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Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
11/19/2002

Can the grid-computing craze accommodate a new optical switching and routing startup? Chiaro Networks thinks so.

Chiaro this week said it has shipped a working optical "router" to be used in the OptIPuter, a five-year, $13.5 million grid computing project funded by the National Science Foundation (See Watch for the Grid). The OptIPuter, a joint venture of the University of California at San Diego and the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a network of several computing systems that are linked by optical fiber.

Grid computing systems such as OptIPuter allow their resources to be shared by all the network's end users. If you think of a grid as one giant computer stretched over a large area, Chiaro's system and the optical fiber connecting to it would be analogous to the bus that links the storage, processing, memory, and other computing elements together in a PC.

Chiaro's initial prototype isn't really a "router" per se, but rather a giant, super-fast optical packet switch. Initially the company hopes to simplify service-provider networks by introducing a core optical system that's so fast and so scalable that it eliminates much of the need for an aggregation layer between the network's core and its edge.

Chiaro says it has a switching technology, called Optical Phased Array, that helps it switch a large number of ports at nanosecond speeds. "What seemed to be mutually exclusive in the past was both large port counts and ultra-fast switching speeds," says Ken Lewis, Chiaro's CEO. Lewis claims the company's routing platform, called Enstara, is a step beyond today's optical switches, which handle a high number of ports at millisecond speeds, or today's IP routers, which switch a smaller number of ports at nanosecond speeds.

Here's an oversimplification of how the company's optical switch technology works: It takes light from an input fiber and sends it through 128 gallium arsenide waveguides (see Arrayed Waveguide Gratings (AWGs)). As the light travels through the waveguides, a voltage is applied to control or “bend” the light. As the light comes out the other end of the waveguides, the light enters a five-inch air gap, where constructive and destructive interfering patterns occur.

This constructive and destructive interference is akin to dropping two stones in a pool of water and watching each set of ripples. Some of the ripples will combine and make bigger (constructive) ripples while others will (destructively) collide and cancel each other out. [Ed. note: we had to dust off our high school physics books for that one.]

Anyway, the voltage controls the location of the constructive interference, which in turn creates bright spots that allow the light to be steered and aimed at any one of the 64 outputs on the switch module and -- voila! -- the light is switched in nanoseconds by a machine with no moving parts.

Chiaro's 64 x 64 optical switch module was tested by AT&T Research Labs, as noted in a paper published this month at the Lasers & Electro Optics Society (LEOS) annual meeting in Scotland. "We measured the [Chiaro switch module's] transmission performance with the data rate and channel count per fiber scaled to 160 Gbit/s (40 Gbit/s x 4 wavelengths)," wrote the paper's eight authors. "For a fully loaded switch, this capacity would translate into a potential non-blocking switch element throughput of (64 x 160 Gbit/s) or 10.24 Tbit/s."

"Switch operation is based on fast electro-optic effect, and measured switching time was better than 20 nanosecond, sufficient for IP format packet switching," the paper states.

The Chiaro system being installed in the OptIPuter program is running each port at 10 Gbit/s, and it's not equipped with hundreds of ports, Lewis says. But because it switches optically, he claims, the rate and format of the payload don't matter to the optical switching system. In theory, Chiaro's switch can operate at a much higher data rate and can handle four colors of light coming into each port, which would scale the system's overall capacity significantly.

Chiaro is also talking up the technology that protects the system, saying it will allow for hot capacity upgrades and expansions. In lab tests, Chiaro says its system has been able to maintain "state" with hundreds of peers while failing over from one master control processor to another without losing packets or causing a network outage.

Interesting? You bet. Commercially viable? We'll see.

There's a question of how many service provider networks worldwide would actually need, buy, and use a switching platform of the scale Chiaro is hinting at. Call it what you will -- optical router or optical switch -- but neither market is doing well right now, and the core router market is fiercely competitive (see Router Vendors Look for Bottom).

Chiaro has beaten the odds so far, just by being able to get a product in use in such a visible project as the OptIPuter. Optical switch makers such as BrightLink and optical routing vendors such as IP Optical Inc. both had high hopes and interesting technology, but didn't survive quite so long (see Brightlink Works on Its Grooming and BrightLink Is Fading Out).

Chiaro says it has raised $210 million to date and employs 221 people. The company has been granted about 25 patents and has filed for 26 more. The company closed its last round of funding, a Series D round of about $80 million, in February. "With any luck at all, we won't have to raise more money," Lewis says.

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
www.lightreading.com

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fw23
fw23
12/4/2012 | 9:19:51 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid
>Chiaro's initial prototype isn't really >a "router" per se, but rather a giant, super->
>fast optical packet switch.

I dont think this is correct. Chiaro is building
a router with an optical switch. It is a router.

In any case, they are out trying to sell a
core router to the big service providers.



DoTheMath
DoTheMath
12/4/2012 | 9:19:50 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid
Can someone explain how this switch provides packet
switching functionality? The explanation in the article
does not indicate any mechanism to look at what the
light wave actually carries. Perhaps the control
engine which steers the light does look at it.
Can someone shed some "light" here?
achorale
achorale
12/4/2012 | 9:19:50 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid
This is a wavelength switch not an optical packet switch.



FatherConfessor
FatherConfessor
12/4/2012 | 9:19:49 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid
> This is a wavelength switch not an optical
> packet switch.

Wrong! Look at their web site. It is a fullblown internet core router with an optical backplane.

fw23
fw23
12/4/2012 | 9:19:49 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid
>Can someone explain how this switch provides >packet
>switching functionality?

The line cards are OEO. Their optical stuff
can switch at high enough speeds that they
can do packets.

Various people tried to do the same thing with
MEMS over the last couple years, but the switch
rate of MEMS was so low that packet switching
didn't work. Various people tried schemes like
burst switching, but none of them ever went
anywhere.





>The explanation in the article
>does not indicate any mechanism to look at what the
>light wave actually carries. Perhaps the control
>engine which steers the light does look at it.
>Can someone shed some "light" here?

I would guess that they send optical cells across
the switch. You could schedule the cells to
be send across the switch without looking at
the cells (I think).


Scott Raynovich
Scott Raynovich
12/4/2012 | 9:19:47 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid
There was some internal debate about this. This article focuses on the equipment that was actually shipped as part of grid-computing project. The way that equipment was described, it's more of an optical switch.

Chiaro is promising more "routing" functionality in the future (including they stuff people are talking about on the Web site). But that was not in this prototype.
skeptic
skeptic
12/4/2012 | 9:19:45 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid
There was some internal debate about this. This article focuses on the equipment that was actually shipped as part of grid-computing project. The way that equipment was described, it's more of an optical switch.
--------------------------

Based on talking to people, I dont think thats
right. I think they are using an IP router
as a giant interconnection hub. If you put
enough computers/small routers together with
high-speed interfaces, you end up with a router
network.

And if you think about where the grid computing
people are going, they would want a large
router eventually for the wide-area high
bandwidth grids that some of them talk about.

I'm not sure what it would not be a router.
I can't see the grid people using a propritary
interconnect. They all want IP these days.





alloeo
alloeo
12/4/2012 | 9:19:45 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid
>I dont think this is correct. Chiaro is building
>a router with an optical switch. It is a router.

If I understand correctly from what you said, fw23, what they are building is ~NOT~ an optical packet switch in the strict sense where the payload goes through no OEO conversion and get switched all-optically. What they are building is an IP router with an optical back plane that got rid of all the limitations of conventional electrical backplanes. If this in deed is the case, then all the packets still under go OEO conversion, electrical header processing, electrical buffering/scheduling, etc., just like in the big ole routers, it's just the signal path from one line card to another (and the reconfiguration of inter-connectivity) is optical.


>In any case, they are out trying to sell a
>core router to the big service providers.

What will be their edge over Cisco or Juniper or other guys who are doing the same thing (take Stanford for example)? The cost of GaAS AWG's is not cheap (BTW do they fab their AWG's in house, or they buy from someone?), let alone the control circuit to do ns scale switching.

It will be interesting to know their box's price and if it does all the other stuff a true IP router does.

light-headed
light-headed
12/4/2012 | 9:19:43 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid
let's do what a conventional router does at a much higher cost. no one needs a scalable backplane based on optics today.
boptic2002
boptic2002
12/4/2012 | 9:19:41 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid
>Anyway, the voltage controls the location of the >constructive interference, which in turn creates >bright spots that allow the light to be steered >and aimed at any one of the 64 outputs on the >switch module and -- voila! -- the light is >switched in nanoseconds by a machine with no >moving parts.

This just sounds [email protected]!%ing cool.

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