Sandia Lab lays claim to world’s largest fiber optic local area network

$15 million fiber optic network project could save $20 million over five years through energy and equipment savings

Sandia National Laboratories said today it has completed over 90% of what it calls the largest fiber optical local area network in the world.

According to Sandia the lab began looking at fiber optics because of its promise of higher bandwidth - greater communication speed - at longer distances. The lab started converting from copper in the 1980s, first installing fiber optics in a single building and bumping that facility to megabit speeds. "Today we're way past that. We're at 10 gigabit-type rates and looking hard at 100," said Steve Gossage, a senior engineer at Sandia National Laboratories in a statement.

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Sandia said it completed a formal network plan in late 2008 and sought competitive bids the following year. Sandia picked Tellabs as the equipment vendor for the network, and Gossage and his colleagues simultaneously began deploy the fiber infrastructure and set up a test lab to validate the performance of configurations for the equipment and various network functions. The technology began moving to desktops in 2011, and by the end of 2012, Sandia had converted more than 90% of bulky copper cable to a fiber optics LAN, the lab stated.

Some facts about the network from Sandia:  

  • The network ties together 265 buildings.
  • It has 13,000 computer network ports.
  • The network supports 10G bit/sec rates and plans are to take it to 100G bit/sec.
  • The only copper wire for most of the network today is a connection from the wall to the desktop. Everything behind the wall is fiber.
  • A trial is under way for voice-over-fiber - putting data and voice in one system rather than the two Sandia uses today. The Gigabit Passive Optical Network standard the lab works with can dedicate part of the bandwidth and give priority to selected traffic such as voice. So calls would go through even with heavy competition from data.
  • Sandia will spend about $15 million on the project which by the end of 2012, had replaced 90% of bulky copper cable to a fiber optics LAN.
  • Sandia is recycling copper as it's replaced, which keeps tons of valuable material out of a landfill. The estimated $80,000 for the copper will offset some of the fiber optics cost.
  • The network will save an estimated $20 million over five years through energy and other savings and not having to buy replacement equipment.
  • Sandia expects to reduce energy costs by 65% once the network is fully operational.

"Where a conventional LAN serving 900 customers requires a space the size of three double ovens, an optical network serving 8,000 requires a microwave oven-sized space. Where copper cable required Sandia to maintain and manage 600 separate switches in the field, optical LAN allows it to operate a data center in one building and simple, standard ports to offices. Because fiber optics reaches beyond the 100-meter radius that once was the standard from a wiring closet to a desktop, remote areas such as the National Solar Thermal Test Facility have high-speed communications for the first time," the lab stated.

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