November 8, 2016
From our earliest beginnings we have been fascinated by Space. The ancients knew it was important and spent 100’s of years debating things like the origins of the stars and whether the sun revolved around the Earth. H.G. Welles told us that there were other beings out there and “no, they didn’t come in peace”. Although it only stayed in space for 3 months, the Russian’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 totally freaked out the United States and four years later President Kennedy challenged us to get to the moon before the end of the decade—and we did it. Now, of course, we spend $4 trillion a year to get bupkis in return and, according to the news nowadays, everybody, including a large number of our own citizens, hates us so maybe it’s a good time to start looking toward the stars again. Fortunately, the data center industry has already begun to cast its eyes heavenward.
This movement into what Captain Kirk called “The Final Frontier” does not mean that we’re giving up on good old terra firma as the home for all things bandwidth, but a peek into the very near future indicates that we need to go extra-terrestrial if we’re going to be able to keep up with geometric increases in data proliferation due to stuff like IoT. Among those taking the lead in this data center version of the “space race” is Equinix through their partnership with a company called Laser Light Communications. Now if you’re like me, and I know a lot of you out there are, you just know that anything with the word “Laser” in it has got to be good, and what these guys are planning to do doesn’t disappoint. No, it’s not some new Death-Star like weapon–although that would be pretty darn cool, we’re going to have to wait for a few more years for that one—but rather, a “constellation” of eight to 12 laser enabled satellites called HALO. Personally, the use of lasers and words and phrases like “constellation” and “HALO” sold me on the whole concept before I even knew what it did. Folks, this is why you pay those marketing people the big bucks.
Putting aside some pretty nifty naming conventions for the moment, the proposed system has the satellites communicating with each other by 200 Gps laser links and 100 Gps downlinks to terrestrial networks to provide global coverage on a massive scale. The satellites will communicate with data centers and locations on mother earth with 4’x6’ monolithic ground nodes – each equipped with three laser heads—this whole thing just keeps getting better and better as you go along—to enable them to communicate with three satellites at a time. For you satellite show-offs saying “yeah it sounds good, but what about the satellite delay?”, all of the network’s satellites will reside in low earth orbit (approximately 1,200 miles vs. 22,300 for their geosynchronous cousins) so they’ve already thought about that. Really? Some people just never want to miss a chance to be the dark cloud on the shiny horizon.
I think we can all agree that when the future of an industry includes Space, things are really moving to the next level. Slipping the bonds of terrestrial-based communication is the very definition of a “growth” business no matter how you look at it. I wish Equinix and Laser Light good luck on this new venture, and may their new orbital network “live long and prosper”.