Canadians smash data speed record

A Canada-Switzerland achievement in fast, fat and far-reaching file transfers could change the way companies consider storage area networks (SANs), according to the people behind the feat.

The Tri-University Meson Factory (TRIUMF), a Vancouver-based national laboratory studying nuclear physics, in October announced success in sending a terabyte of data overseas in record time.

The group sent the info through a dedicated lightpath to an optical network operated by CERN (the European organization for nuclear research) in Geneva, Switzerland some 12,000 km away. Corrie Kost, TRIUMF’s project leader, said the process took approximately four hours.

“With the best tools traditionally available, it would have taken seven to 10 times longer,” he said.

The previous data transfer record, set by an U.S.-Netherlands crew, shot info at speeds in excess of 600Mbps from Fairbanks, Alaska to Amsterdam. TRIUMF achieved speeds greater that 1Gbps, according to those involved.

Kost and his TRIUMF colleague Steve McDonald worked alongside two CERN scientists, but that’s just the tip of the team, he said.

“The four of us, the core team, we were just the pilots. There’s a whole team behind you laying down the infrastructure,” including Vancouver’s BCNet and Ottawa’s Canarie Inc.

Bill St. Arnaud, senior director, network projects with Canarie, said the achievement has as much to do with new applications as it does with blistering speed.

“The first immediate application will be storage area networks, where the network spans continents and you have huge file transfers around the world,” he said. “As well, further down the road if you want to transfer DVDs to the home – 5GB files or larger – a similar technology would be required even in the last mile.”

When should we expect to see these developments?

“I think you’ll see this in the storage area network fairly soon, within a year or two. We are working with a number of companies,” said St. Arnaud.

Montague River Networks Inc. in Courtice, Ont. is one of those firms, although in this company’s case, the aim is to improve operational support systems (OSS) rather than SANs.

According to David Daly, Montague’s president, the peer-to-peer, lightpath technology TRIUMF used could find a role in network management.

Before starting Montague, “I was doing OSS for large service providers,” he said. “The biggest problem with it was the cost of the systems, the cost of integration and the extensive time to market.…These things are $100 million projects, but they take forever to roll out.”

The peer-to-peer technology exhibited in TRIUMF’s project, as well as Canarie’s own big-bandwidth network (CA*Net 4) should clean up “this whole monolithic $100 million mess,” Daly said.

St. Arnaud said high-tech vendors played big roles in TRIUMF’s project. Intel Corp. provided pre-market 10-gigabit Ethernet cards for the servers. Cisco Systems Inc. offered up its ONS 15454 optical transport platform. Extreme Networks Inc. forked over a 10-gigabit switch and MRV Communications Inc. provided the course wavelength division multiplexing (CWDM) equipment.

The data – information from a project called Atlas, designed to create rare particles for nuclear testing – started at TRIUMF’s Intel-enhanced server. The server connected to the Extreme switch and the CWDM equipment, St. Arnaud said.

The signal hooked up with Vancouver’s local loop and Canarie’s downtown point of presence where the Cisco box sits. At this cross connect the lightpath zoomed across Canada and slipped south to Chicago, where it cranked hard left, headed under water and popped up in Amsterdam – thence on to Geneva and CERN’s optical network.

The project employed a number of operating system bypass protocols, such as Indiana University’s “Tsunami,” required to break the bottleneck at the server, St. Arnaud said.

However, the team couldn’t overcome all barriers.

“The Dutch link from Chicago to Amsterdam couldn’t support 10 gigabits during the trial, so we were throttled down at that point,” St. Arnaud said. The transfer therefore peaked at just over 1Gbps rather than the 10Gbps you’d expect from 10-gig cards and switches.

Kost said TRIUMF’s achievement could help the Atlas project when it gets going in 2007. Atlas should pump out a petabyte of data a year – an easy load for lightpath technology.

“We didn’t come into this project with any preconceptions about limitations,” he said. “We simply started fresh, with a clean slate. We grabbed the best ideas, and quickly found out the boundaries that do exist can be overcome very easily with off-the-shelf equipment.”