ORION polishes off $12 million network upgrade

Ontario’s Optical Regional Advanced Network has finished installing optical networking equipment intended to boost the availability and coverage of its services to researchers across the province.

The upgrade, which began late in 2005, expands ORION from about 4,300 km to about 5,800, using 320 km of fibre from North Bay to Peterborough and from St. Catharines to London. It will allow new rural communities, including Orillia and Huntsville, to join the network and will support transport capacities ranging from 1 Gbps to 10 Gpbs. ORION chose JDSU’s WaveReady DWDM (Dense Wave Division Multiplexing) optical gear for the upgrade.

Sam Mokbel, ORION’s director of engineering and network operations, said the key parameters for the project included the cost of upgrades and costs of capacity enhancements. ORION colocates equipment or repeater locations between terminal points with companies like Bell Canada and Rogers, which allows the organization to “clean up” and amplify signals every 100 km. The optical systems will allow ORION to ass new services between those termination points, and the products have matured to the point where they will have a longer lifespan, he said.

“The old systems were big, bulky, they consumed a lot of power, they consumed multiple racks,” he said. “The new systems are much smaller, more energy-efficient. When you are serving the research and education community, budget is usually limited. You cannot really recoup investment by charging money to your users.”

The optical gear was deployed on March 15, meeting the deadline ORION had set for itself a year earlier. Mokbel said paying attention to logistics was among the most important factors in getting the job done on time.

“Let’s say you plan on deploying certain equipment on a certain date and assume the fibre is there. Then you check only the week before you go there and find out the fibre isn’t there because a pole couldn’t be put in place on schedule because certain right of way holders didn’t give the right permission at the right time,” he said. “It sort of cascades.”

CANARIE provided funding for the $12 million project, which began with the installation of Nortel Network’s ROADM software from Ottawa to Windsor linking to network hubs in New York and Chicago. ROADM, which stands for reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexing, allows ORION and CANARIE engineers to remotely manage the network, saving them time and money, Mokbel said.

“When a researcher here at U of T is thinking of doing a project with a researcher in New York City, they don’t think of them as being in another country. They think of them as being just outside Toronto,” he said. “They expect the same type of facilities, the same kind of network.”

While ORION acts as a public sector provider, research firm IDC has forecast the market for optical networking in the enterprise to grow 17 per cent worldwide. This is in part dependent on whether vendors can hire savvy sales staff who understand commercial user’s needs, IDC Canada Eve Griliches noted in a recent report.

“Although the enterprise is now a significant contributor to the overall growth of the optical networking market, the enterprise organization is very different from the typical telecommunication service provider,” Griliches said.

Mokbel said anticipating demand continues to be difficult due to the variety of uses to which the network is put. These include telemedicine, distributed computing and Web-based applications.

“Regular Internet use is just exploding, much more than our initial expectations,” he said.

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