Rapid router research

Agility Communications, Calient Networks, Cisco Systems, JDS Uniphase and Stanford University have teamed up with UC Santa Barbara to develop speedy all-optical routers.

A team of researchers in industry and higher education, led by a group at the University of California, Santa Barbara, CA has been awarded $6.3 million by DARPA’s Microsystems Technologies Office to develop new technologies to advance optical router capacity beyond the current state of the art.

The team expects to develop and demonstrate all-optical technologies and systems that route data packets with no optical-to-electrical conversion. The potential payoff of avoiding optical-to-electrical conversions is to greatly increase the data speed and reduce power requirements over today’s approaches. The anticipated breakthroughs from the collaboration are expected to open new possibilities for the distribution of rich data, voice and video content at greater speeds with systems that use less power.

“Imagine a data stream greater than 10,000 feature-length films blasting through an optical router in one second,” said Daniel Blumenthal, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC Santa Barbara and leader of the research team, in explaining the team’s goal.

The research, he explained, will seek “to develop new technologies to advance optical router capacity beyond 100 Terabits per second (Tbps),” or about 100 times the capacity of current state-of-the-art routers.

The team is known as LASOR, for Label Switched Optical Router, and is made up of researchers from several leading technology companies – Agility Communications, Calient Networks, Cisco Systems, JDS Uniphase – as well as Stanford University and UC Santa Barbara.

The team’s work will be supported over four years by the DARPA Microsystems Technologies Office’s Data in the Optical Domain (DoD-N) program.

One of the key technologies that will be used is the tunable all-optical wavelength converter, an integrated device that acts as a “tunable photon copier” and is used to direct packets through the router using the color of light itself. The team’s ultimate goal is to shrink the size of state-of-the-art routers that occupy a full 7-foot equipment rack today down to a single linecard.