Tomorrow’s Internet: 1000 times faster

October 25, 2010

Researchers with the Terabit Optical Ethernet Center (TOEC) at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) are aiming for 1 Terabit Ethernet over optical fiber — 1 trillion bits per second — by 2015 and 100 Terabit Ethernet by 2020. Partnering with TOEC as founding industry affiliates are Google Inc., Verizon, Intel, Agilent Technologiesand Rockwell Collins Inc.

Ethernet is constantly evolving, but soon — in as little as five years, according to some estimates — it won’t be able to keep up with the speed and bandwidth required for applications like video and cloud computing, and distributed data storage. “Based on current traffic growth, it’s clear that 1 Terabit per second trunks will be needed in the near future,” says Stuart Elby, Vice President of Network Architecture for Verizon.

Current Ethernet technologies can’t be pushed much past 100 Gigabits per second — the speed that’s beginning to be implemented now — mainly because of the amount of power needed to run and cool the required systems, says Daniel Blumenthal, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UCSB and Director of TOEC. Large data centers can consume as much power as a small city. New generations of Ethernet need to be much more energy-efficient and cost-effective, or the power problem will limit Ethernet development, crippling the growth of key U.S. industries and technologies.

“Our goal,” Blumenthal says, “is to make energy-saving technologies that will allow applications and the underlying networks to continue to scale as needed. You could think of it as greening future networks, and the systems that rely on those networks.”

To achieve that, and drive Ethernet toward 100 Terabits per second, fundamental improvements in the underlying technologies will be required, he adds. “We’re going to need dramatic breakthroughs across multiple disciplines, not only in the core Ethernet technologies but in Ethernet-based networking and in the engineering and measurement systems used to develop and test these new technologies.”

Research at TOEC will build on UCSB’s world-leading expertise in materials, advanced electronics, photonic integrated circuit technology, silicon photonics and high-speed integrated optical and electronic circuits, and in bridging these new technologies with real networking systems. Blumenthal says new low-cost, energy-efficient optical technologies that leverage the techniques now used in semiconductor manufacturing will be the foundation for the Ethernet of the future.

“Our strategy of using silicon photonics to create low-cost, integrated, Terabit-per-second devices,” says Paniccia of Intel, “fits perfectly with TOEC’s charter for energy-efficient high-speed Ethernet.”

Adapted from materials provided by the University of California, Santa Barbara