The Netherlands is proud of its knowledge economy, and wishes to continue playing a leading role in the field of education, research and innovation. Affordable, fast international network connections are becoming ever more important for research purposes. After all, vast amounts of data are increasingly required to be received and processed. SURFnet is an innovator in the field of international fibre-optic technology, or cross-border fibres (CBFs). We collaborate with both European and other partners to ensure that international connectivity remains state-of-the-art.
Ultra-fast connection between Amsterdam and the Geneva particle accelerator
One example is the CBF to Geneva, the location of the Large Hadron Collider operated by CERN. CERN’s main task is to collect the data; it is much less concerned with managing connections to those who receive it. It is for this reason that SURFnet set up an innovative CBF system (around five years ago now) between Amsterdam and Geneva. This ultra-fast connection is used to distribute the data from the particle accelerator within Europe, and to the rest of the world via the Netherlight optical exchange. This innovative data-distribution solution was realised in conjunction with CERN.
In the meantime, many new network technologies have been tested and put into production on the CBF system. Although the connections initially only had a capacity of 40 Gbit/s, several 100-Gbit connections have since been added. But this is not the end, as in addition to greater bandwidth, SURFnet also wishes to make more efficient use of the existing fibre-optic connections. To achieve this, we will be using Alien Waves technology.
CBF innovation: Alien Waves, sharing wavelengths with other parties
Just like on its national connections, SURFnet uses multiple wavelengths to communicate via CBFs. Each wavelength is essentially a different colour of light, which enables the system to distinguish them all from one another. Each wavelength (i.e. colour) has a transport capacity of up to 100 Gbit/s, and up to 88 wavelengths can be used on each fibre.
Because 88 wavelengths is more than enough for SURFnet, we now also allow ‘foreign’ wavelengths (from the networks of partner research institutions) to access our CBFs. These foreign wavelengths are called Alien Waves, and fibre-optic hardware is being installed to allow the ‘colours’ of other networks to use the SURFnet fibres.
Lower data-transport threshold
The major advantage to using Alien Waves instead of wavelengths on separate fibre-optic connections is the fact that the fibre is being shared, increasing efficiency. And the more efficient a connection is, the lower the threshold is for use by research institutions. Alien Waves therefore lowers the threshold for data transport for education and research institutions – the most important reason for continuing innovation in the field.
This post was written by SURFnet Product Manager Alexander van den Hil, and SURFnet Optical Network Architect Rob Smets.