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July 25, 2011

New Hope for Dark Fiber

Nicole Hemsoth

As we progress further into the era of web-based everything, there can be no denying that the networks supporting this explosion of networked interaction will be due for an innovative revamp.

This is where the Internet2 initiative enters the picture. The Internet2 initiative is a gathering of minds dedicated to advancing networking applications and technologies. The consortium is working with the Energy Sciences Network (ESNet), which provides data connections for universities and institutions, to develop experiments on top of dormant networking resources collectively called “dark fiber.”

While it could be several years before the fruits of their networking research extends to the masses, the teams are working on two prototype networks, including one that promises data transfer rates in the 100 gigabit per second range. To put that in context, Google is one of the companies on the cutting edge of this speedy network system with its announcement of building a 1 gigabit per second network for one of its communities.

As Robert Vietzke, Internet2’s director of network services told Technology Review, “When you want to do something disruptive, when you want to try something really radical, you can’t do that on a network that people are trying to actually use. At the same time, it’s useful to test these ideas on real network infrastructure.”

Vietzke says that in the past this kind of research required network researchers to buy spools of fiber, install them in a lab setting, and try with all their might to create the same conditions a national network would face. Dark fiber eliminates these purchases and difficulties simulating mega-networks by allowing them to use a large scale network with real traffic.

Dark fiber refers to a rather extensive network of fiber that is laying unused, much of which had been purchased following the dot-com bubble burst for next to nothing. Internet2 and ESNet have leased this fiber for the next 20 years to work on their 100 gigabit per second network, which is a separate network that is left dark and open to whatever equipment and protocols researchers want to bring to it.

Full story at Technology Review