European research network gets bandwidth boost

GEANT, a backbone network for Europe's research and education community, has received 186 million euros (£168m) in new funding that will, among other enhancements, add support for 40Gbps technology.

The new funding, put up by GEANT users and the European Commission, was announced this week at a conference in Stockholm. The money will be used to upgrade the capacity in the network and research into new network technologies, according to Dai Davies, general manger at DANTE, which builds and operates the GEANT network.

Most parts of the network are based on DWDM (Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing), and the upgrade will add support for 40Gbps per wavelength using equipment from Alcatel-Lucent. Today, the network supports 10Gbps. DWDM can send several separate data connections over a single fibre using different wavelengths of light.

The whole network should be upgraded in 12 to 18 months, according to Davies. Today, the GEANT network supports 40Gbps on two routes: Milan to Geneva and Geneva to Frankfurt.

However, upgrading the network hasn't been as smooth as DANTE had hoped. The main problem is knowing what do you do when the network fails, including understanding why and what has failed, what to do about it and if it is possible to get a hold of spare parts, according to Davies.

Vendors typically implement the technology first and worry about manageability later, according to Davies. More emphasis on operational aspects and less on the performance would be a step in the right direction, he said.

How many wavelengths GEANT will be able to support also remains to be seen. Theoretically the network should be able to handle 40 wavelengths at 40Gbps each, but DANTE isn't sure that will be possible, according to Davies.

"We ought to be able to do 40 wavelengths, but does the technology really do what is says it is going to do?" questioned Davies.

However, being an early adopter is something DANTE is comfortable with.

"I think our suppliers will learn from our experience... we have got the time and the interest to contribute skilled personnel to help resolve these issues," said Davies.

Networking isn't just about higher speeds. DANTE is researching support for bandwidth on demand. For it to work the ability to choose when you want more bandwidth has to be supported across several different networks, which is extremely difficult to achieve, according to Davies.

DANTE is also looking at better ways to measure performance from the users point of view. A network connection that goes via GÉANT travels across multiple different networks. The goal is to develop tools that can look across the whole chain, and pinpoint where something has gone wrong, according to Davies.

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