SCD's Marla Meehl and Peter O'Neil point out UCAR's
location on the National LambdaRail fiberoptic network.
This map shows the footprint of the National LambdaRail,
a new high-speed, fiber-optic network that will promote research in
science and networking.
T he hard work of Marla Meehl,
manager of SCD's Network Engineering and Telecommunications Section,
and Peter O'Neil (NETS), a NETS senior engineer, paid off in June 2004
when UCAR joined the National LambdaRail (NLR) on behalf of the Front
Range GigaPop (FRGP).
NLR is a consortium of leading U.S. research universities and private-sector
technology companies deploying a nationwide networking infrastructure,
while the FRGP is a consortium of universities, nonprofit corporations,
and government agencies that share Wide Area Network services along
the Colorado Front Range, Wyoming, and Utah.
NLR is a new fiber-optic network that will promote research in science
and networking. Scientists will be able to link models and move data
faster and more reliably and over dedicated lines, while network engineers
will be able to conduct experiments and test improvements to the system
without disrupting traffic.
"The National LambdaRail facility will be a vitally important
resource for the atmospheric sciences community," Marla says.
"It will enable scientific discovery on many fronts. And those
of us in networking are excited because it allows us to have a dedicated
network for network research, which is unheard of today."
Multiple networks for the price of one
LambdaRail is so called because lambda is the symbol for wavelength.
Light paths come in different wavelengths, and with NLR's multiplexing
switch technology, many wavelengths of light can be sent over one fiberoptic
path. Each wavelength carries message packets at a rate of ten gigabits
per second. "You can get 32 individual, ten-gigabit networks for
the price of one pair of fiber, which is a tremendous repayment for
a single investment," Marla says. (Four ten-Gbps networks will
initially be active on NLR.)
Since different wavelengths can be dedicated to different production
and experimental uses, it's easy, for instance, to set up a network
for a short-term field project. The infrastructure is already there;
it's a relatively simple task to assign a wavelength to that project.
This eliminates the considerable effort of installing, activating,
and then tearing down a traditional network infrastructure.
"That's what we're excited about," Marla says. "This
is the future of networking; it is changing the way networks are built
and used for scientific research."
How the project started
The idea for NLR started three years ago with the Pacific Light Rail
(PLR), a fiber-optic network being built to connect the Corporation
for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) and the Pacific
Northwest GigaPop two organizations encompassing a number of
sites in California, Oregon, and Washington. Fiber-optic networks are
optimally configured in a ring, so that in the event of damage to the
fiber, traffic can be routed back around the other way. "For this
reason," Marla says, "and because Denver is well-connected
for fiber cable is often installed along railroad tracks, and
many tracks go through Denver the Pacific Light Rail asked us
if we wanted to be part of the Pacific Light Rail. We said sure."
At that same time, telecommunication companies began selling off
their assets due to economic recession, and it became much easier to
buy fiber. Accordingly, Marla observes, "The PLR folks thought,
"Why stop in Denver; let's go to Chicago and pick up Pittsburgh,'
then 'Let's go on to DC and if we're there, let's include Virginia.'
Pretty soon they were putting together a national infrastructure."
Many bumps and roadblocks
Marla and Peter championed the effort to bring UCAR and the FRGP
into the NLR. Finding the way wasn't easy, however: it took two years
of extensive negotiations to work out. "It's been a long process
with many bumps and roadblocks, many changes of direction," Marla
Part of what made it difficult is that UCAR is a government-funded
corporation and NLR is a not-for-profit corporation, so there were
numerous legal problems to solve. Tying in the FRGP added another layer
of complexity. And, since NLR is an $80 to $100 million initiative
with each member contributing at least $5 million over the next five
years, there was the matter of funding.
"All sorts of issues had to be addressed, and a good deal of money
was involved," Marla recalls. "Peter and I worked closely
with NLR, the FRGP, the University of Utah, UCAR Finance and Administration,
and others from around the country to come up with a mechanism to make
this work in tight budget years to develop a solution that was
palatable financially, practically, and legally for all of us."
These efforts included ongoing consortium meetings, board meetings,
person-to-person meetings, weekly teleconferences, private calls, and
Efforts nearly came to a standstill in September 2003 but due
to the "infinite patience, supportiveness, and tirelessness"
of team members working to bring about a solution, Marla says, a solution
was ultimately found. UCAR/FRGP formally joined NLR in June 2004.
Getting the network up and running
Installation of fiber coming into Denver from Chicago was completed
at the end of June, and most of the northern tier from the East Coast
to Chicago is already lit. The Seattle-to-Denver link should go live
by the end of August, and network traffic is scheduled to start passing
through Denver in September.
Completion of the entire NLR infrastructure with full implementation
is expected by early spring 2005.
For more information, see: