Taking to the Fiber

This week’s blog post comes from Lightspeed featured author, Tony Pearson.

While I often write of my travels around the world as I visit partners, customers and friends in the optics industry, I don’t often stop to consider just how much easier it is to travel the globe now than it was 25 years ago when my optics journey began. Of course, the advances in travel and transport over the past 100 years are mind-boggling when you consider changes since the start of the twentieth century.

For example (note: these are my rough estimations, but you get the point), let’s say that public transport in 1908 was 99% foot traffic at approximately 4 mph, or at the cutting edge, the Ford Model T, which began mass production that year, had a top speed of about 40 mph – that provided a phenomenal 10x increase in speed. Today, many of us travel at 500 mph on flights around the world, enjoying a 10x speed increase over that first mass produced car.

Turn your attention now to data traffic.

It was about 30 years ago that Ethernet first found its way into Local Area Networks, seamlessly connecting our computers with an operating speed of 10 Mb/s over copper cable. Today, these data rates in “Computer Rooms” (or Data Centers as we now call them) have increased to 100 Gb/s – a 10,000x increase in speed!

Of course, there have been many contributing factors to this increase in speed, just as the combustion engine, the tire, the paved road and electronic traffic signals have aided the advancement in our global public transport network. In the communications networking world, advancements in Semiconductor IC technology, software and the Ethernet standard itself through Fast Gigabit, 10 Gigabit and most recently 100G Ethernet have helped us get where we are.

The real game changer in the last decade has been the medium used to connect ‘computers’ in these ever faster networks. Just as “taking to the air” led to a major step function in our ability to travel quickly over long distances around the globe, ‘taking to the fiber’ has had a major impact on our ability to transmit data at orders of magnitude higher speeds over global networks. This optical revolution has made it possible to move unfathomable quantities of data over short distances inside the data centers few of us have ever seen with our own eyes, yet whose existence we all depend on every time we send a tweet/text/email, search the web for information, or instantly stream a movie.

Finisar high-performance Active Optical Cables (AOCs) and optical transceivers, running at 10G, 40G and 100G data rates support the fastest HPC/supercomputers and largest data centers in the world. Leaping forward, there are new developments in optical engines (Board Mounted Optical Assemblies or BOA) and ever faster, smaller, lower power pluggable transceivers for 100G including CFP2, CFP4 and QSFP28. As you can plainly see, the race continues to satisfy the ever increasing thirst for more data with even faster processors, servers, software, and the fiber optic network that connects it all together.

San Fran-Sydney?

Recent travels took me back to Australia, home to the Sydney Opera House, the Outback, the Great Barrier Reef, “The Ashes” (a cricket Test tournament held at least every four years between England and Australia Cricket teams – think the Ryder Cup of Cricket) and of course Finisar Sydney, the home of Finisar’s Wavelength Selective Switch R&D team (whom you may enjoy the pleasure of meeting in the Finisar booth at OFC in San Francisco this March). This is the world’s sixth largest country by land mass, often refered to as the world’s smallest continent or largest island, with national average wealth second only to Switzerland. In spite of a more than 30 hour trek literally to the other side of our globe, coupled with the extreme change in weather from mid-Winter in England to mid-Summer in Australia, all seemed strangely familiar.

Of course this is not too surprising given the English heritage of this still relatively young nation, but the presence of red suited white bearded Santa’s and inflatable snowmen next to ‘snow’ drizzled conifers certainly helped – in particular the 10 giant inflatable santas magically floating on Cockle Bay in Darling Harbour Sydney struck a welcome chord and reminder of the festive season. This trip to Australia included visits to Canberra and a couple of days in Sydney, both firsts for me. As you may expect, Canberra, being the Capital City and centre for the Nation’s Government, is a very well developed, planned and maintained city, the surprise for me being the availability of some of the best and most diverse cuisine I’ve enjoyed for a while. There’s everything here from the familiar pie and chips for us Brits to an explosion of Asian spices in Thai, Malaysian and Indian restaurants. Sydney proved equally impressive on the culinary front, with the addition of a very diverse and edgy nightlife in the downtown area. I had been told by several folks that Sydney ‘is a lot like San Francisco’, but having not inquired much beyond to find out what it is that is similar between the two, I was stunned to find a rolling city built on hills with architecture so akin to that in San Francisco that you could close your eyes (put on a big coat and pretend to be very cold) and imagine yourself in Noe Valley, Russian Hill or The Castro. No words from me could explain just how shockingly similar in look and feel these two cities really are, but I think the term San Fran-Sydney will stay with me for a while…

It’s no secret that the people of Australia are very open and to the point, but what is sometimes lost is that this is also a nation of very social, welcoming and generous people – with England frankly taking the worst possible beating by Australia while I visited (Sidenote – I suspect some of the welcomes were based on the joy of having such an easy target on home soil.). The combination, when applied to the business environment is a very welcome one for me – you are not left guessing if you’ve asked the right question or what the real answer is…you’ll be told directly and politely what you need to know. That same directness is evident in the institutional and national focus on advancement in communications. This is a hot bed of development in optical communications, both the design of the elements required for the next generation of optical networks happening everyday at Finisar’s Sydney office, but also the aggressive initiatives to bring broadband to all homes, offices, schools and institutions in one of the most geographically and meteorologically challenging countries in the world. These efforts in part are driven by a desire to keep Australia on the cutting edge of communications and making sure that all of its citizens have the opportunity for access to our ever shrinking world’s ever growing ‘cloud’ of data, be they in downtown Sydney or Alice Springs.

It’s an exciting time to visit DownUnder in my view and regardless of timing, this is a beautiful, surprising and welcoming destination whether you’re a backpacker or a Smartphone and Tablet junky desperate to remain online – there are many resources here including gold, coal, uranium and no shortage of fibre optic connected data! I look forward to my next visit…

Fiber – The Spice of Life?

The final quarter of the year found me back in Asia, this time visiting China and India. As always, there are several stories I’d be happy to share privately on my experience, including this time an aborted landing in Hong Kong and being trapped in a glass elevator with the hotel porter in Bangalore at 4am! The flavor for this blog post however is intended to appeal to a different palate.

There are many different things to see and experience in both India and China, but one of my personal favorites is food. Let me be more specific, spicy food! Now for a man from the land where good food is boiled, or fried or boiled then fried….you may question my taste…and you may be right, but at the risk of offending my beautiful French wife, who introduced me to the joy of food perfectly prepared and balanced with complementary accompaniments, in general not considered “spicy”…I LOVE spicy food!

It’s interesting that over 400 years ago, the East India Trading Company became one of the first organisations with a global reach. It’s value was the collection and distribution of materials and spices including perhaps the most common spice – salt. I find it tough to imagine a time when there was no access to the now ‘go to’ spices I find in my own fridge and spice rack….including, of course, something as commonplace as salt or pepper, where I’ve been fortunate enough to find a personal supply from both Malaysia and Vietnam, while within 40 miles of my current home!

As always, you’re wondering what on earth this has to do with fiber…or which of those spices is he smoking, but I’m getting there. This time around, just one year since I was last in India, I found hotel wireless connection multiple times faster than I’d experienced before, both in Indian hotels and Chinese airports. Now those networks existed before, but something has spiced them up. Fiber of course…but I’m guessing you knew that. With the increasing fiber content in PON, wireless, datacenter and even airplane networks, I can increasingly be as effective while on the road as in my own home or office.

With pluggable optics being sold into everything from fast Ethernet to 100G Ethernet, SONET/SDH OC-3 to OC-768 and Wireless 1G to 10G, I’m left wondering if the traders of the East India Company perhaps sometimes felt as we do – enabling a whole new experience for connected people all over the world with every kind of transceiver (or spice) the heart desires.

There are many kinds of networks in the world, just as with cuisine, but common to all is the need for some kind of flavor, additive, spice – for the high-speed network, fiber brings the most enhanced performance and it comes in many form factors. The Global Trading Company for these fiber-optic ‘spices’ – Finisar.

As we come to the end of 2012, we wish all of our Lightspeed readers’ happy holidays and a wonderful New Year!

ECOC Amsterdam and Stroopwafels

September means it’s time to ‘Fall’ into the welcoming arms of another European location for one of the largest Optical Components Trade Shows, ECOC. This year the show, in which Finisar exhibited, was hosted in one of my personal favorite travel venues, Amsterdam in Holland. The trip to and from was thankfully uneventful, with the welcome exception of my first flight on the double decker Airbus A380 from Frankfurt to San Francisco – that’s a BIG plane….uneventful however is not how I’d describe the transportation in Amsterdam itself. I contemplated entitling this blog posting “Cars and Trams and Bikes…oh my!”

On the face of it, Amsterdam is another beautiful European capital city, packed with historic buildings, parks, theaters and museums with the added intrigue of an intricate canal system…but once you step out of your hotel bound for one such location, you discover the adventure that is navigating the traffic flow as a pedestrian. I’ll spell it out – this is like a reality TV version of the 80’s arcade hit “Frogger”. As you are approaching what you believe to be the road – the place where the cars go – beware, 10 feet (or rather 3 meters) before you get there, look left AND right – this is the domain of the Dutch cyclist and they actually own all thoroughfares. Now don’t get me wrong, it is very impressive to see the shear volume of ‘sit up and beg’ type bicycles in various states of disrepair, ridden by everyone from schoolkids to new mums and dads with babies sleeping in on-board seats, to grandparents, all in apparent excellent health as a result…but don’t get in their way – you have more chance of avoiding injury stepping out in front of oncoming traffic during rush hour in a bustling city than walking unawares into the bike lane in Amsterdam.

Assuming you made it past the bike lane, gathered your composure and now wait for the international little green man to guide you across the street, beware – your next obstacle silently awaits, the tram! This is a very convenient and popular form of local transportation in Amsterdam, but it delivers its services almost silently, unless braking. Just when you think you’ve escaped the cyclists and navigated the heavy city center traffic, be sure to look left and right just one more time to avoid a confrontation with the tram.

Having made it safely to the RAI Conference Center, this was another successful show for Finisar, beginning with a fantastic front and center booth located at the entrance to the show floor, quite the ‘Heineken Experience’ at our customer event, as well as multiple meetings with customers, suppliers, and partners. It seems that economic challenges likely led to ever more stringent travel restrictions resulting in less foot traffic at the show this year than in previous years (or maybe some just didn’t get past the first round of Amsterdam “Frogger”) but there were no less enthusiasm and interest in the fruits of another year’s labor in the Optical Communications industry. This year’s demonstrations in the Finisar booth included a joint technology demonstration of a 12G SAS Embedded Optical Interconnect within a Data Center Subsystem (read press release), the industry’s first 2-Slot ROADM Linecard for Next-Generation Telecom Networks (read press release), a new WaveShaper 2000S Polarization Processor and WaveShaper 4000S Fourier Processor and the introduction of our 100GE CFP2 Module (read press release).

I’d like to extend a personal thanks to the Xyratex team who joined Finisar for the entire show while proudly, publicly sharing what I believe to be the most impressive working demonstration at the show this year, demonstrating an eco-system consisting of high bandwidth, high density data transmission over polymer waveguides (vario-optics) and through optical backplane connectors (HUBER+SUHNER) thanks to Finisar Board-mounted Optical Assemblies (BOA) in Xyratex’ own prototype OneStor™ enclosure. This is what makes tradeshows great in my opinion – partners in the industry breaking new ground together.

Of course, a blog about Amsterdam would not be complete without mention of its most famous local attractions, and I must admit, I did partake – I just can’t resist a good Stroopwafel!

The Swedish and Optics…

This week’s blog post comes from Finisar featured author, Tony Pearson.

My travels this summer took me not once, but twice, through Sweden. While I have been fortunate enough to travel many places in the world, I would say that Stockholm has long been on my list of places to get to both personally and professionally. The opportunity finally arose and very close to the mid-summer festival..but not quite – I’ll save that for a personal visit sometime in the future. It’s often the case that visits to the most anticipated locations disappoint, but not so for me with Stockholm.

I’ll start with the most surprising thing – the food in Stockholm is excellent. Like so many capital cities around the world, the food fare is truly cosmopolitan, with menus ranging from meat and potatoes (what I expected) to Sushi and what I consider Western sushi – tapas – all excellently presented and prepared. The level of service in all places I visited was very high, with a combination of attention to the customer coupled with what I observed to be a self-assured wit and charm that I’ve encountered in many of the folks I know from Scandinavia. The city itself is everything I had hoped and imagined – it is architecturally unique (at least based on my own travel exposure), with what appears to me to be a mix of Eastern and Western European styles. There’s water everywhere which only helps to accent the beauty of some of the historic structures dotted on islands and next to bridges almost everywhere you look. The weather at this time of year is perfect…at least to my English born sensitivities – it’s warm, sometimes cloudy, and yes, it may rain on occasion, but it’s not too hot, too cold or too wet – just right.

The most difficult element to describe is the feeling of safety and well-being – this is, I think, the most family friendly place I’ve ever been. There are real family friendly neighborhoods here where young kids can walk or bike to soccer, hockey or swim practice without the need for adult supervision and neighbors are regular impromptu dinner guests. This may not sound so unusual to some around the world, but I think this somewhat unique in a major metropolitan area of a developed nation.

Business in Sweden is conducted respectfully. This is a very tech-savvy nation in my limited experience. Sweden as a nation is estimated to be third in terms of internet penetration rate (after Iceland and Norway) with almost 93% of people classified as Internet Users – the US came in at #27 on the list a little over 78% penetration (source – http://www.internetworldstats.com/top25.htm). Finisar Sweden is at the cutting edge in terms of providing the optical solutions enabling this kind of connectivity and the associated high bandwidth demands to business’ and homes, but not just in Sweden, around the world!

Finisar Sweden is one of the newest members of the Finisar family, specifically focused on design and manufacture of active optical components such as the tunable laser, which has enabled an entire family of innovations at Finisar. The current generation of components is fueling the growth in Finisar’s Tunable product family for 300-PIN, XFP and soon SFP+ platforms. Leveraging the unique optical semiconductor expertise of a highly educated, trained and experienced engineering team concentrated here close to downtown Stockholm, Finisar Sweden is developing the components that will further enable the drive to smaller, faster, lower cost, WDM and tunable solutions that will strengthen Finisar’s position as the world’s largest supplier of fiber optic subsystems and components.

Just as a certain global supplier of fashion forward, lower cost furniture solutions from Sweden has perhaps revolutionized in-home styles in the last couple of decades, so perhaps Finisar Sweden as a new member of the Finisar Global family, will accelerate the drive to revolutionize home connectivity and the services to and within the home over the next decade.