The data center interconnect (DCI) is emerging as the next big architectural challenge for network service providers, a result of the enterprise’s growing reliance on distributed cloud architectures for increasingly heavy production workloads.

It might be a stretch to say that 2019 will be a “breakthrough” year for the DCI, but we can expect to see a number of strategic developments in wide-area infrastructure as the world prepares for what will likely be a truly transformative decade starting in 2020.

According to Market Research Future, the DCI market is on pace to top $6.5 billion in total value by 2023, providing an average compound annual growth rate of 11% between now and then. At the outset, much of this activity will center on technology deployment, mostly in the form of optical solutions, but eventually management and optimization solutions will gain in stature as the DCI becomes tasked with carrying more complex workloads. The primary use case, of course, will be to connect the enterprise to multiple clouds, but the IoT is also a key driver in that legions of connected devices will likely push traffic to new extremes both in terms of scale and complexity. 

When it comes to raw bandwidth, much of the attention in the coming year will be on new 400Gbit/s solutions. As ADVA’s Niall Robinson told Fierce Telecom recently, DCI service providers will likely be the first to adopt 400Gbit/s, while the rest of the market probably won’t come on board in a significant way until 2021 or later. Companies like Equinix, Cologix and Digital Realty are eager to provide access to multiple ISPs on a global footprint, which means solutions like the TeraFlex platform, which can carry up to three 400Gbit/s clients at a time, should see high demand.

Interest in open, virtual solutions on the DCI is also starting to grow. The Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) recently launched an effort to define a multi-layer SDN reference architecture for optical transport. The Requirements for Integrated Packet Optical SDN is intended to build an interoperable framework for DCI and other wide area architectures that can support service/application-aware dynamic connectivity, on-demand bandwidth and other features, all while reducing complexity and OPEX. The OIF’s Junjie Li, of China Telecom, notes that the standard will provide a solution-level counterpart to the more technical aspects of multi-vendor interoperability currently being defined under the SDN Transport Application Programming Interface (T-API).

While the coming year will likely be about deploying and configuring advanced DCI solutions, networking executives should not overlook the need to implement a thorough testing strategy at the outset. According to David Zambrano, EMEA data center global account manager at test and security provider Viavi Solutions, optical DCI platforms require far more visibility than traditional copper links, and this is easier, and less disruptive, to implement as a core capability than as an added feature. Critical parameters like latency, optical link degradation and throughput will be vital in the coming digital services economy, so it’s better to get ahead of the curve now than to try and play catch-up with your competitors later.

A geo-distributed data architecture provides many advantages over a solitary data center, particularly in areas like data protection, availability and disaster recovery. But this only works if the underlying network is flexible, reliable and, above all, inexpensive to build and maintain. An optical DCI is not the only way to do this, but it’s a safe bet that as the coming year progresses, more and more network providers and their enterprise clients will come to realize that it is the most effective.