A 100 Gb/s network will light up dark fiber

July 26, 2011 | 21:28
At the fringes of the internet an isolated network functions as a test bed for disruptive technology and ultrafast data transfer speeds. ESnet and Internet2 have built the network in a joined program called the Advanced Networking Initiative (ANI). The program serves two goals: to provide a safe testing environment and to build a cross country 100 Gigabits per second prototype network. The system is built atop dormant parts of the internet known as dark fiber.

Internet2, a networking consortium that develops cyberinfrastructure technologies and the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), which provides the high-bandwidth connections that link the research and education institutions, received $62 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding to build the ANI network. The biggest chunk of that money goes to setting up the 100 GB/s prototype network.

Science is increasingly data driven. For instance, climate simulations and particle acceleration experiments produce vast amounts of data which researchers from all over the world wish to access and share. Building a next generation network is necessary to help innovation along. But although fiber-optic cables can easily deliver speeds of 100 Gb/s the current networking technology cannot sustain such data speeds. Take the TCP/IP protocols. They are the most important data transfer protocols used on the internet today. But they stem from the ARPANET days and weren’t originally designed for high-performance networks. The prototype network can be used to experiment with new data transfer protocols before wide implementation of faster networks.

The ANI network is build on inactive fiber-optic cables which are part of the internet infrastructure, known as dark or unlit fiber. There is a lot of dark fiber in the ground because when a network is installed the biggest cost is in civil engineering. The cables themselves are but a fragment of the total cost. More often than not extra cables are already installed for future use. Because of the economic crisis the leases on these dark fiber networks are now cheap to get. Internet2 and ESnet have procured themselves a 20 year lease to build their network.

Next to the 100 Gb/s network the ANI program also provides a stand alone test bed which emulates the behavior of a national network. It currently operates at 10 Gb/s data transfer. In the past engineers were forced to build small networks in their laboratories to experiment with technologies that are too disruptive to test in the wild. Now they can happily experiment on a network parallel to -but not interfering with- the internet.

Source: Technologyreview.com

Photo: ESnet
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