Data centers have proliferated in recent years—there are now more than 7,500 around the globe, with 2,600 packed into the top 20 global cities alone. And in this cloud-based, web-scale world, access to that data is a critical challenge.

These data centers don’t exist in isolation. They need to talk to each other—share data and content, and provide back-ups and redundancy. Fortunately, DCI technology enables the smooth transit of critical assets over short, medium and long distances between data centers. The most effective transport for DCI is high-speed packet-optical connectivity built on technological innovations such as coherent optics.

With a speedy, reliable connection in place, physically separate data centers can more easily share resources and balance workloads.

Some large operations use DCI to connect their own data centers within their extended enterprise infrastructures, while others connect to partners, cloud providers or data center operators to enable simpler data and resource sharing or handle disaster recovery needs.

But one of the most common uses of DCI is to pool resources to scale data center capacity as demand ebbs and flows.

There are five key challenges to consider when implementing DCI:

  1. Distance: DCI applications vary greatly in size and scope. Data centers that require connectivity may be dispersed across a metro area, around a country, or all over the globe. It’s obvious that having enough performance to carry the most bits the farthest is critical. In addition, when data centers that need to be connected are far apart, latency increases. Choosing the shortest physical route can minimize fiber-induced latency, but poorly designed or implemented networking equipment can also add latency that can make that short route seem longer. Luckily, today’s optical interfaces can be programmed to provide the optimum modulation schemes for different deployment scenarios.

  2. Capacity: Data centers store and deliver the data applications require. Data sets coming into or leaving a data center can be very large—from hundreds of Gigabits to Terabits. To handle these kinds of loads, networking equipment must provide reliable, high-capacity connections that scale simply and quickly to address ever-changing traffic. Coherent optics, pioneered by Ciena, paved the way for data to move at rates of 100 Gb/s over almost any distance, which dramatically improves DCI performance.

  3. Security: There is a lot of sensitive information stored in data centers. Financial transactions, personnel records, and other corporate data are all crucial and often highly confidential. As a result, data center network connections must be reliable, safe, and even encrypted to avoid costly breaches and data losses. Encryption and stringent rules for access to stored data are widely deployed to protect against intrusions, and advances in networking equipment can also deliver in-flight encryption to protect data as it travels over an interconnecting network.

  4. Operations: Manual operations are labor-intensive, complex, slow, and highly error-prone. Minimizing the labor, complexity, slowness, and errors that arise from manual operations by moving to automation is an operational imperative. Open APIs are critical to the shift to automation because they enable the required scripting and custom apps. Turning up a connection between two data centers must take place rapidly and reliably, and managing each connection should not require ongoing manual operational tasks. Optical networking platforms are meticulously designed and purpose-built for DCI applications.

  5. Cost: Large data streams entering and leaving data centers must be carried as cost-efficiently as possible, especially with network traffic anticipated to reach a 30 percent CAGR per year. For data centers to remain financially viable, costs must not scale at the same rate as bandwidth. To tackle these issues, the industry is making advances in high-speed networking, including solutions that operate in a small footprint and connect data centers at the lowest possible cost per bit.

DCI technology sits at the center of the burgeoning web-scale world—an unforgiving marketplace in which there’s one chance to get it right. So it makes sense to turn to an expert.

Recognized as the leader in DCI by Ovum in April 2016, Ciena combines best-in-class optics and web-scale IT to deliver massive capacity and programmability while providing power and space efficiency—all in a way that is simpler to use, scalable, and tailored to each customer’s needs.