PhotoStill waiting for your Facebook page to open?  You must be on one of those old slow networks -- you know, like the Internet.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today takes the wraps off a new data network that is to the existing Internet as plain old Elmer's glue is to the Super Super Glue immortalized by Danny DeVito in "Matilda."

The new network is at least ten times faster than commercial Internet providers. It connects thousands of researchers using three of the world’s top supercomputing centers in California, Illinois and Tennessee. 

The new network is being officially turned on today in Seattle at the  opening of SC11, the premier international conference on high performance computing, networking, storage and analysis.

“With the establishment of this high speed network, the United States is once again blazing a path for the future of Internet innovations,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “Initially, this breakthrough will make sharing information between our labs much more efficient and pave the way for new discoveries, but it also holds the potential to change and improve our lives much like the original commercialization of the Internet did in the mid-90s.”

The project, known as the Advanced Networking Initiative (ANI), was funded with $62 million from the 2009 economic stimulus law and is intended for research use, but could lead to widespread commercial use of similar technology.

100 Gbps

The network now delivers data at 100 Gigabits per second (Gbps), making it one of the fastest systems in the world. It is the first step in the nationwide upgrade to the DOE’s existing Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) and will serve as a pilot for future deployment of 100 Gbps Ethernet in research and commercial networks.

The initiative plans to accelerate by several years the commercialization of 100 Gbps networking technologies and uses new optical technology to reduce the number of routers used, as well as the associated equipment and maintenance costs.

The World Wide Web has its origins with high-energy physicists at CERN who needed a better, faster way to share their data. Physicists in the United States, including Energy Department laboratories like Fermilab and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, were also among the earliest pioneers.

If this network drives innovation that finds its way into widespread commercial use, it will be an example of history repeating itself.  The need to share scientific data and linking computer networks together will likely drive the next generation of high speed Internet connection technology.

What's 100 Gbps?

While the technology is advancing rapidly, the fastest commercial Internet providers use fiberoptic cables that enable a network to deliver about 10 gigabits per second. But that capacity must be split up among many consumers in the area, so a residential consumer might actually experience high speed Internet service in the range of 10 megabits per second.

A megabit is one thousandth of a gigabit, so that's .01 gbps.

In some areas, consumers on a more expensive service plan might get roughly .05 gbps. A 3G cell phone provides roughly 2Mbps for downloading data.  A 100 Gbps network connection is therefore able to receive data about 50,000 times faster than your iPhone.

Here's another way to look at it: In the roughly one hour it takes a typical home Internet connection to download an HD movie, the Department's network could download, for example, 20 years of data from the Hubble space telescope.

At that speed, even Facebook pages might actually render in just a few seconds.


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