Buzzwords Galore and Bandwidth that May Rival Your Stationwagon

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At the recent LITA Top Technology Trends gathering, Clifford Lynch spoke of an advanced network emerging from Internet2 that is built as a hybrid between optical-switched and packet-switched networks. Today's Internet2 Newsletter has a description of the activities, excerpted below

Internet2 and Level 3 to Deploy Next Generation Nationwide Research Network

The new Internet2 Network, a dynamic, innovative and cost-effective hybrid optical and packet network, will provide next-generation production services as well as a platform for the development of new networking ideas and techniques.

Internet2 has entered into a partnership with Level 3 Communications, a leading national telecommunications carrier, to provide the U.S. research and education community with a dynamic, innovative and cost-effective hybrid optical and packet network. An extension of the Internet2 cutting-edge tradition, the new network is designed to provide next-generation production services as well as a platform for the development of new networking ideas and techniques. Internet2 is committed to ensuring community involvement in the development, implementation, and operations of the new network.

The new Internet2 Network will be deployed nationally over 13,000 miles of dedicated fiber, providing complete community control of the optical layer and highly granular lightpath services that can be provisioned dynamically. It will provide short-term and long-term waves, as well as on-demand or advanced reservation "lightpath" scheduling. The IP network, corresponding to the current Abilene footprint, will be built on the optical network. A basic connectivity package for direct connectors is expected to include two 10 Gbps waves, one for IP and one for point-to-point optical services.

Optical (Layer 1) network characteristics:

  • Initial deployment - 10 x 10 Gbps wavelengths along network footprint
  • Maximum capacity - 80 x 10 Gbps wavelengths
  • Scalability - potential migration to 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps capabilities
  • Flexibility - support for sub-wavelength (e.g., 1 GigE) dynamic provisioning across every wave on the network backbone.

The Level 3 carrier agreement provides reliability and unprecedented community control over the networking infrastructure, without taking on the risks of equipment sparing and obsolescence as well as the burden of substantial operational responsibilities. Level 3 will be responsible for meeting a Service Level Agreement (SLA). The buildout of the network will happen over several months, with a target completion in the fall of 2007. The transition to the new network will not disrupt existing connectivity and services.

The Internet2 Networks page has a description that is a little bit more approachable:

Internet2 and Level 3 Communications, Inc. will develop and deploy a new nationwide network and new services to enhance and support the advanced needs of the academic and research community. This new network initially will offer Internet2 members 100 gigabits per second (Gbps) of capacity, more than 10 times that of the current Internet2 backbone network, and will be designed to easily scale to add capacity as Internet2 members’ requirements evolve over time. Based on input and feedback from the research and education community, including experience gained with the Hybrid Optical and Packet Infrastructure (HOPI) project, the network will be designed to support a full range of production IP services as well as new on-demand, dedicated optical wavelength services to support the most demanding network applications and experimentation.

Okay, maybe that description isn't all that more approachable either. The thing is this: the research and development community are pushing the raw networking capabilities farther and farther. "Optical wavelength services" may not mean much to you -- perhaps about as much as the intricate chemical dance that turns petroleum into gasoline, plastics, chapstick and bubble gum Butyl Rubber is in Bubble Gum and you need petroleum to make butyl rubber. gack -- but the comparison is not too much of a stretch. They've figured out how to send multiple frequencies of light down the same piece of fibre-optic cable, effectively multiplying its capacity. The neat thing about the Internet2 work is that, should you need it, it sounds like you'll be able to sign up for a point-to-point lightwave frequency to do with what you need. (You'll probably need a pretty good reason, of course.)

Oh, and the stationwagon comment? When you think you have a really zippy network connection, someone will (should?) bring up an old internet adage which says "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes." (This, of course, shouldn't be confused with the term "sneakernet" -- the bandwidth speed and capacity at which you could walk your flash drive over to your colleague rather than trying to e-mail, FTP, torrent, webify, or send via carrier pigeon that document that the two of you have been working on.)