Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid

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
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Pierre 12/4/2012 | 9:17:46 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid All,

I read an article over the weekend that alluded to further cuts at Hyperchip. Can anyone substantiate these claims, and if so, what departments were affected?


mr0carrier 12/4/2012 | 9:18:13 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid Are you ready for the results? Lightreading is very jealous since I am beating them to their next router test. Perhaps they will ask me to help them on the next one. On the other hand, maybe not since I seemed to have killed the chat for this article.

For my protection switching test I decided to take the advice of the other poster and see if these bad boys can handle a little dog action, just in case I install one of these in my house. At first I thought I would throw some water on them, but I realized it might take down too much. Instead I decided to use a syringe and inject water into a crack above the route processors. The Chiaro router made a huge blast and a bunch of smoke, much more than the Juniper box. Not surprising since Chiaro was really focused on processing performance and probably jam-packed a mini-super computer into it. Who held up better? Well I have to admit the Chiaro box had a little less impact on the network than the Juniper box. The Chiaro CLI was unthawed, but I had to re-login into the Juniper box. I thought this would be major plus for the Chiaro router but my manager said he doesnG«÷t care about that since customers donG«÷t see the CLI and he still plans to double up routers for protectionG«™ok, whatever. Monday I get to turn the broken boards back into the vendors, and tell them they just broke. This is the favorite part for the purchasing guys for the reason that they will give the vendors a hard time about disgustingly inadequate faulty equipment, and make the vendors embellish them with lavish entertainment and apologies.

Now on to the blocking test. Here we play with cramming a gang of packets into one pipe. I thought that Chiaro would do better here but they only beat Juni under a special case. I think once I get the Juni TX prototype and start packing packets across a multihop T640 with a TX in the middle that the Chiaro router will start to shine. Reason being, the Chiaro has just one big optical switch (phase array thing-a-ma-bob), however, the Juni box will have to result to a multistage switch configuration which will probably utilize a combination of space and time multiplexing. This means blocking under certain cases. If you are more curious about this there is a minimum pathset method for calculating blocking probability on multistage systems, which is a little easier than Lee Graphs or Jacobaeus methods which are ok, but stick you with those nasty equations you have to program a computer to guess at since you canG«÷t solve them. Link: http://www.bupt.edu.cn/quick/l...

In summary, the Chiaro router is a cool new techno-toy, but I need to keep my Juni boxes. (next post from mastermind readersG«™G«•we know who you work forG«•)

My real boss busted me, he thinks it is funny but is paranoid so:
Disclaimer: This was a virtual router test based on BS press releases, ignorant guestimation based journalism, and article chat noise. It would have been based on some white papers but I am too lazy. Remember boys and girls, Internet chat is a toy not a resource.

It is supposed to stop raining by tomorrow so farewell and have a stupendous weekend, Mr0Carrier
mr0carrier 12/4/2012 | 9:18:14 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid >You must be in Cal Tech or UCSD?

Good guess dude! But, no cigar for you. In point of fact, I am at CSUSM which is handily flanked by them. That allowed me to splice into the new super grid they are building. They have been able to detect the intrusion but they probably figure no one at CSUSM would be smart enough to do such a thing. I have sensed them probing and scrutinizing each other. Of course I needed the manuals. Juniper was easy but Chiaro was much more difficult. It took some doing but I was able to find a backdoor website which gave me access to their internal website. The website is camouflaged, but if you are smart you can figure it out. It is located at: http://www.uans.com/chiaro.htm

Want another pointer about who I am? I might be observed at one or more of the following Starbucks

2183 Vista Way
31 Rio Robles East
411 Cedar St.
332 W. El Camino Real


qqq 12/4/2012 | 9:18:20 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid You must be in Cal Tech or UCSD?
mr0carrier 12/4/2012 | 9:18:35 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid Yo surfer dudes, I finally got a couple of T640s, racked up and powered on. For those of you like G«£alloeoG«• who believe that I have 7ft racks, 20Kwatts of -48V power, and a bunch of test equipment in my house (wink, wink), my wife made me put this high power sucker in my basement on account it is even louder and hotter. I doubt the Chiaro optical switch will save much money but apparently, the lack of a bunch of switch ASICs saves them some power. It also seems to save them a little space. Since the Gibson uses distributed switch architecture each box has to have full blown switch capability.

So the Chiaro box is some new gnarly cool stuff, BUT does it route? Short answer, sorta of. Everyone knows they were lacking Tony Lee the router stud, and my initial test results confirm this. It is no surprise that Juniper rocks protocol implementation and it is no wonder they are being used to route Ipv6 on Internet2 GigaPops. Which by the way I am glad the Uni-Profs are playing with Ipv6 before I have to. I am sure it will make my test plans blossom into bushes. Juniper is overall winner on this round. Chiaro did beat them out on table cap, and LML. That did not surprise me, since they do have supercomputer expertise. I had noticed ahead of time that the CLI ran way faster on the Juniper box. Now donG«÷t jump on the Juniper bandwagon yet though, still got to look at protection and blocking. Here be the router scores (higher better):

IP tests: Chiaro-4 Juniper-5
MPLS tests: Chiaro-2 Juniper-4
Longest-match lookup: Chiaro-4 Juniper-3
BGP table capacity: Chiaro-4 Juniper-3
MPLS LSP capacity: Chiaro-2 Juniper-4
Route flapping: Chiaro-3 Juniper-3
Convergence: Chiaro- 2 Juniper-3
Filtering: Chiaro- 3 Juniper-3
Class of service: Chiaro- 2 Juniper-4


arch_dude 12/4/2012 | 9:18:45 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid Bezelbutt said:
"Juniper is OEO, Chiaro is OEOEO. The Chiaro router is thus bigger by far, to accomodate all these optical interfaces going to the fabric.
(refering to M-class Junipers)"

Basically a T640 or other scalable router is a switching fabric surrounded by linecards. There are two major classes of switching fabric: multi-stage and scheduled crossbar. The Juniper T640, Caspian, Pluris, and Hyoperchip use multistage. The switch-fabric vendors (PMC, Agere, Zagros, etc.) mostly sell scheduled crossbar fabrics.

A scalable router built around a scheduled crossbar generally connects the linecards to the fabric via cheap VCSELs, so the router is OEoEoEO
(using little o for cheap optics.) The crossbar is electrical.

Chiaro also uses a scheduled crossbar, but they have a neat new trick: the crossbar switches photons, not electrons, so they are OExEO where the x switches photons. Note that the scheduler
(the really nasty part of the scheduled crossbar) is still electronic, not photonic.

I got all this from a careful reading of the story on EET.
skeptic 12/4/2012 | 9:18:46 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid HFR (cisco)
T640 (Juniper)

What makes anyone chase Caspian? What share of the core router market do they have?

By "chasing" what I meant was competing hard
against. The HFR/T640/Caspian/Chiaro will
compete for any business against each other.
All four are new products with only the T640
possibly having any market share.

Belzebutt 12/4/2012 | 9:18:47 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid each PFE provides the equivalent of 2xOC-192/STM-64 interfaces to the network
I can't see why Chiaro's router should be different.

The difference is, Juniper provides the *equivalent* of such and such speed towards the fabric. Chiaro actually has physical interfaces of such and such speed towards the fabric.

Juniper is OEO, Chiaro is OEOEO. The Chiaro router is thus bigger by far, to accomodate all these optical interfaces going to the fabric.

I'm not comparing this to a Juniper T-Matrix however (or whatever they call a bunch of T-640s connected together), if you compare the Chiaro to that it becomes more reasonable.

But like I asked, service providers need a Chiaro router just about as much as they need a Hyperchip router or any of the other Petabit routers that have gone belly-up.
Belzebutt 12/4/2012 | 9:18:47 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid Try:
HFR (cisco)
T640 (Juniper)

What makes anyone chase Caspian? What share of the core router market do they have?
skeptic 12/4/2012 | 9:19:02 PM
re: Chiaro Girds 'Router' for the Grid uhm, great so they're chasing who pluris?
HFR (cisco)
T640 (Juniper)

The people who are chasing them are:


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