the data centre was solely the business of cloud hyperscale providers. I think the pandemic changed that. We now see the emergence of social media companies in the data centre space. With the massive compute requirements, Meta, TikTok and Twitter are building wholesale multi-tenant data centres. Over time, you’ll also see large enterprises such as e-commerce giants (barring Amazon that is also a hyperscale cloud provider) and FinTech companies among others jumping on the bandwagon.

What this is also doing is expanding the market size in regions such as south-east Asia, the Middle East, South America and Sub-Saharan Africa. These markets will continue to grow as more and more players join the data centre space. 

What role does optical fibre play in data centre connectivity?

The hyperscale data centres of today require reliable, high-bandwidth components to power their network’s physical infrastructure. Optical fibre is perhaps the most reliable and future-proof technology to ensure port breakout server connectivity in a data centre. Optical fibre ensures longevity and can save money in the long term.

Optical fibre is ever more relevant in this space, whether DCI or mesh architecture, especially with the rapid evolution towards spine-leaf and fibre-dense mesh networks and increase in fibre count on backbone cables.

Can you tell us more about how fibre networks should be able to scale in line with a data centre’s capabilities? 

Larger content consumption, availability of cheap smartphones, government regulations mandating storage of sensitive data onshore and other aspects will require hyperscale and colocation data centre companies to have robust and economic fibre networks for inter and intra data centre connectivity. This will require the next generation fibre cables which are compact, provide higher optical bandwidth per unit cross section area and can be deployed and connected faster and more cheaply. Such cables will make use of technologies such as rollable ribbons, multi-core fibres, pre-terminated ends etc.

Cost pressure on data centre companies will force them to also use smaller components that use less power and also reduce the overall power used for cooling inside the data centres. Safety requirements will also mandate the use of certain types of cables. Optical fibre cable manufacturers will have to scale up their capabilities and capacities to provide compact and certified cables to cater to this market.

Can you discuss the level of investment in the UAE data centre space and how this compares to the global picture?

With Smart City ambitions, businesses adopting cloud at a rapid pace and 5G becoming mainstream, the UAE is set to see massive investment in data centres. It is already being seen as one of the top destinations for data centres along with the likes of the US, Singapore, Japan, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. In the coming years, the stature will only grow. The UAE market will see a billion-dollar investment in data centres in the next couple of years. Market reports have predicted the global data centre market reaching ~US$300 billion in the next five years. I won’t be surprised if they cross that mark much before that.

How far does building sustainability into the design phase impact the construction of a data centre facility and how can it be done?

It is extremely important to factor in sustainability at the core of data centre design. The following things need to be considered:

  • Make full use of energy efficiency features to help minimise idle state power consumption.
  • Consider implementing high-efficiency power and cooling infrastructure in your data centre. This includes transformer-less, modular UPSs run at high capacity, higher voltage equipment operation, close coupled in-row or overhead cooling, aisle containment, liquid-cooled rear door heat exchangers, full liquid immersion cooling and direct liquid-to-chip cooling.
  • Use products that limit carbon footprint: STL does Cycle Assessments (LCA) for 10 OF cable families and aims to cover 100% of its portfolio by 2030. Its Celesta cable reduces the overall plastic content while Aerial cables (ADSS) reduce the usage of harmful thermoplastic like Aramid yarns.
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