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Grids at the Speed of Light

Grid computing -- harnessing the unused cycles of hundreds or thousands of widely dispersed computers to crunch huge amounts of data -- is a fantastic idea for academic and enterprise use. A great example is the popular SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project.

In this grid, people all over the world commit the unused CPU cycles from their PCs to break down the masses of data parceled out from radio telescopes scanning the universe for signs of intelligent life. However, serious research or enterprise use is subject to one practical limit: the bandwidth it takes to move data over wire-based networks.

Those bandwidth barriers are falling now, thanks to the use of long-distance optical-networking technology. Shooting your data through the network at the speed of light makes doing many time-intensive tasks -- pure data manipulation; storage provisioning and retrieval; communications -- more possible than ever before. Research institutions are already making use of optical connections to share data, even across continents. The European Organization for Nuclear Research, for instance, is now establishing a connection with the University of California at San Diego that will both serve as a test project and allow some actual grid sharing.

The time to wide-scale real-world deployment of major optical networking is drawing near. For one thing, the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) is readying a worldwide test of carrier interoperability. And while the local level will still make use of Ethernet connections to Sonet and SDH fiber-optic rings to carry data, the pass-along portion of the tests will be global. This also marks the first time that major service providers, such as Verizon, AT&T, and Deutsche Telekom, have taken the lead on testing.

The advances aren't stopping there, either. True wireless interfacing using such technologies as IP over wavelength is down the road, as well. It shouldn't be long before optical networking takes grid computing out of the labs and research facilities and into the corporate enterprise.

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