CA *net gets boost

Insatiable demand for broader bandwidth is breaking the boundaries of Canada’s advanced CA*net4 Internet autobahn. As a result, the group that runs CA*net4 is boosting its bandwidth. CA*net4 will offer maximum network bandwidth of 50Gbps before the end of fall.

Canadian Advanced Networks for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education, Inc. (CANARIE), which hosts CA*net4, will more than double its available bandwidth through extended partnerships with Telus Corp. and Rogers Telecom Inc.

Rogers Telecom will make available a 10Gbps wavelength that will extend connections to more universities and colleges, federal and provincial research laboratories, hospitals and private sector research facilities. In some cases, new fibre is being laid.

Howard Stanley, government solutions manager for Rogers Telecom, said new dark fibre would be necessary to reach the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics at both Victoria and Penticton in British Columbia.

“We also expect to lay more fibre for Environment Canada,” said Stanley. “They’re planning a grid system of super computers for research in weather patterns, and each computer will require dedicated lightpaths to the others.

“For the most part, CANARIE will be lighting the dark fibre facilities already in place.”

Two additional wavelengths of 10Gbps each will be provided by Telus, said Andrew Bjerring, CANARIE president and CEO, boosting the three wavelengths already supplied by Telus, Rogers and Big Pipe Inc., a division of Shaw Communications Inc.

And the clamour for CA*net4 lightpaths is already spiralling beyond 50Gbps. “Demand is skyrocketing,” said Bill St. Arnaud, senior director, advanced networks, who confirmed that CANARIE is still seeking additional wavelengths.

“General IP [Internet] traffic is flat or declining. The demand is for [point-to-point] lightpaths which users can control and manage themselves,” said St. Arnaud. St. Arnaud believes there’s a parallel with the evolution of computing.

“Back in the 60s, computers were big mainframe machines, managed centrally, and users were charged by CPU minute and memory usage.

“But starting in the 70s people could buy their own dedicated mini-computer. The user was liberated to do anything they wanted. This was when all the great applications were developed, which ultimately culminated in the PC as we know it today.

“Telecommunications today is like computing was in the 60s — big, centrally managed telcos that charge users by the minute or megabit of bandwidth,” said St. Arnaud.

“But with networks like CA*net4, the user can purchase bandwidth for a one-time cost, and they have almost complete control of their portion of the network. They can change the topology, the bandwidth, etc., at any time.”

The users configure the fibre optic network with CANARIE-developed software called UCLP (user-controlled lightpath).

Among the bigger users are carriers like Nortel Networks Corp. in Ottawa, which connects to the Netherlands with CA*net4 to collaborate on advanced technologies, and McGill University in Montreal, which uses high-definition video and audio in various distance education and research projects.

“It’s not just the sheer volume of data, either, that is driving this demand for bandwidth,” said Bjerring.

“Databases are getting so huge that the information is tripling and quadrupling in size. The users in research and development organisations communicate with remote devices; they’re working interactively and over vast distances.

“There’s an insatiable demand in education and research for dedicated point-to-point high-bandwidth access, especially by institutions that are running local visualization or simulation systems.”

At McGill University, explains John Roston, director of instructional multimedia services, high-quality video and audio are used in a range of educational programs. McGill orders up to 10Gbps bandwidth for long-term use from CANARIE for collaborative distance learning.

“We’re using high-definition video, uncompressed, that requires 1.5Gbps per stream. And typically we’re doing multi-streaming over three channels,” said Roston.

“We can’t afford to compress the files because there can be absolutely no delay in the audio and visual feedback,” he explained. Latency is a big factor for us.”

One example is music lessons by violinist Pinchas Zukerman, who will listen and watch his students at McGill from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

“Pinchas needs high quality in real time. He needs to see how tightly his student’s violin bow is adjusted and of course the audio has to be crystal clear.

“In fact, we’ve even been able to send percussion vibrations from one section of an orchestra across the network and then have other members of the orchestra, on the other end of the network, actually feel those vibrations.”

Roston said telesurgery was another advanced application of the high bandwidth, where a qualified surgeon was coached live over the network, via real-time, high-definition video, by an expert in a particular surgical field.

“It’s a highly interactive environment,” said Roston, “with absolutely no room for any latency and delay.”

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