Before diving into the role of hyperscalers in the subsea cable industry, let’s review hyperscalers. Characterized as developing/operating multiple data centers, hyperscalers keep up with data demand and physical diversity. Hyperscalers are operators of data centers that offer scalable cloud computing services. They develop cloud services and drive the data demand from enterprise and individual customer content.
The term ‘hyperscale’ refers to scalable cloud computing systems in which a very large number of servers are networked together, with whichever server in use at any one time increasing or decreasing to respond to changing requirements. This means the network efficiently handles both large and small volumes of data traffic and storage.
Hyperscalers always are keeping their eye on the speed of innovation and the growth of deploying new technologies. With the emergence of AI, 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality and autonomous vehicles, the demand for data will grow steadily and then just take off fast.
All these applications drive the need for more data, data storage and faster data transfer. They simultaneously ensure real-world suitability, whether through personal safety in the case of autonomous vehicles or via user experience for augmented reality. Hyperscale companies have a broad, ambitious vision for their future. In most cases, that vision requires a substantial investment in infrastructure.
WHO ARE THESE HYPERSCALERS ANYWAY?
Companies now called “hyperscalers” are predominantly made up of the industry’s colossi. The likes of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Alibaba and Amazon now are making efforts to not only dominate the public cloud and cloud services industries, but to expand their business into numerous related verticals as well.
Maintaining a significant presence in the cloud was and will remain a key factor contributing to a hyperscaler’s success. With the race for cloud market share heating up, hyperscalers need to continue improving their cloud infrastructure and services.
HYPERSCALERS AND THEIR ROLE IN THE SUBSEA CABLE INDUSTRY
Hyperscalers reshaped the submarine cable industry. They introduced a new purchasing power, changed the way cable systems are funded, how they are designed and where they land.
Before circa 2009, at the beginning, hyperscalers were buying capacity on other’s submarine cable systems. But around 2009-2010, when Google joined the Unity Consortium, it was the start of hyperscalers joining consortiums to take partial ownership of a cable system and fund the bulk of the investment for new systems. Needless to say, by providing lucrative finances for these cable systems, they soon started building submarine cable teams to further engage the detailed optical design, physical routing and location of the landing sites, to fulfill their needs for network expansion in particular geographies around the world.
The amount of capacity deployed by private network operators—like these hyperscalers—has outpaced Internet backbone operators in recent years. The exponential growth of the hyperscalers triggered the movement toward directly investing in submarine cable systems—by building their own network. And with a hyperscaler involvement and purchasing power, the consortia became smaller.
Faced with the prospect of ongoing massive bandwidth growth, owning new submarine cables makes sense for these companies. Already transforming the subsea industry, the hyperscalers are gradually reducing their dependency on Tier 1 network operators. By building their own subsea networks, hyperscalers, who were once one of the largest buyers of bandwidth capacity, are going to make it harder for carriers to justify business cases for building new subsea systems.
The ability for hyperscalers to be globally present by offering low-latency connections in any country is critically important. Already, hyperscale data centers are racing to grow their footprint in Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America, with the focus now turning on establishing a stronger footprint in South America, the Middle East and Africa.
This brings with it the need for higher levels of fiber connectivity, plus a stronger global circulation of subsea cables, cable landing stations, exchange nodes and emerging edge data centers. This will all translate to higher fiber counts running into and out of the data center.
INNOVATION AND DESIGN
Innovation has picked up pace since the entrance of the hyperscalers into their own submarine cable network build-out world. Not only have cable suppliers been able to start increasing the amount of fiber pairs (fp) in a repeater cable system (from 8 to 16 and soon to 24 fp +), but with further developments in SLTE equipment the capacity per fiber pair also has achieved new heights (25 Tbps bit rate/fp to increase to 30 Tbps bit rate/fp in the near future).