The fastest data in the world

Comment on the photo, Mission accomplished for Edwin Verheul (left) and Joachim Opdenacker

  • author, Chris Baraniuk
  • Role, Technology Reporter

When it comes to IT updates, it’s been quite a nerve-wracking affair.

In February, inside a warehouse at CERN, the Swiss headquarters of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)—the world’s largest scientific experiment—two network engineers held their breath and then pressed a button.

Suddenly, text on a black background appeared on the screen in front of them. It had worked. “It was very exciting,” recalls Joachim Opdenacker of SURF, a Dutch IT association that works for educational and research institutions. “It was very cool.”

He and his colleague Edwin Verheul have just established a new data link between the LHC in Switzerland and data storage sites in the Netherlands.

A data link that can reach speeds of up to 800 gigabits per second (Gbps) – or more than 11,000 times Average home broadband speed in the UKThe idea is to improve scientists’ access to the results of LHC experiments.

A subsequent test in March using special equipment borrowed from Nokia proved that the required speeds could be achieved.

“The transceiver that Nokia uses is like a celebrity device,” says Mr Verheul, explaining how the equipment is reserved for use in different locations in advance. “We had a limited time to do the tests. If you had to postpone it for a week, the transceiver would disappear.”

Image source, Nokia and Surf

Comment on the photo, After its upgrade, the Large Hadron Collider will produce five times the amount of data.

In labs around the world, networking experts are creating fibre-optic systems that can transmit data even faster. These systems have reached extraordinary speeds of several petabytes per second, or 300 million times the average home broadband connection in the UK.

This speed is so immense that it’s hard to imagine how people will use such bandwidth in the future. But engineers aren’t wasting time proving that it’s possible. They just want to move faster.

The double-stranded cable (with the cores sending and receiving) from CERN to the data centers in the Netherlands is just under 1,650 kilometers (1,025 miles) long, running from Geneva to Paris, then Brussels and finally Amsterdam. Part of the challenge in reaching 800 gigabits per second was sending the light pulses over such a long distance. “Because of the distance, the energy levels of that light are reduced, so you have to amplify it at different locations,” Mr Opdenacker explains.

Every time a tiny subatomic particle collides with another particle during experiments at the LHC, the impact generates staggering amounts of data – About one petabyte per secondThat’s enough to fill 220,000 DVDs.

The LHC has been reduced in size for storage and study, but it still requires large amounts of bandwidth. Additionally, with an upgrade scheduled for 2029, the LHC expects to produce up to More scientific data than today.

But the time when 800 gigabits per second seems slow may not be far off. In November, a team of researchers in Japan broke the world data speed record when they reached a staggering 22.9 petabits per second. That’s enough speed to stream Netflix to every person on Earth, and then a few billion more, says Chigeo Okonkwo of Eindhoven University of Technology, who was involved in the work.

In this case, a massive stream of semi-random data was transmitted over 13 kilometers of coiled fiber optic cable in a laboratory setting. The integrity of the data is analyzed after transmission to ensure it was transmitted at the reported speed without too many errors accumulating, Dr. Okonkwo explains.

He also adds that the system he and his colleagues used relies on multiple cores — a total of 19 cores inside a single fiber cable. This is a new type of cable, unlike the standard cables that connect many people’s homes to the internet.

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But digging up and replacing old optical fibres is expensive. Vladek Vorciak of Aston University in the UK sees a benefit in extending their lifespan. He and his colleagues recently achieved speeds of around 402 terabits per second over a 50-kilometre fibre using just a single core. That’s around 5.7 million times faster than the average home broadband connection in the UK.

To achieve this, they use alternative forms of electronic equipment that send and receive signals over fiber optic cables, but such a system may be easier to install than replacing thousands of kilometers of cable itself.

But reliability may be more important than speed in some applications. “For remote robotic surgery over 3,000 miles … you don’t want any scenario where the network goes down,” Mr. Kreiner says.

Training AI will increasingly require transferring huge data sets, Dr. Okonkwo adds, and the faster this can be done, the better.

Bandwidth tends to find applications as soon as it becomes available, says Ian Phillips, who works alongside Professor Forisiak: “Humanity finds a way to consume it.”

Image source, Telegraphic geography

Comment on the photo, Demand for bandwidth is growing at an astonishing rate, says Lynn Burdett.

Although several petabytes per second is far beyond what web users need today, it’s astonishing how fast demand for bandwidth is growing — currently, by about 30% year-over-year on transatlantic fiber-optic cables, says Lynn Burdett, a research analyst at TeleGeography, a telecoms market research firm.

She points out that content delivery – social media, cloud services, video streaming – consumes much more bandwidth than before: “In the early 2000s, it used to take up about 15% of international bandwidth. Now it’s about three-quarters, 75%. It’s really huge.”

Most home users are now able to access speeds of up to a gigabit per second, says Andrew Kernahan, head of public affairs at the Internet Service Providers Association.

But only about a third of broadband customers subscribe to such technology, and Kernahan says there is currently no “premium application” that really requires it. That could change as internet TV consumption increases, for example.

“There is definitely a challenge in getting the message out and making people more aware of what they can do with infrastructure,” he says.

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