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G42 – The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything?

Jon Baldry

May 12, 2022
By Jon Baldry
Director, Metro Networking

I’m sure many of you who have seen this blog title and decided to click on the link to read the blog will be familiar with the fantastic work of Douglas Adams and his masterpiece, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HHGTTG). If you aren’t familiar with this work, then as it says on the cover of the fictional Hitchhiker’s guidebook, “Don’t Panic!” Hopefully this blog will still make sense.

In HHGTTG, the supercomputer Deep Thought calculated the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything as 42. The surprising answer created the conundrum that, though the answer was known, no one really knew what the original question had meant. Since the publication of the story, many fans around the globe have had a strong interest in the number 42 and its possible connections to the wider world. Coincidentally, May 11, 2022, marked 21 years since the untimely passing of Douglas, which is obviously half of 42. I wonder how fans will celebrate Douglas’ life and works in 21 years’ time? A global Towel Day perhaps?

We have many fans of Douglas Adams, and HHGTTG in particular, at Infinera, and many couldn’t help but make the connection between our own G42 platform and the answer to the ultimate optical networking question. Douglas was known as a lover of technology. He was an early adopter of electronic word processors in his work as an author and he is reputed to be the first person in Europe to own an Apple Mac computer. He was also highly connected to the world of software engineering and gaming. So, I hope he’d appreciate the connections we are making here on the blog today.

Let me quickly introduce the G42 platform to those who don’t know it and try to explain why we believe it is the answer to the ultimate question of optical networking. Using the tone and style of the narrator in HHGTTG (think Peter Jones for the original BBC 1978 radio series and 1981 TV series or Stephen Fry* for the 2005 movie), at a first glance the G42 is a fairly unremarkable piece of optical networking hardware. At the end of the day, it is simply a device designed to deliver power and cooling to a range of “sleds” and to stop them falling on the floor. But don’t be fooled by its outward appearance. The G42 platform was developed by the Infinera Corporation of San Jose, California as the first of its kind in the industry, and the sleds it supports deliver the highest performance in the galaxy!

Ok, back to normal to explain those claims. The G42 platform is the first in the optical networking industry to combine the new building practices of the open world of compact modular devices with the more traditional world of carrier-grade requirements. So, what do I mean by that? Well, compact modular platforms were initially built to support the open networking requirements of internet content providers (ICPs) for interconnecting data centers. This drove the need to support disaggregated transmission over third-party line systems, a compact “pizza box” architecture, and integration into open management environments via standardized data models and open APIs. Over time, these platforms have evolved further into a more flexible, and even more compact, sled-based architecture. Due to the economic and operational advantages of compact modular platforms, they are also now being rapidly deployed by communications service providers (CSPs) in standard telco environments. This means there is a now also a need for “carrier-grade” functionality too. The G42 Series is the first, and currently the only, compact modular platform available that delivers all these additional carrier-grade features:

  • Redundant controllers – for additional network element availability and resilience
  • NEBS Level 3 compliance – Network Equipment-Building System (NEBS) Level 3 compliance is required by many CSPs, especially in North America, to meet their operational standards and government requirements
  • Multi-chassis control – for simplified operations and easy node expansion in very large networks
  • 600-mm building practices – whereas data centers often use deeper 800-mm racks, CSPs typically use 600-mm-deep racks that require the chassis plus the bend radius of the rear power cables and front optical/management cables to all be within the 600-mm depth

I’ll now look at the second claim above, that the CHM6 sleds in the G42 deliver the best performance in the industry. These sleds are built using Infinera’s ICE6 optical engine, which delivers two independent and fully programmable wavelengths each capable of supporting up to 800G. In terms of optical performance, these sleds are unsurpassed in the industry and have been breaking records since their launch in 2020. We’ve announced many customer wins and capacity records – one of the most detailed is this MAREA ICE6 blog, which is worth a quick detour if you have time.

We also gave ICE6 a turbo charge earlier this year, which increased its lead over competitive solutions by providing up to a 30% performance boost in high-speed applications. It also made ICE6 the only commercially available 800G solution shipping with an operational mode over 100 Gbaud.

I hope I’ve adequately explained why we believe that if there was an ultimate question for optical networking, the answer could possibly be “G42”! We aren’t the only ones that believe this though – so do many of our customers. G42 with CHM6 is the fastest-ramping product in our company’s history and has been successful in all regions of the globe and in a vast array of customer types.

How else is G42 connected to the number 42? Well, the platform supports both C-band and L-band operation, with a maximum capacity per fiber pair of an astonishing 84 Tb/s, so you could say that was 42 Tb/s/fiber. Also, a standard telecoms rack is 42 rack units (RU) high. That means we can support up to 14 G42 chassis in a standard rack, containing a total of 56 CHM6 sleds. As each sled supports two wavelengths, this gives us a total capacity of 112 wavelengths and 89.6 terabits in a standard 42RU-high telecoms rack – enough capacity to fill that first 84 Tb/s fiber pair and start loading up the next.

To wrap up, I’ll close with a quote from the second most intelligent species on our planet, according to HHGTTG, the dolphins. Many of you will know which species were ranked first and third. If you don’t, then I have a book recommendation for you. Anyway, thanks for reading this blog – I hope you enjoyed this playful mix of HHGTTG and G42/ICE6. “So long, and thanks for all the fish!”

*Coincidentally, Stephen Fry was the second person in Europe to own an Apple Mac computer after Douglas Adams.

Tags: Optical