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“Photonics will enable the transition into the new data driven society.”

Sep 28, 2016 1:49:43 PM. By: High Tech Campus

According to Stijn Grove, director of the Dutch Datacenter Association, the world is about to change radically. The internet of things is upon us, putting pressure on data storage and processing to shoulder the growth. Integrated Photonics could be the solution to the problem.

The internet has exploded in the past 5 years. Phones, cars, household appliances, hospitals and a host of other “things” are moving into cyberspace. All of these depend on fibers, datacenters and internet exchanges to keep them up and running. With 2 of the 5 biggest datacenter internet exchanges in the world The Netherlands is at the heart of the global internet infrastructure.

On September 27th Stijn Grove gave a keynote at the Integrated Photonics Conference at High Tech Campus Eindhoven about the challenges and opportunities this growing internet infrastructure provides. We spoke to Stijn before his presentation.

What do you mean when you talk about this changing new world?
“There are many examples. Because everybody banks online, bank branches are disappearing, which has made banks become more like IT companies. Hospitals have discovered the internet and are storing medical records online. That offers possibilities to diagnose disease much earlier. With self-driving cars around the corner, in the future everyone will have their own private digital chauffeur. Yet all these developments are depending on datacenters.”

What is the answer to the increasing pressure for more bandwidth? Do we need better technology or more datacenters?
“I think it’s both. Around the digital mainport of Amsterdam datacenters have doubled in size, having grown with 15% each year over the past five years. There is a continuous need to build more datacenters. At the same time the efficiency has increased through better technology, especially in the field of chips. If we still had to rely on the technology we had five years ago, we would need twice as many datacenters.”

What role does Integrated Photonics play in the future of datacenters?
“I think the impact of photonics will be big. It’s one of the disruptive technologies that will enable the transition into the new data driven society. And it also helps to solve environmental issues. Datacenters need cooling, because copper internet cables generate heat. Photonics works with light, which generates much less heat.”
Are you at all worried that datacenters will not be able to cope with the growth?
“I am optimistic, since there are always new solutions to be found. High-voltage servers are being developed and show a lot of promise. The emergence of photonics is increasing computational power, which will be necessary to balance the growth of Big Data. And energy efficiency is improving. Compared to five years ago servers are using 30-40% less energy now. Servers used to operate on temperatures below 18 degrees Celcius (64o Fahrenheit), but now they can run on room temperatures. So although there are much more datacenters, the amount of energy use has only slightly grown.”

How did The Netherlands become one of the top players in internet infrastructure?
“It’s all about connectivity. A lot of cables come to land in our country, and we have two of the largest Internet Exchanges in the world with the AMS-IX and the NL-IX. The Netherlands has become the biggest datacenter hub in the world, making us the digital gateway to Europe. We’re the number three country in the world with respect to the amount of Microsoft server licenses. That’s why many big suppliers like Cisco and Palo Alto Networks as well as big tech companies like Tesla and Uber choose to locate their European headquarters in The Netherlands. Apart from that we have strong technical universities delivering groundbreaking research. These are all side-effects of having a strong internet ecosystem. History has shown that good infrastructure makes for successful countries. The ancient Greeks became powerful because they had good ports. The expansion of the Roman Empire was due to them building roads. So we are on top of things, but we shouldn’t be complacent. Other countries are alert and are pumping a lot of money into increasing their own infrastructure.”

Which obstacles still need to be conquered in order to facilitate the growth?
“What we need is more awareness about these things in the public domain. Universities and people in the field understand what’s going on, but that is just a small group. For most people a term like ‘the cloud’ is still very vague, but it just runs inside a datacenter. So more awareness needs to be fostered about all the developments taking place in the IT industry. We need more focus on education, research and support to grow this important sector. Datacenters and photonics have to take root in the minds of policy makers as well, since they are going to bring about tremendous benefits for industry, society and universities.”
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