Purchase of dark fiber launches ESnet into new era

What sets us apart? ESnet has, and always will focus on anticipating the needs of the extended DOE science community.  This shapes our network strategy, from services and architecture to topology and reach. It also distinguishes ESnet from university research & education networks which are driven by the broader needs of the general university population.  Vis-à-vis commercial networks, ESnet has specialized in handling the relatively small number of very large flows of large-scale science data rather than the enormous number of relatively small data flows traversing commercial carrier networks today. Our desire to always stay a step ahead of the constantly evolving network needs of the scientific community has driven ESnet to take the bold step of purchasing and lighting our first segment of dark fiber.

Owning the road

By owning a tiny but powerful pair of optical fibers, ESnet will no longer have to rely on the vagaries of the commercial market – we will be able to deliver services when we choose and where they are needed.  For example, the DOE envisions using ESnet to link its supercomputing centers with a terabit of capacity by 2015. Our network will be key to enabling the scientific community to accomplish exascale computing by 2020.

Ramping up is no slam-dunk

But providing terabit capacity by using 10 100G waves through commercial services is no slam-dunk and could be very cost-prohibitive.  Without owning the fiber and transport infrastructure, the same is likely to be true when near-terabit waves become available around 2020. Not only does one lose spectral efficiency because a terabit wave won’t fit within ITU standard 50 Ghz spacing – it is necessary to plan for non-standard spacing, with current research pointing towards 200 Ghz to accommodate the signal.

But just solving this problem is not enough, as ESnet’s massive bandwidth requirements don’t end with the supercomputers.  ESnet must deliver steadily increasing amounts of data generated by the Large Hadron Collider as well as similar data sets shared within the climate, fusion, and genomics communities to scientists around the world.

Lighting the way forward

It is clear to us that the only way to scale the network to meet the rapidly propagating needs of large-scale science is by lighting our own dark fiber. Although this relatively small 200-mile loop linking New York City to Brookhaven National Lab barely registers with most in the networking community, it represents an exciting sea change in ESnet’s approach in serving our customers.

–Steve Cotter