Northwestern University, Nortel launch high-speed network

December 14, 2001

Computerworld
James Cope

Amid speculation that new optical technologies could make metropolitan-area networks act like LANs on steroids, Northwestern University and Nortel Networks Corp. have fired up OMNInet, a 10 Gigabit Ethernet network connecting four sites in the Chicago area over optical fiber.

The network, which uses custom-made Nortel optical switches to direct individual wavelengths of light using tiny mirrors, is a test bed for networked applications requiring massive bandwidth. SBC Communications Inc. in San Antonio is also working with Brampton, Ontario-based Nortel and Northwestern on the project.

Joe Mambretti, director of the International Center for Advanced Internet Research, a Northwestern think tank in Evanston, Ill., and an authority on optical networking, said the network project is being driven by emerging real-world applications.

"Industrial design, 3-D modeling, medical diagnostics [and] computation sciences are all areas in which this type of network will play a role," said Mambretti.

Another incentive for the OMNInet initiative is the pervasiveness of the Ethernet network standard. "Already, you see enterprises deploying Gigabit Ethernet, and there's growth for Gigabit Ethernet services in metro areas," Mambretti said. "So, it's only natural to think about the next extension of this trend, 10 Gigabit Ethernet."

Craig G. Andersen, enterprise network manager at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, Texas, agreed with Mambretti that some applications beg for bandwidth and that 10 Gigabit Ethernet, coupled with optical switching technologies, is well positioned to deliver it.

"In effect, scaling [from Gigabit Ethernet to 10 Gigabit Ethernet] allows for more of everything," Andersen said. "It's an infrastructure enabler that will allow many users to work with many streams and vast amounts of information."

Although Mambretti described OMNInet as a trial service, he said the commercial viability of this type of network could be less than a year away. It could be even sooner at Lockheed Martin.

Andersen said Lockheed Martin will begin testing a 10 Gigabit Ethernet early next year. If things pan out, it will likely be put to work in one of Lockheed's aircraft production networks. "It's an area where fiber is scarce and basically where multiple Gigabit Ethernet connections cannot do the job," he said.

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Last Updated: 18 February 2010