Three years ago, ESnet unveiled its plan to build ESnet6, its next-generation network dedicated to serving the Department of Energy (DOE) national lab complex and overseas collaborators. With a projected early finish in 2023, ESnet6 will feature an entirely new software-driven network design that enhances the ability to rapidly invent, test, and deploy new innovations. The design includes:
- State-of-the-art optical, core and service edge equipment deployed on ESnet’s dedicated fiber optic cable backbone
- A scalable switching core architecture coupled with a programmable services edge to facilitate high-speed data movement
- 100–400Gbps optical channels, with up to eight times the potential capacity compared to ESnet5
- Services that monitor and measure the network 24/7/365 to ensure it is operating at peak performance, and
- Advanced cybersecurity capabilities to protect the network, assist its connected sites, and defend its devices in the event of a cyberattack
Later this month, ESnet staff will present an online update on ESnet6 to the ESnet Site Coordinators Committee (ESCC). Despite the challenges of deploying new equipment at over 300 distinct sites across the country and lighting up approximately 15,000 of miles of dark fiber during a pandemic, the team is making great progress, according to ESnet6 Project Director Kate Mace.
“We’ve had some delays, but our first priority is making sure the work is being done safely,” Mace said. “We have a lot of subcontractors and we are working closely with them to make sure they’re safe, they’re following local pandemic rules and they’re getting the access they need for installs.
“The bottom line is that we have a lot of pretty amazing people putting in a lot of hours and hard work to keep the project moving forward,” Mace said.
When completed in 2023, ESnet6 will provide the DOE science community with a dedicated backbone capable of carrying at least 400 Gigabits per second (Gbps), with some spans capable of carrying more than 1 Terabit per second.
The current network, known as ESnet5, comprises a series of interconnected backbone rings, each with 100Gbps or higher bandwidth. ESnet5 operates on a fiber footprint owned by and shared with Internet2. Once the switch is complete, Internet2 will take over ESnet’s share of the fiber spectrum to provide more bandwidth to the U.S. education community.
“We’re almost done with the optical layer, which is a big deal,” Mace said. “It’s been a major procurement of new optical line equipment from Infinera to light up the new optical footprint.”
Mapping the road to ESnet6
Back in 2011, using Recovery Act funds for its Advanced Networking Initiative, ESnet secured the long-term rights to a pair of fibers on a national fiber network that had been built, but not yet used. Because there was a surplus of installed fiber cable at the time, ESnet was able to negotiate advantageous terms for the network.
As part of the ESnet6 project, ESnet and its subcontractors began installing optical equipment along the ESnet fiber footprint starting in November 2019. The optical network consists of seven large fiber rings east to west across the U.S., and smaller “metro” rings in the Chicago and San Francisco Bay areas.
At this point, Infinera has completed the installation of the equipment at all locations. The four large eastern-most rings have passed ESnet’s rigorous testing and verification process ensuring that they are configured and working as designed, and most ESnet services in these areas have been transitioned over to the new optical system.
Infinera has turned over the other three large rings and is working closely with ESnet staff to address a number of minor issues identified during testing.
ESnet and Infinera are collaborating on turning up, testing, and rolling services to the new network in the Chicago and Bay Area rings. The installation in these areas is more complex because it is re-using the ESnet5 fiber going into the DOE Laboratories.
“The ESnet and Infinera teams have worked really well together to overcome all of the typical challenges we expected on a network build of this scale, as well as some unexpected obstacles,” said Joe Metzger, the ESnet6 Implementation Lead.
The typical expected challenges ranged from installing thousands of perfectly clean (microscopically verified) fiber connections, to the unexpected, such as engineers driving for hours to get to a remote isolated location to install the equipment only to find the access road is drifted in with snow, or somebody changed the lock.
Most of the unexpected challenges were related to COVID-19.
“It was amazing to see how the facility providers, including the DOE Laboratories, ESnet and Infinera teams worked together to find safe, workable solutions to the COVID-19-related access constraints that we encountered during the installation,” said Metzger.
The team expects the optical system build to be fully accepted and all services transitioned over to it by Oct. 1, completing what they are calling ESnet5.5, the first major step in the transition from ESnet5 to ESnet6.
To get to this point, ESnet’s network engineers needed extensive, hands-on training on the new Infinera equipment and built a specialized test lab at Berkeley Lab. To do this, a test lab was built at Berkeley Lab to provide hands-on training. Engineers take a weeklong session learning how to configure, operate, and troubleshoot the equipment deployed in the field.
The next major step will be the installation of new routers for the packet layer, which is expected to begin in early 2021, Mace said.
And of course, this is all being carried out while ESnet keeps its production network and services in regular operation and with the undercurrent of stress from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve got to keep the network running,” Mace said. “And we are hiring additional network engineers, software engineers and technical project managers.”
ESnet is supported by DOE’s Office of Science.
Written by Jon Bashor
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