DWDM Goes to War

LOS ANGELES -- OFC 2004 -- Optical networking technology has fundamentally changed the way in which the U.S. military communicates, according to John P. Stenbit, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Defense (DOD) and its Chief Information Officer, speaking here at the plenary session of the OFC conference.

Stenbit says the optical networking technology used by the DOD's Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to build its new high-bandwidth GIG-BE project will complete the military's move to an Internet-based model whereby it distributes data to large numbers of individuals who can access it on demand. The GIG-BE is an optical DWDM backbone being built by the DOD for a cost of about $880 million over two years (see DISA Deal Is Done, Gov't Names GIG-BE Winners, and GIG-BE Winners Named).

This is a huge shift from the old days of military communications, when information was largely passed on in a one-to-one fashion and based on the old model of the circuit telephone, said Stenbit. The military network has moved from a “smart push” model, which required individuals to pass on information to other individuals, to “smart pull,” through which individuals can access data without regard to time and space constraints.

“We look forward to a smart pull infrastructure that has bandwidth on demand, very high bandwidth, a real push to the edge in the next decade. It’s a great revolution."

Stenbit said that these developments have given the U.S. military an enormous advantage -- by a factor as much as "a thousand to one" -- as an offensive unit in a battle. He says that traditionally war has given the defensive unit a three-to-one advantage over the attacking military, but communications technology now turns that advantage on its head.

“You didn’t know we were having our own Moore’s Law of Productivity, did you?” he japed.

DWDM technology allows the military to move forward, said Stenbit, by making bandwidth cheap. “We spent $17 billion to get cheap bandwidth… 5 percent of which is wired DWDM OC192 to 100 places in the world.”

Some of the optical engineers appeared to be impressed by the military’s uptake of their technology. “That gives new meaning to bandwidth to the edge and mission-critical network,” quipped Kumar Visvanatha, business leader with JDS Uniphase Corp. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU).

Not everybody was happy, however. One group of engineers left the session early, muttering under their breaths in French.

— R. Scott Raynovich, US Editor, Light Reading

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