May 2005
The Cyberinfrastructure Backplane: The Jump to Light Speed
The National LambdaRail
Cyberinfrastructure for Tomorrow's Research and Education
David Farber, National LambdaRail and Carnegie Mellon University
Tom West, National LambdaRail

U.S. Optical Network Infrastructure

Nationwide networks in several other countries and continents already have leveraged the combination of optical fiber and DWDM to deploy operational network infrastructures. Notable among these are CA*Net 4 in Canada through the CANARIE organization, SURFnet6 in the Netherlands through Stichting SURF, and AARNet in Australia. And others are emerging. For example, DANTE will soon be deploying the pan-European G√ČANT2 network.

In the United States, campus and regional networks have led developments in this area since around 1995. A large number of institutions, especially research institutions such as the University of California Berkeley, have established on-campus, fiber-based network infrastructures that serve multiple networks. In many instances the institution goes far beyond the physical dimensions of the main campus and reaches out to university facilities in the surrounding community. Increasingly, these facilities are developed as part of the institutional infrastructure, such as that deployed by the University of California San Diego.

At the regional level in the United States, consortia of institutions within states like Texas and Florida have formed a not-for-profit corporation to undertake regional infrastructure development. California pioneered this model beginning in 1997 with the formation of the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC), which brought together public and private universities, and community colleges. CENIC’s CalREN optical fiber-based infrastructure provides multiple networks to serve this wide range of constituencies. Across the United States, roughly 15,000 miles of fiber optic cable is controlled by regional network organizations. FiberCo, an organization created by Internet2, has been very instrumental in facilitating the acquisition of much of this fiber.

Although regional optical network infrastructure development emerged a few years ago, the formation of NLR has spurred a virtual explosion in the number of regional efforts. Less than three years ago the NLR was just a glimmer in the eyes of very few people in the United States. It started as a grassroots effort on the west coast to link Seattle with San Diego. It then evolved to have a redundant path via Seattle to Denver and Denver to Los Angeles. NLR evolved from a regional effort but recently NLR has stimulated new regional developments.

National LambdaRail

The mission of the NLR is to build an advanced, nationwide network infrastructure that will support many types and levels of networks for research, clinical, and educational fields. This infrastructure consists of 11,500 miles of fiber and optical networking equipment, all of it owned by NLR. The infrastructure supports both experimental and production networks, fosters networking research, promotes next-generation applications, and facilitates interconnectivity among regional and international high-performance research and education networks.

The NLR infrastructure is composed of 30 segments. Each segment can support at least 32 individual channels of light. On the northern routes, from Sunnyvale, California to Jacksonville, Florida an additional eight waves can be added. Each wave in each segment can support 10 Gbps, so there is the potential for 1072 channel-segments, each with 10 Gbps of capacity. Equally significantly is that each channel-segment operates independently and, therefore, can support networks with different operational characteristics.

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Reference this article
Farber, D., West, T. "The National LambdaRail," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 2, May 2005. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2005/05/national-lambdarail-cyberinfrastructure-for-tomorrows-research-and-education/

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