A group of MIT researchers led by Vincent Chan, the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has demonstrated a new way of organizing optical networks that, in most cases, would eliminate converting optical signals to electrical ones for processing, then convert them back for transmission. As a result, it could make the Internet 100 or even 1,000 times faster while actually reducing the amount of energy it consumes.
For certain wavelengths of light, routers along that path would accept signals coming in from only one direction and send them off in only one direction. Since there’s no possibility of signals arriving from multiple directions, there’s never a need to store them in memory.
In a flow-switching network, the allotment of bandwidth would change constantly. As traffic between New York and Los Angeles increased, new, dedicated wavelengths would be recruited to handle it; as the traffic tailed off, the wavelengths would be relinquished. Chan and his colleagues have developed network management protocols that can perform these reallocations in a matter of seconds
The conclusion is that flow switching can easily increase the data rates of optical networks 100-fold and possibly 1,000-fold, with further improvements of the network management scheme. Their recent work has focused on the power savings that flow switching offers: In most applications of information technology, power can be traded for speed and vice versa, but the researchers are trying to quantify that relationship. Among other things, they’ve shown that even with a 100-fold increase in data rates, flow switching could still reduce the Internet’s power consumption.
Ori Gerstel, a principal engineer at Cisco Systems, the largest manufacturer of network routing equipment, says that several other techniques for increasing the data rate of optical networks, with names like burst switching and optical packet switching, have been proposed, but that flow switching is “much more practical.” The chief obstacle to its adoption, he says, isn’t technical but economic. Implementing Chan’s scheme would mean replacing existing Internet routers with new ones that don’t have to convert optical signals to electrical signals.
Best Solutions at Different Data Speeds
Electronic Packet Switching / Generalized Multiprotocol Lambda Switching (EPS/GMPLS) is a network architecture that is conceptually intermediate to OFS and EPS.
Electronic Packet Switching is EPS. This is the technology that is used today. OFS is optical flow switching.