ORAN audit shows users clamouring for gigabits

A network audit has shown BCNet that post-secondary schools and research institutions are more than ready to fill up its network pipe with traffic.

Created to provide advanced networking to British Columbia’s universities, BCNet operates

the province’s Optical Regional Advanced Network, or ORAN, which connects to CANAIRE’s national network . BCNET president and CEO Michael Hrybyk said the intent of the study was to survey the member institutions, and find out what research projects were coming down the road that would require advanced networking.

“The high-end users will need multiple gigabits per second in the near future, and our network will allow us to do that, because we have obtained dedicated fibre and we’re using the CANAIRE network to hook everything together,” Hrybyk said. “We’re quite confident we can meet those needs, at least over the short to medium term.”

Hrybyk said the survey results validate the group’s investment in multiple strands of dedicated fibre to the campuses, and indicates BCNet won’t need to deploy multiplexing technology like WDM in the near term. Instead, the audit indicates a three to five-year window as more projects come online.

“Right now we have 16 strands to Simon Fraser University, and each pair can do a gigabit, so we have roughly eight gigs of capability out there today without spending a lot of money ,” said Hrybyk.. “That looks like it will be sufficient over the short term to handle most of their requirements.”

However, the study did indicate that the projects are piling up. While they expected four of five large projects, Hrybyk said he was surprised to find 11 in the medium range. And more projects are expected as people become more aware of the network’s capabilities.

“It’s funny how people’s requirements tend to go up once they know they’ve got bandwidth,” said Hrybyk. “As soon as you open up capacity, nature abhors a vacuum, so the requirements tend to fill the capacity, especially in a university setting. This is just a little pinprick to get a feel for what is coming.”

A good example of institutions trying to make maximum use of the network is the library at SFU. University librarian Lynn Copeland says the school is involved in a fairly major project with the University of Calgary, Laval University, and the University of Toronto, digitizing all the local histories in Canada.

“It could range from a book on the history of Penticton, B.C. to a pamphlet about a church, all kinds of documents and flyers going back hundreds of years,” says Copeland. “We’re involved in digitizing a pretty substantial amount of material — about 50,000 pages — and the major storage site is at the U of C, so we’re transmitting those images over the network.”

The network has also allowed students faster access to hundreds of academic journals and other library resources like e-books, including students at the university’s satellite campuses. To date, Copeland said network performance has been good, but she said she’s always looking for more.

“It’s a bit of a joke, but I almost see my job as to push the network to the limit,”” she said.

Randall Sobie intends to push the network to its limits as well, although the research scientist in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Victoria won’t be connected to the ORAN for a few weeks yet.

A particle physicicist, Sobie is participating in a number of international projects, including one involving the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva. Large amounts of data are generated by those experiments, and need to be brought back to UVIC for analysis.

“We transfer fairly significant amounts of data, we’re talking at the terabyte level, and in the future maybe tens to hundreds of terabytes,” Sobie said. “So, we have a real need for a fast network out from the university all the way across Canada and out to the international community.”

Sobie is involved in basic research, looking at questions like why there’s more matter in the universe than antimatter, and he said he needs to share data with other researchers across Canada and the U.S. also participating in the project.

“We’re pushing the network to its limit at the moment, and when (ORAN) comes on we hope to push it to its limit again,” said Sobie. “Once we have more capacity it will allow us to do more things than we can today, we’ll be able to bring more data over.”

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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