Times have changed. Many businesses, even those outside of the “tech” industry, simply cannot operate without networking hardware in place, particularly in industries such as healthcare and finance. This has been a major driver in the expansion of the data center industry, and in the leasing of optical cables, referred to as dark fiber.
Some of you have probably heard that term before. It’s a buzzword that’s been floating around the hosting space for a while now; one whose definition has changed somewhat as the industry evolves. But dark fiber is in more places than on those networks offered by “dark fiber providers.” In fact, if your server is in a carrier-neutral data center, dark fiber is probably an option already.
What Is Dark Fiber, Anyway?
Traditionally, “dark fiber” is a term used to refer to unused optical networking infrastructure; a combination of switches, cabling, and relays. The phrase was actually pretty literal. It referred to the fact that since the infrastructure didn’t have any optical data flowing through it. The optical cables were literally dark.
Now, as networking technology has become more advanced, the meaning of the term has mutated. A market has sprung up for renting this unused cabling. Obviously, once the network is rented out and under use, it’s no longer “dark,” but the term stuck. Today, it is often used to refer to any optical cabling a client can rent exclusive access to.
There are a number of different ways these networks can be set up – point to point, rings, multipoint, etc.
What Is It Normally Used For?
Rather than investing the massive quantity of time and capital to construct, develop, and maintain their own networks, clients can turn to dark fiber providers. By leasing unused strands of cables, they’re able to create a network on which to host mission-critical services at a significantly reduced cost. Most frequently, dark fiber clients are businesses involved in financial services, healthcare, or gaming – organizations that require low-latency network infrastructure in order to operate effectively.
Where Can You Find Dark Fiber Providers?
Here’s where things get a little tricky. Although there are multiple organizations that distinctively brand themselves as dark fiber providers, most carriers and hosts have at least some form of dark fiber available. Most carrier-neutral facilities operate fiber-optic networks. As such, it’s often possible – perhaps even common – for clients to negotiate deals with carriers at the facility.
“There’s lots of [dark fiber] around, much of which is barely used because oftentimes not all the strands are provisioned.” writes Network World’s Patrick Nelson, noting that “Dark fiber business-oriented build-outs continue.”
For that reason, dark fiber should not in and of itself be a deciding factor when you’re choosing a colocation facility. Security, accessibility, location, hosting environment, and cost (among others) should all be prioritized over whether any of the carriers brand themselves as dark fiber providers. Negotiating with carriers who don’t brand themselves in this way is frequently a better option.