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Evolution of Research and Education Networks

headshot of Jeff Babbitt

August 3, 2023
By Jeff Babbitt
Sr. Manager Partner Marketing

Imagine if Edison had an optical transport network

Research teams and organizations have evolved immeasurably since the early stages of the industrial revolution, with modern research networks highlighting the importance of optical transport networks. We all have the image of an inventor tinkering in his garage on a revolutionary new invention, and often picture something akin to Thomas Edison’s lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey, circa 1876. Edison invented the electric bulb to light your living room, and now we use light to transmit terabits of data per second between research facilities over optical fiber.

Source: Thomas Edison's Places of Invention | Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation (si.edu)

Source: Thomas Edison’s Places of Invention | Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation (si.edu)

Though nostalgic and occasionally seen in modern companies, such as HP or Apple having a garage-lab heritage, that view is far from the realities of most modern research organizations. Modern research projects are distributed and rely upon virtualization and simulation to test ideas and hypotheses. As a result, modern research and education (R&E) activities have grown from isolated centers of creativity to large, connected networks of research institutions. To meet the needs of this collaborative research, these research consortiums have deployed optical transport networks to connect universities and other research sites. Additionally, virtualization and simulation have increased the transmission capacity demands among these research sites. As an example, Internet2 is a dedicated nationwide high-speed optical transport system in the United States that connects universities and research organizations. Expecting considerable bandwidth growth, Internet2 is currently forecasting 20-40% yearly traffic volume increases.

Another really good example is the Louisiana Optical Network Infrastructure project, or LONI. LONI is a state-of-the-art fiber optic network with more than 1600 km of backbone fiber that runs throughout Louisiana, connecting Louisiana research universities to one another as well as to Internet2 and to a few additional links into neighboring states.

Louisiana Optical Network Infrastructure (LONI) Map

Having been involved in numerous R&E networks, including LONI, the top three requirements we continue to see include:

  • Industry-leading performance and economics – R&E networks’ high bandwidth requirements mean they need to get the best capacity out of the network, with the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) and often optimization for tight space and power constraints
  • Open networking architecture – Flexibility for the future requires an open line system (OLS) running Infinera wavelengths today, but with the option to adapt to future demand
  • Ease of operation – As this is an internal research network, easy installation and management is critical to helping the team manage the network efficiently

Like most R&E networks, LONI’s main priority was providing the maximum bandwidth on each route at an economical price, as well as getting a network that would be highly scalable and future proofed. The Infinera solution is highly programmable, with a wide choice of configurations. Infinera’s disaggregated solution minimized footprint and power. “A main priority was maximizing the bandwidth on each link of the network. The Infinera solution has a wider array of performance options, thus economically enabling higher bandwidth on the network than the competition. This competitive differentiator contributed to our selection of Infinera.” – Lonnie Leger, Executive Director, LONI

The concept of an open optical architecture resonated well with LONI, giving the option of separation between Layer 0 and Layer 1 components. An open line system design enables the optical network to be in place for many years to come. Importantly, the platform can easily adapt to new transponder technology, allowing LONI’s network to always leverage the latest technology for maximum performance. The flexibility of the XTM open line system with flexible-grid capabilities supports wavelength speeds of up to 600G today via a GX G30 Series transponder and even higher capacities in the future. With the Infinera solution, LONI has an OLS running Infinera wavelengths today, but with the flexibility to accommodate new transponder technology, whether from Infinera or a third-party, in the future as demands require and technology evolves.

As an R&E network, LONI has differing operational procedures than a regular service provider. Even though this network exceeds the scale and capacity of many communication service providers, being able to quickly and easily bring up services and monitor the network contributes to a better research environment. This drives the need for comprehensive end-to-end management that is easy to use.

With this new network, Louisiana is well equipped to perform advanced collaborative fundamental research with reliable, dedicated, high-capacity connectivity services. The future looks promising for Louisiana research institutions with maximum performance delivered by Infinera’s technology. We think Thomas Edison would be quite impressed with the facilities available to modern researchers!

If you are interested in understanding more about this project, learn more by reviewing the LONI case study.