Breaking the speed limit of supercomputing: Goddard computer network engineers demonstrate the data superhighway of the future
In a large, loud computer equipment room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, amidst the humming of fans and trilling of transistors, is a gadget about the size of a small paperback. Network engineers call them “pluggables.” These devices can pump data into a fiber optic line at rates up to 100 gigabits per second (100 Gbps).
That’s “gigabit” as in “a billion bits.” It is 10,000 times faster than a typical broadband cable modem connection, which operates at a mere 10 million bits per second, or 10 Mbps. 100 Gbps is fast enough to transfer a 25 Gb Blu-ray (HD) movie over the Internet in 2 seconds flat.
A data superhighway as speedy as this one doesn’t come cheap. The pluggable across the hall costs nearly as much as a luxury sports car. It converts electronic signals into pulses of laser light that travel down fiber optic wires and zip out onto the Internet at near-light speed.
A team of Goddard network engineers borrowed two of the super-fast 100 Gbps pluggables in preparation for a major technology demonstration in Seattle at the Supercomputing 2011 (SC11) conference, November 12-18. The demo gave the high-performance computing world a glimpse of how the Internet will be used in the future to conduct research involving extraordinarily large transfers of data.