Microsoft, Facebook team up to construct world’s fastest transatlantic cable
Microsoft and Facebook have jointly announced their plan to build a new undersea cable connecting the United States to Southern Europe. The cable, dubbed Marea, will link Virginia Beach to Bilbao, an autonomous Basque community located in northern Spain. The two companies expect to break ground on the cable in August 2016, with completion estimated by October 2017.
The new 4,101 mile (6,600 km) cable is expected to be the fastest undersea cable ever constructed, with eight fiber pairs and an estimated data capacity of 160Tbps (20TB/s). The cable’s route is deliberately different from conventional transatlantic cables, which typically terminate in New York or New Jersey. Microsoft claims that this routing decision will help ensure consistent and reliable connections, presumably because it can serve as a backup if something goes wrong with the current transatlantic cables.
The reason Microsoft and Facebook are teaming up in the first place is because they want to ensure robust infrastructure is in place to take advantage of their cloud computing initiatives. Microsoft’s blog post states:
We’re seeing an ever-increasing customer demand for high speed, reliable connections for Microsoft cloud services, including Bing, Office 365, Skype, Xbox Live, and Microsoft Azure. As the world continues to move towards a future based on cloud computing, Microsoft is committed to building out the unprecedented level of global infrastructure required to support ever faster and even more resilient connections to our cloud services. This robust, global infrastructure will enable customers to more quickly and reliably store, manage, transmit and access their data in the Microsoft Cloud.
Later in the post the company claims that Marea is designed to interoperate with a variety of network equipment, thanks to an open design process that both companies believe will lower costs and make it easier to integrate upgrades to the cable as faster transmission standards and improvements in optical data transmission become available. Whether or not this is true is a matter of some debate. While the Open Compute Project that Facebook started several years ago has reportedly save certain companies a great deal of money, it hasn’t done a great job of meeting the needs of enterprise IT departments. In this case, however, Microsoft and Facebook jointly own the cable and its hardware, which should simplify tech roll-outs and adoption.
Presumably all data transmitted over the cable will be encrypted to prevent the NSA from wiretapping and intercepting information, but the blog post doesn’t specifically mention this. Major companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Google have all been taking steps to reduce the chance of NSA spying — foreign companies and individuals are much less likely to work with a vendor if they believe the company collaborates with the US government to monitor foreign citizens or corporations.