Ottawa research network upgrades to Layer 3

A research network in Ottawa is helping four institutions exchange information, but its primary goal is to improve network infrastructure the world over.

The National Capital Institute of Telecommunications — along with the University of Ottawa, Carelton University and the National Research Council — said it has upgraded the network using Alcatel IP service routers.

“”So far the research network was essentially an Ethernet Layer 2-based network. With the routers it becomes Layer 3, so we can do work on Layer 3,”” said Maike Luiken Miller, vice-president of research alliances for NCIT.

According to Miller, improved connectivity is a lesser concern, taking a back seat to using the network as a research tool itself. “”It’s very difficult to have a network that can do both functions, because when you study it and do research on it, you have to take it down and do things that cannot support operations,”” she said.

One of the projects currently underway at the University of Ottawa is research to improve the way data is handled by different protocols within the same network.

Dan Ionescu, a professor at the university’s School of Information Technology and Engineering, said that mixing three different layers of network protocol like Ethernet, MPLS (Multprotocol Label Switching) and DWDM (dense wave division multiplexing) can have a stultifying effect on performance.

“”It’s a mess. It’s a combination of three different technologies, three different layers of communications,”” he said. “”They don’t talk the same language to each other.””

Ionescu added, “”You have to by hand do configurations of these network elements so that connectivity is (possible). We want to make it automatic. What we do in our research is (determine) how to set up this kind of a control plane.””

The work that Ionescu is doing, one of more than a dozen NCIT-related projects, will help improve overall quality of service on the network.

Ionescu is trying to guarantee quality of service for videoconferencing over a network — for picture fidelity during a board meeting or for vital applications like telemedicine, which require a reliable network for remote diagnoses.

The availability of a live network is invaluable to the research, said Miller. This type of work is typically done in a lab, “”and that’s a real obstacle for getting real results. So we are in a unique position here to get valid results.””

Whereas NCIT will use the service router to aid interoperability studies and configuration management, Alcatel’s usual customers would be more concerned with using it as a carrier-grade platform. “”There’s not as much tinkering and playing around with configurations as we’d see in the NCIT,”” said Zlatko Krstulich, CTO at Alcatel Canada.

Alcatel supplied the routers to upgrade the network, but is also involved in some of the research itself. Most of the projects are paired with a private sector partner. Private sector participation could speed the transition from research to commercial ventures, explained Miller.

“”I think generally there is a perceived disconnect between research results in the academic institutions and the transfer into the economy. Various countries are wrestling with that issue and we think we have found an answer to that by involving industry in the individual projects,”” she said.

The projects should be completed by the end of year. Ionescu recently tested his research by connecting with an end point in Hawaii.


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