02 Sep 2020

Collaboration has long been the secret to progress in optical communications and beyond

Just a few short months ago, who could have predicted the revolution in home working, and spike in data centre usage, that would come from the Covid-19 crisis? The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation process for many and has forced businesses to make rapid decisions on how best to manage and store their data.

Colocation data centres, where organisations’ operations can be outsourced and a future-ready facility provided, can offer an effective solution in this time – especially for small and medium-sized businesses with limited resources to navigate these challenges. Colocation lessens data burdens by enabling businesses to focus on their core operations, while gaining access to partners with a deep knowledge of the finer details of connectivity and data management.

In the colocation or multi-tenant space, close collaboration and partnerships are key to providing value-added services to end users, with defined value chains of equipment providers and operators working in tandem to get customers live and ready for business as fast as possible.

This collaboration has long been pivotal in our industry and the story of Corning and Sir Charles Kao, often referred to as the father of optical communications, is a prime example.

As an engineer at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories in the 1960s, Sir Charles Kao saw the potential of optical lasers, then in their infancy, and critically the material aspects of glass technology that would enable light to be transmitted for distances of kilometres without a total loss of signal. Charles Kao’s research led to his seminal 1966 paper that demonstrated that laser light could be transmitted down an optical fibre, but the critical challenge was to find a glass composition with low enough loss to enable practical application of this concept in telecommunications systems.

This led Corning Incorporated (then known as Corning Glass Works) to commence a mission to find the purest glass sample possible and thus provided the missing ingredient – fibre with the crucial attenuation level of 20 dB/km required for optical fibre telecommunications. Kao’s 1966 paper and Corning’s discovery of low-loss optical fibre birthed the ubiquitous glass fibres of today and the many innovations that have taken place since.

As new industries have emerged and others have expanded, optical fibre has kept communication flowing. The optical fibre performance has improved by orders of magnitude since the early days, with 0.15 dB/km attenuation fibre now available, enabling consumers and businesses who want fast and reliable connection to the world anywhere, anytime.

It is fitting that the Kao Data campus in Harlow, northeast of London, is within the Innovation Corridor, a significant cluster of start-ups, enterprises and research facilities at the cutting-edge of science and technology. The Harlow site contributes to that technology expansion with scope for a total capacity for 40MW across four OCP-Ready (Open Compute Project) data centres and is sited on the actual plot of land of Sir Charles Kao’s pioneering research.

Within the corridor we have witnessed numerous examples of collaboration in recent times – from coordinating donations of equipment to fight Covid-19, supporting recruitment efforts and boosting testing for the virus. Super-fast, secure connectivity is essential for these groups and Kao Data’s colocation facility is providing many customers with a world-class home for their diverse data and compute requirements.

As Kao’s wife, Mrs Gwen MW Kao put it in her Nobel Lecture, “The world-wide communication network based on optical fibres has truly shrunk the world and brought human beings closer together.”

Long after Kao’s research and Corning’s initial invention, recent collaborative work between Corning, Kao Data and our end-users has continued to drive innovation, unlock new opportunities for customers and propel the optical fibre industry forward.

Cindy Ryborz

Cindy Ryborz is Marketing Manager at Corning Optical Communications, based in Germany, and looks after Corning's marketing for their EMEA data centre division, having joined them in 2008.


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