It’s ironic isn’t it?  We travel all the way to sunny Palm Springs to talk about a “dark” subject.  But the 150 CIOs, CTOs, and senior IT Directors who attended the exclusive Healthcare IT Summit at the LaQuinta Resort and Club, came away with an enlightened perspective.

Until now, the idea of a hospital system constructing it’s own private carrier, dark fiber network, would be considered a pipe dream.    The thought was that it’s too complicated, too expensive, and quite frankly, you can’t have carrier-level infrastructure without being a carrier.

But that’s simply not the case.  When the construction costs along with annual maintenance are run over a 10 to 20 year timeframe, the monthly costs are typically much less than CURRENT network spends. Further the dark fiber nature of the network essentially delivers more bandwidth than you’d ever use, meaning that as your capacity per site grows you won’t pay more.  

At its most basic level, a fiber plant is quite simple to manage. The optical equipment is far less complex than advanced routers and switches, and maintaining the outside plant (poles, conduits…) is done by firms that specialize in that service and are there 7x24x365 and offer the same level of immediate support that carriers have on their own critical optical networks. 

And finally, you don’t need to be a carrier to own one of these networks.  Partnerships with companies who operate these private dedicated facilities are common, and eliminate all of the regulatory issues that may be relevant.

Dark fiber networks allow an institution to save up to 50% of their current network spend while providing nearly unlimited bandwidth.  Of particular note, is the revenue generating potential of these networks.  In addition to clear ROI advantages, it’s easy to envision the potential revenue available to an institution by interconnecting a number of affiliates and other customers with the same fiber facilities. 

A number of CIOs we talked with in California went further and suggested that the installation of such a network may serve as the foundation on which to offer other IT related services to cooperating or affiliated health systems.  One area that was heavily explored was the use of these fiber networks to significantly lower disaster recovery costs by linking (and in some cases building) datacenters and sharing such services as transport, storage and computing resources (virtualization), all of which require the highest capacity and performance only achievable with “user controlled” fiber elements.
So it looks like the economies of a dark fiber network may be coming out of the shadows.   I guess that sometimes, you just have to go all the way to a sunny desert oasis to find it!