I read a report today in Technology Review about how Bouncing data would speed up data centers, which talked about using wireless technology and special ceiling tiles to create dedicated data links between servers. The wireless signal was in the 60Ghz range and would yield something on the order of couple of Gb per second.
The cable mess
Wireless could solve a problem evident to anyone that has looked under data center floor tiles today – cabling. Underneath our data centers today there is a spaghetti-like labyrinth of cables connecting servers to switches to storage and back again. The amount of cables underneath some data centers is so deep and impenetrable that some shops don’t even try to extract old cables when replacing equipment just leaving them in place and layering on new ones as the need arises.
Bouncing data around a data center
The nice thing about the new wireless technology is that you can easily set up a link between two servers (or servers and switches) by just properly positioning antenna and ceiling tiles, without needing any cables. However, in order to increase bandwidth and reduce interference the signal has to be narrowly focused which makes the technology point-to-point, requiring line of sight between the end points. But with signal bouncing ceiling tiles, a “line-of-sight” pathway could readily be created around the data center.
This could easily be accomplished by different shaped ceiling tiles such as pyramids, flat panels, or other geometric configurations that would guide the radio signal to the correct transceiver.
I see it all now, the data center of the future would have its ceiling studded with geometrical figures protruding below the tiles, providing wave guides for wireless data paths, routing the signals around obstacles to its final destination.
Probably other questions remain.
- It appears the technology can only support 4 channels per stream. Which means it might not scale up to much beyond current speeds.
- Electromagnetic radiation is something most IT equipment tries to eliminate rather than transmit. Having something generate and receive radio waves in a data center may require different equipment regulations and having those types of signals bouncing around a data center may make proper shielding more of a concern..
- Signaling interference is a real problem which might make routing these signals even more of a problem than routing cables. Which is why I believe they need some sort of multi-directional wireless switching equipment might help.
In the report, there wasn’t any discussion as to the energy costs of the wireless technology and that may be another issue to consider. However, any reduction in cabling can only help IT labor costs which are a major factor in today’s data center economics.
It’s just in investigation stages now but Intel, IBM and others are certainly thinking about how wireless technology could help the data centers of tomorrow reduce costs, clutter and cables.
All this gives a whole new meaning to top of rack switching.