May 2005
The Cyberinfrastructure Backplane: The Jump to Light Speed
Linda Winkler, Argonne National Lab


Major challenges facing the scientific R&E community today involve insatiable needs for communications and collaborations at distance, as well as the ability to manage globally distributed computing power and data storage resources. Advances in telecommunications and networking technologies are up to the challenge of meeting these ever increasing demands for bandwidth.

Not long ago, it was common to find large disparities between the connection speeds of end systems to the local area network versus the speed of the shared wide area network. Fortunately, that is no longer common and instead we find end systems connected at speeds of 100 Mb/s to 1 Gb/s and wide area links operating at 1 Gb/s to multiples of 10 Gb/s. Many factors have contributed to the technology boom that resulted in wide area speeds becoming attainable. The dot com boom saw a huge build-out of infrastructure and technology only to have the bottom drop out of the marketplace. Many R&E organizations have taken advantage of the marketplace to acquire access to dark fiber and build customer owned and operated metropolitan, regional and wide-area infrastructures. This has put the fate of bandwidth availability squarely within the control of the end customers rather than the service providers and carriers. The result is a strategic opportunity for the R&E community.

Making multi-gigabit/second, end-to-end network performance achievable will lead to new models for how research and business are conducted. Scientists will be empowered to form virtual organizations on a global scale, sharing information and data in flexible ways, expanding their collective computing and data resources. These capabilities are vital for projects on the cutting edge of science and engineering, in data intensive fields such as particle physics, astronomy, bioinformatics, global climate modeling, geosciences, fusion, and neutron science.

This article addresses Ethernet advances leading to network convergence, end-to-end performance factors, and highlights examples of 10G early adoption, deployment, and wide-area infrastructure availability in the R&E community.

LAN/MAN/WAN speeds

We are witnessing the convergence of LAN/MAN/WAN data rates at 10 Gb/s, resulting in common equipment and interfaces to access the enterprise, metro and wide area network. As a result, we are experiencing reductions in the cost for implementation, ownership, support, maintenance and in some cases, recurring charges in the WAN.

Ethernet technology is currently the most deployed technology for high-performance LAN environments. Enterprises around the world have invested in cabling, equipment, processes, and training in Ethernet. In addition, the ubiquity of Ethernet keeps its costs low, and with each deployment of next-generation Ethernet technology, deployment costs have trended downward. Ethernet has gained worldwide acceptance as an enterprise infrastructure technology due to its considerable advantages in interoperability, scalability, simplicity, consistency, service ubiquity, provisioning speed, and price/performance. With the rapid price decline in Gigabit Ethernet network interface cards, most servers come standard with Gigabit Ethernet network interface cards.

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Reference this article
Winkler, L. "Does 10G Ethernet Measure Up?" CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 2, May 2005. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2005/05/does-10g-ethernet-measure-up/

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