An Interview with Tom McMahon, CTO of Aqua Comms

Aqua Comms’ America-Europe Connect (AEConnect) represents not only a new transatlantic cable, but also a new way of building networks – data center to data center, instead of cable landing station to cable landing station. Interconnecting metro networks and designed to address the rise in demand for transatlantic data center interconnectivity (DCI), Aqua Comms has incorporated the most important data center locations in New York, Dublin, and London as key Points of Presence (PoPs) into its system. Additionally, AEConnect offers customers an alternative route from New York to London via Dublin, end-to-end encryption, demonstrating the ability to safeguard all data at the optical layer, and a level of resilience that is unmatched by any other transatlantic subsea cable.

Recently, we had the opportunity to interview Tom McMahon, Chief Technology Officer at Aqua Comms, about the technological and commercial drivers at play that pushed for this design, and the advantages of this approach to building subsea cable networks.

TelecomNewsRoom: Prior to data center to data center interconnectivity what was the traditional connectivity design?

Tom McMahon: Traditionally it was always the Submarine Line Terminal Equipment and the two cable landing stations. And then, as you extended from the cable landing stations, either by going out to PoPs, or carriers coming to you from the PoPs, it was always an interface point for the optical equipment to extend that reach. On the more modern cables, and because of the design of the AEConnect system, we can put the head of the equipment into the PoP sites and drive into data center sites without the complications of the past when interfacing at the cable landing stations.

TelecomNewsRoom: What were the major market drivers underlying this advanced technology design?

Tom McMahon: Cost is the major driver. Everyone wants the lowest cost per bit and by being able to connect data center to data center without intermediate interfaces, you can significantly reduce the price of your 10G, 100G, or terabytes capacities.

TelecomNewsRoom: What were the specific obstacles in implementing this advanced method of connectivity?

Tom McMahon: From a technical point of view it’s not really that difficult. Particularly on a new system, you can’t PoP everywhere, so you need to PoP a location that is commonly used in New York, Dublin and London. One can imagine the number of combinations and permutations between five PoPs in New York, and three in Dublin, and five or six in London. That can lead to an extraordinary amount of equipment that you have to enable on day one. Therefore, in the early stages of the network, it’s critical for Aqua Comms to enable the routes that are most common. Then, as the system progresses, its usage increases and inquiries come from other data centers, we can also look at PoPing those locations. So, it’s more of a commercial and customer-driven decision than a technical decision. The technical aspects are dealt with at the design stage rather than later. And I would also caveat that it’s also very important that the data centers that you go to are well-served with terrestrial networks, and within the data centers, that their cross-connects and extended local loops are robust as well.

TelecomNewsRoom: When organizations work with Aqua Comms to solve their transatlantic capacity requirements, what sort of challenges are they attempting to solve?

Tom McMahon: So, oftentimes we will speak to companies because they need to reach certain destinations to satisfy customer needs. Other times, the customer will dictate which network they wish to go onto from London into Europe for diversity issues, and sometimes it’s latency-driven or it’s commercially-driven. Aqua Comms is quite open in terms of whom we provide connectivity and we can tailor solutions for customers with specific carriers if so required.

TelecomNewsRoom: AEConnect, linking New York to London via Dublin, was designed with stubbed branching units available for future landings in other locations, including Scandinavia and Iceland. But in the near-term, what new developments can we expect across the network?

Tom McMahon: Aqua Comms is continuously looking at PoPing new data centers, and again, this is a mixture of both customer-driven data centers coming to us to see if we’d PoP them, and looking at the commercial considerations surrounding that as well. It’s many-fold as to what we do. In the near future, we’re certainly looking at PoPing other data centers in New York and London, and possibly extending from New York down to Ashburn, Virginia, as well.