One Word: Photonics

UCSB Speeding Up Internet

UCSB has a habit of changing the world. This time they’re changing the Internet, again.

Professors Daniel Blumenthal, John Bowers, Nadir Dagli, and other researchers at UCSB’s Terabit Optical Ethernet Center (TOEC) hope to create and implement one-terabit (one trillion bits per second; trillion as in one million million) Ethernet over optical fiber by 2015, and hundred-terabit Ethernet by 2020. That’s about a thousand times faster than today’s most advanced networks, according to the university.

This Internet generation has seen an explosion of data-storage and transmitting developments in the forms of cloud-computing, on-line video gaming, and in the health services industries—think of doctors collaborating worldwide online trying to cure major diseases. Researchers like Blumenthal foresee serious problems with the current infrastructure and information transmitting capacities. Simply said, the future of online data traffic cannot be sustained with the current technology. UCSB and other key players are attempting make sure the Internet’s infrastructure can handle the enormity of future online traffic.

So how is this going to happen? One word: photonics. Instead of traditional radio frequency data-transmission, the team is designing and fabricating light-based computing devices. This effort is centered at UCSB, but with affiliates all over the world, including DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and corporations like Google, Verizon, Intel, Agilent Technologies, and Rockwell Collins, as well as other top universities.

To put this into the perspective of daily life, today’s fastest laptop computers can only be pushed to between one and five megabits per second (a megabit is a million bits). That allows you to watch one to four YouTube videos at once. The TOEC, part of the university’s Institute for Energy Efficiency, plans to make Ethernet the standard for every aspect of electronic traffic. That means much greater speed and efficiency and, Blumenthal noted, “getting rid of connections like HDMI cables and the like.”

The lab, the only one in the world like it, also has as one of its goals the “greening” of this entire industry and infrastructure, Blumenthal explained. “We must be acutely aware of our resources and all of the different approaches to the problems at hand,” he said.

It presently takes nearly the same amount of energy to support large data-storage server centers, such as the servers that support websites like Facebook, as it takes to power some small cities. Blumenthal foresees the work being done at UCSB, being integrated with our infrastructure fairly seamlessly if Ethernet does become the standard.

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