AI’s impacts on optical networking

July 10, 2024
Industry dialogue and collaboration will be essential to efficiently and effectively leverage AI across the full supply chain.

As the conversation about artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on the technology landscape continues, optical networking leaders are exploring ways in which this “smart” approach to technology can influence industry evolution.

For instance, Optica’s May 2024 Market Update concluded: “There is a consensus in the data center industry that demand for AI has triggered a new wave of data center investment (some say a new industrial revolution).” The report goes on to discuss that Omdia is confidently noting that GenAI will be the driving force behind both server and network growth within data centers during the next six years and has revised its data center capital expenditure (capex) forecast to reflect a 28% increase in spending in 2024.

And with Nokia’s just-announced plans to acquire Infinera, that prediction may be playing out within the market already. An attractive piece of Infinera’s product portfolio comes in data center interconnects. Driven by AI workloads, Infinera has been working on high-speed and low-power optical components, which Cignal AI has projected to grow nearly tenfold during the next four years.

Area of opportunity

While these developments may not be surprising, they are rapidly shifting how the optical networking industry responds. Providers are working to ramp up network capabilities in three dimensions: speed, capacity, and energy consumption. While each of these areas brings its own set of challenges, they also are interconnected, so advances in one area can have positive or negative bearings on another. These developments create a lot for the industry to consider as it evolves.

Consider optical circuit switching (OCS) as one area of opportunity. Google recently discussed the effects of its Apollo platform, hailing it as the “first large-scale deployment of OCS for data center networking.” While the foundation has been laid, so far, OCS technology has not been widely leveraged, but experts see its potential with AI clusters. To scale up OCS deployment and use, changes to existing fiber infrastructure may need to come to pass.

AI-based solutions

But that’s just one area of potential, and AI plays much more prominently in the future of optical networking. For instance, consider the role AI will play in predictive maintenance and network optimization. Algorithms may help troubleshoot problems before they impact network integrity. In fact, a study published in the February issue of Optica’s Journal of Optical Networking demonstrated an AI/ML-as-a-Service a model that was able to achieve similar performance as manually tuned models while drastically reducing the need for human involvement. And a January study from Nokia and firm Analysys Mason found automation of network lifecycle management processes may lead to an overall savings of up to 56% in operational costs.

Continuing the dialogue

With so much potential, there’s no single answer to how AI will shift optical networking in the near- and long-term, and industry dialogue and collaboration will be essential to efficiently and effectively leverage the technology across the full supply chain.

It’s why Optica’s serving as a moderator on the panel “Evolution To Smart Optical Networking: Where AI Meets Photonics” at Next-Generation Optical Networks (NGON) 2024, which is collocated with Network X, to take place October 8-10 in Paris. We will be delving into human-in-the-loop management as a way to enhance network flexibility; the role AI can play in predictive maintenance and network optimization; case studies demonstrating the impact of smart optical networks; and what the future holds for advanced optical networking.

These discussions will both shed light on the latest developments and help shape next steps to not only react to, but to evolve to prepare for, the increasing demand behind AI use. Because as the industry grows, evolves, and responds to AI as an external driver, business leaders must continue to explore new avenues of opportunity. Fortunately, with AI in optical networking, while there are hurdles to overcome, all signs point to enhanced solutions for a better overall experience.

About the Author

Jose Pozo | Chief Technology Officer, Optica

Jose Pozo joined Optica in March 2022, and has spent more than 25 years working in photonics. He earned a PhD in quantum physics from the University of Bristol (U.K.), and an M.Sc. and B.Eng. in telecom engineering from UPNA, Spain / VUB (Belgium). Prior to joining the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC) in 2015 as CTO, Jose was a Senior Photonics Technology Consultant with PNO Consultants, with some of the main accounts such as CERN, Thales, and TE Connectivity. He has worked at TNO, The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, and as a postdoctoral researcher at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, where he contributed to the early development of EFFECT Photonics.

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