Vinay Nagpal, Vice President of Product Management, Digital Realty
July 26, 2017
Ever since the advent of the Internet, people think that Internet traffic passes through satellites. Not true. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s Internet traffic travels through subsea cables laid on the ocean’s bed (that’s laid, not buried). The oceans cover more than 71% of the Earth’s surface, and the explosive growth of the Internet that we are experiencing is constantly challenging us to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure to handle the rising demand.
Northern Virginia, or “Data Center Alley”, is not only the Mecca of data centers in the world, but also has the most abundant fiber optic cable network installed underneath its roads, pavements, medians and sidewalks. This has resulted in an astounding statistic: upwards of 70% of the world’s Internet traffic passes through Northern Virginia.
Until recently, when that Data Center Alley traffic leaves the eastern seaboard of the U.S., it travels either north, to New York or New Jersey, or south, to the Miami area. That’s where landing stations exist to connect the fiber cables from land to ocean, ultimately reaching the outside world. This land-ocean-land connection by subsea cables connects two seaports between countries and, often enough, between different continents.
Subsea cables are important because of the unimaginable growth of the Internet and the way the Internet has been intertwined into our lives. The use of the Internet from wearable technology to autonomous cars and Internet-enabled toasters and refrigerators is just the beginning. We have barely scratched the surface of potential adoption. The Internet has drastically changed so many other industries, giving us freedom and power. Corporate America is moving its IT infrastructure out of company-owned facilities and placing it in the hands of the shared technology czars, who are managing enterprise data and making sure it is accessible by users in a cost-effective model.
The world that we live in is extremely connected – from WIFI at the airports, railway stations, airplanes and cruise ships – to fast fiber connections in our homes. Without fiber cables, there would be no streaming of a 4K movie from the comfort of our sofas. We wouldn’t have the ability to consume the content when we want it, where we want it and how we want it.
Fascinatingly, these fiber cables are thinner than human hair and about 1,000 times stronger. The light transmitted through these cables carries all our data from one point to the other, from one city to the other, from one state to the other, from one country to the other, and from one continent to the other.
Connecting continents together by transoceanic cables is not a new concept. The very first cable was laid on the ocean bed over 150 years ago in the mid-19th century. There are currently over 350 subsea cables carrying Internet traffic daily on the ocean beds, and over 40 active subsea cable projects are underway across the world.
These cables are extremely expensive to build and operate. A cable can easily cost $300-$400 million dollars and take about two to three years to complete, from the conceptual to the operational.
And now, for the very first time in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia, we are going to have a direct fiber cable crossing the Atlantic, connecting Virginia Beach to Bilbao, Spain. Co-owned by Microsoft, Facebook and Telxius (the subsea cable company, owned by Telefonica, the Spanish carrier) and called MAREA (Spanish for “Tide”), the cable will be the fastest of any currently crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
The second cable under development, BRUSA, will connect Virginia Beach to Puerto Rico and Brazil.
And a third project under final stages of consideration, called Midgardsormen, will connect Virginia Beach to Blaabjerg, Denmark.