FCIX - Lighting Our First Dark Fiber

 The Fremont Cabal Internet Exchange project continues!

The first eight months of FCIX was spent spinning up the exchange in the Hurricane Electric FMT2 building running out of my personal cabinet there. At the end of 2018, in the typical 51% mostly kidding style that is starting to become an integral part of the FCIX brand, we asked our data center host Hurricane Electric if they would be willing to sponsor us for a second cabinet in their other facility (HE FMT1) and a pair of dark fiber between the two buildings.

This felt like a pretty big ask for a few reasons:

  1. Hurricane Electric has already been a very significant sponsor in enabling FCIX to happen by their sponsoring of free cross connects for new members into the exchange so joining the exchange is a $0 invoice. 
  2. Asking for a whole free cabinet feels pretty big regardless of who you're talking to.
  3. Hurricane Electric is in the layer 2 transport business, so us asking to become a multi-site IXP puts us in the somewhat tricky position of walking the line of being in the same business as one of our sponsors while using their donated services. 
That last point is an interesting and possibly somewhat subtle one. It's also not an unusual awkward position that Internet Exchange Points are put in; when an Internet Exchange Point goes multi-site, their multiple sites are often connected by donated fiber or transport from a sponsor who's already in that business. This means that once an IXP starts connecting networks between the two facilities over the donated link, pairs of networks which might have already been leasing capacity between the two buildings might be motivated to drop their existing connection and move their traffic onto the exchange's link. Some IXPs will also enforce a policy that single networks can only connect to the IXP in one location, so members can't use the fiber donated to the IXP as internal backhaul for their own network, since that's a service they should be buying from the sponsor themselves, not enjoying the benefit of it being donated to the IXP.

Do I think this is a major concern between HE FMT1 and HE FMT2 for FCIX? No. These two buildings are about 3km apart, and Hurricane Electric had made sure there is a generous bundle of fiber between the two buildings, so it is unlikely that HE is making a lot of money on transport between two buildings within walking distance.
So we asked, and Hurricane Electric said yes.

At that point, we had an empty cabinet in FMT1, and a pair of dark fiber between the two buildings allocated for us, but a second site means we need a second peering switch...

"Hey, Arista..."

Arista was kind enough to give us a second 7050S-64 switch to load into FMT1, so we now have a matching pair of Ethernet switches to run FCIX on. Cool.

The final design challenge was lighting this very long piece of glass between the two sites. Thankfully, 3km is a relatively "short" run in the realm of single mode fiber, so the design challenge of moving bits that far isn't too great; pretty much every single generation of fiber optic has off-the-shelf "long-reach" optics which are nominally rated for 10km of fiber, so we weren't going to need to get any kind of special long range fiber transponders or amplifiers to light the pair.

In reality, they aren't really rated for 10km, so much as they're rated for a certain signal budget that usually works out well enough for 10km long links. For an example, lets take the Flexoptix 10G LR optic, which has the following technical specifications:
The important numbers to focus on in this table are on the top right:

  • Powerbudget (db): 6.2db
  • Minimum transmit power: -8.2dbm (db over a milliwatt)
  • Minimum receive power: -14.4dbm
The powerbudget is the acceptable amount of light that can be lost from end to end over the link, be it through linear km of fiber, connections, splices, attenuators, etc. So the 10km "distance" parameter is more a rule of thumb statement that a 10km link will typically have 6.2db of attenuation along it than the optic really being able to tell exactly how far it is from the other end of the fiber. 

The minimum transmit power and minimum receive power are actually related to the powerbudget by the fact that the power budget is the difference between these two numbers. Usually, your powerbudget will be much better than this to begin with, because most optics will put out much more than -8.2dbm of power when they're new, but some of them might be that low, and the lasers will actually "cool" over their life-span, so even if an optic comes out of the box putting out -2dbm of light, as it ages that number will go down. 

When it comes to serious long fiber links, it's likely you'll want to get a signal analysis done of the actual fiber you plan on using, and then using that information to plan your amplifiers accordingly. We, on the other hand, very carefully looked at how far the two buildings were on Google Maps, stroked our chins knowingly like we knew what the hell we were doing, and decided that a 10km optic would probably be good enough. Time to call another FCIX sponsor.

"Hey, Flexoptix..."

Given that we wanted to use 10km optics, we really had three choices for optics, given what our 7050S-64 switches could support: We could light it with a pair of 1G-LX optics, which would be pretty lame in this day and age, or we could light it with a pair of 10G-LR optics, which would probably be pretty reasonable given the amount of traffic we expect to be moving to/from this FMT1 extension, OR, we could ask Flexoptix for a pair of $400 40G LR4 optics and use some of those QSFP+ ports on our Aristas... because why not? faster is better.
So that's what we did. FCIX now has a 40G backbone between our two sites. 

40G LR4 is actually a little mind blowing with how they get 40G across a single pair of fibers, because a single 40G transceiver isn't how they actually did it. 40G was really an extension of 10G by putting 4x10G in one optic, and there was two ways of then transporting these 4x10G streams to the other optic:
  1. PLR4, or "parallel" LR4, where you use an 8 fiber cable terminated with MPO connectors, so each 10G wavelength is on its own fiber.
  2. LR4, which uses the same duplex LC fiber as 10G-LR, but uses four different wavelengths for the four 10G transceivers, and then integrates a CWDM (coarse wave division multiplexing) mux IN THE FREAKING OPTIC.

It's not entirely correct, but imagine a prism taking four different wavelengths of light and combining them into the single fiber, then a second prism on the receiver splitting them back out to the four receivers. Every time I think about it, it still blows my mind how awesome all of these Ethernet transceivers are once you dig into how they work.

So we now have 40G between our two sites, and like always, it wouldn't have been possible without all of our generous FCIX sponsors; they're pretty cool. If you happen to be an autonomous system running in either of those facilities, or want to talk to us about extending FCIX to another facility in the Silicon Valley, feel free to shoot us an email at contact@fcix.net.

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