Vinay Nagpal, vice president of product management at DFT Data Centers and board member of Northern Virginia Technology Council’s (NVTC) Data Center and Cloud Infrastructure Committee, discusses fiber connectivity and the subsea fiber cables that will soon call Virginia Beach home.
Ever since the advent of the Internet, there has been a common myth that Internet traffic travels through satellites. That is not true. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s Internet traffic travels through subsea cables that are laid on the ocean’s bed (and not buried underneath the ocean either). The oceans cover more than seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface, and the explosive growth of the Internet that we are experiencing is constantly challenging us to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure to handle the rising demand.
Northern Virginia, also known as the “Data Center Alley,” is not only the mecca of data centers in the world, but also has the most abundant fiber optic cable network installed underneath its roads, pavements, medians and sidewalks. This has resulted in an astounding statistic: upwards of seventy percent of the world’s Internet traffic passes through Northern Virginia. It is striking to note that up until now, when that traffic leaves the eastern seaboard of the U.S., it travels either north, making its way to New York or New Jersey, or south, making its way to the Miami area. Once there, landing stations exist to connect the fiber cables from land to ocean, ultimately reaching the outside world. This land-ocean-land connection happens by subsea cables that are connecting two seaports between countries, and often, between different continents altogether.
Why are subsea cables important? They are important because of the unimaginable growth of the Internet and the way the Internet has been intertwined into our lives. The use of the Internet from wearable technology to autonomous cars and Internet-enabled toasters and refrigerators, is just the beginning. We have barely scratched the surface in the potential adoption of the Internet. The Internet has drastically changed the transportation, hospitality and so many other industries. It has given us freedom and power. Corporate America is moving its IT infrastructure out of company-owned facilities and placing it in the hands of the shared technology czars, who are managing enterprise data and making sure it is accessible by users in a cost-effective model.
The world we that we live in is extremely connected – from WIFI at the airports, railway stations, airplanes and cruise ships – to fast fiber connections in our homes. Without fiber cables, there would be no streaming of a 4K movie from the comfort of our sofas. We wouldn’t have the ability to consume the content when we want it, where we want it and how we want it.
Fascinatingly, these fiber cables are thinner than human hair and about 1,000 times stronger. The light transmitted through these cables carries all our data from one point to the other, from one city to the other, from one state to the other, from one country to the other, and from one continent to the other.
The transoceanic cables connecting continents together is not a new concept – the very first trans-oceanic was laid on the ocean bed over 150 years ago in the 1850s. There are currently over 350 subsea cables carrying Internet traffic daily on the ocean beds, and over 40 active subsea cable projects are underway across the world. We are doing a great job feeding the sharks. Yes, the sharks still look forward to biting on these cables, and it remains to be a persistent problem on the ocean bed.
These cables are extremely expensive to build and operate. A cable can easily cost near $300-$400 million dollars and take about two to three years from the concept to operational. During that time period, much work has to be completed, from completing a feasibility study to acquiring permits and licensing; as you can imagine, crossing international waters involves multiple countries and various laws.
Now, for the very first time in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia, we are going to have adirect fiber cable crossing the Atlantic. Once installed, this cable will connect Virginia Beach to Bilbao, Spain. Co-owned by Microsoft, Facebook and Telxius (the subsea cable company, owned by Telefonica, the Spanish carrier), the cable, called MAREA (Spanish for “Tide”), will be the fastest cable crossing the Atlantic Ocean ever.
The second cable under development is BRUSA, which will connect Virginia Beach to Puerto Rico to Brazil.
A third project under final stages of consideration is Midgardsormen, which will connect Virginia Beach to Blaabjerg, Denmark. In addition, there are nine other cable projects under consideration.