The biggest challenge facing data centers today is the growing amounts of data that large enterprises create, maintain and store in the cloud. A 2010 Gartner study showed that 47% of fiber_webrespondents ranked data growth in their top three challenges, 62% said they were expanding hardware capacity at existing data centers and 30% planned to build entirely new data center — and that was almost 3 years ago! Imagine the exponential growth of data today as we continue to generate even more massive storage requirements.

As your data expands, moving it from your location to the cloud becomes a parallel problem. Having a faster connection is of paramount concern as your data can literally choke on an inadequate connection. Even having a 100 megabit fiber connection can improve your data protection capabilities significantly, not to mention speed up other business processes.

Because of these tandem issues, innovative power companies and household web names like Google are developing Smart Grids in an effort to get ahead of the data consumption curve.

A decade ago in Chattanooga, Tennessee, plans started coming together to create America’s first true Smart Grid network that runs on a 100% fiber optic network. A $111 million stimulus grant from the Department of Energy was a catalyst for the community-owned electric utility EPB, to develop this remarkable infrastructure that aims to add two-way communications at every home and business along the grid, and promises improved power quality and reliability. The 600 square mile service area touches 170,000 businesses and homes that have access to Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. The fiber optic smart grid eliminates the bandwidth issue, enabling subscribers to utilize upload and download speeds 200 times faster than the FCC’s national Broadband Plan.

“This holds tremendous opportunities for local industry and manufacturing,” says David Wade, chief operating officer of EPB.

“Everyone talks about the potential savings of smart grid and its impact on the environment, but perhaps its most important factor is power quality and reliability,” says Wade. “As manufacturing processes become more automated, a fraction of a second in power or the slightest change in voltage or frequency can have a pretty significant effect.”

Updating the nation’s power grid, not just central Tennessee’s, is a hot topic in Washington. The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $3.4 billion in stimulus grants toward upgrading the nation’s energy grid, while an additional $4.7 billion in private funds has been invested.

This next-generation energy distribution network is just beginning to gain momentum in other areas of the country. Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri, were chosen by Internet behemoth Google to get in on the fiber game. Hoping to spur some healthy competition from other broadband providers, Google Fiber rolled out officially last year with baseline connection speeds 100 times faster than broadband. Google sees it’s future largely tied to web usage – with higher speeds comes the next wave of online innovation — so it’s no surprise that Google would enter this vertical market. Or that the start-up community has gravitated to these fiber rich communities to gain a competitive edge.

Gigabit networks are still the envy of most businesses unfortunately, as their installation is highly limited in scope. A majority of the nation does not have the advantage of these new fiber networks and as much as they may request them, state legislators and utility companies face an uphill battle to overhauling the domestic energy grid in order to bring fiber connectivity to all Americans.