Quebec brings Gigabit Ethernet speeds to high-performance network

Education and R&D facilities in Quebec will be able to share their research at the speed of light through the deployment of a province-wide Nortel-based optical network.

Michel Vanier, general manager of the province’s Reseau d’Informations Scientifiques du Quebec (RISQ), said a $3 million grant from CANARIE has enabled his organization to redo part of its optical transport network connecting the universities of McGill, Laval and Sherbrooke, and the universities of Quebec in Ottawa and Montreal, as well as several new school board facilities and multiple CEGEPs (colleges of general and vocational education) in the region. Not only will these institutions connect to each other, however. They will also connect to other world-class research networks.

The Nortel common photonic layer platform features reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexing (eROADM) capabilities, meaning organizations can add, remove and redirect network capacity on an as-needed basis.

The project, which will begin in the third quarter of this year and is expected to be completed by 2007, will give users access to Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gig-E capabilities via the Nortel Optical Multiservice Edge 6500, as well as managed wavelength services at up to 10 Gbps.

Dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) capabilities will enable RISQ to transmit up to 72 wavelengths of high bandwidth traffic at 10Gbps over a single fibre strand.

That’s a huge step forward for research computing, Vanier said. “First we’re doing dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) everywhere on the network,” he said. “The other thing is we can go to 36 wavelengths. That means we could have 36 10GB channels in parallel between Gatineau, Montreal, Sherbrooke and Quebec City and we could dedicate those different wavelengths or channels to research projects.”

Financially, he explained, participating organizations typically pay RISQ a fee to cover regular operating expenses. “If the research project wants dedicated bandwidth on top of that, the general rule we’ve been applying is the project pays for the differential – that is the cost to dedicate bandwidth to the project for the duration of the project,” he said.

Users will pretty much self-manage the service, as long as they don’t interfere with the needs of other users on the network, he added.

Research organizations will use the network for high-performance computing projects in the fields of physics and chemistry, but videoconferencing for telecollaboration and education is also increasingly a requirement, he added, as is grid computing.

In order for Canada to become one of the top 20 in high-performance computing facilities as envisioned by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, however, he said, we will need a national world-class facility all researchers across the country can access rather than just develop networks on a province by province basis.

Although the 36 wavelengths RISQ can access sounds like amazing capacity, said Lawrence Surtees, vice-president of communications research for xIDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, it’s really just a drop in the optic fibre bucket, he said. Even if RISQ were to use the full 72 wavelengths available to them over a single fibre with this network improvement, it doesn’t come anywhere near the 160 wavelengths that Nortel equipment is capable of providing.

“Their street production lasers are 10 Gbps, (and) a single laser can carry 10 billion bits of information in a second,” said Surtees. “So if I wanted to put 160 semiconductors on the end of each laser, each pulsing 10 billion times a second . . . that’s 1.6 terabytes per second. That’s huge. You could send the contents of the Library of Congress coast to coast in minutes.

“I don’t know of any customer that has needed 160 lasers on the end of each fibre yet, but if they did Nortel could provide it today. My point is they haven’t even exhausted the commercial ability Nortel has in the system.”

Surtees, who said RISQ can expect huge advances in both efficiency and performance, added that there is theoretically no limit to the number of semiconductor lasers that can be attached to the end of a single strand of fibre. That means every person on the planet could have a unique frequency as an identifier.

“It could be our IP address because it’s unique to each of us, and we could have our own dedicated capacity on a global network that consists of a single piece of fibre,” he said.

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