Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pushing Optics Closer to the CPU

There's something very important I forgot to tell you! Don't cross the streams… It would be bad… Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
—Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) on crossing proton streams, Ghostbusters

Well.... as we learned later in the movie, crossing streams is not always a bad thing.... As part of my work with the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education (OP-TEC: www.op-tec.org) I've been spending a lot of time learning new technical content while still staying current in the computing and communications field. I've been reading (and tweeting) recently about pushing optics closer and closer to the processor in computing systems. Here's more.

Last week, IBM announced the integration of a silicon photonic chip on the same package as a CPU. Why is this important? A couple of reasons -  if on-chip and chip-to-chip communications can use silicon as an optical medium, processing will be significantly faster, consume much less power and produce much less heat than the copper wires used today.

Extreme Tech published a nice diagram (below and based on the IBM announcement) last week showing the current state of silicon photonics technology. Notice the optical connection is currently at the board edge. With this IBM breakthrough, designers will begin to start moving the silicon photonics array closer and closer to the CPU, eventually building the optics into the CPU package itself.

The technology will initially be limited to the world of supercomputing but it will only be a matter of time before we see it trickle down to consumer level devices like PC's, tablets and smartphones. 

I love it when streams converge.

Monday, December 22, 2014

5G? 6G?? How About 200G?!

Back in 2013, Verizon ran a successful 200 Giga-bits-per-second (200Gbps or 200G) trial in collaboration with communications equipment manufacturer Ciena. The trial was done over optical fiber using a single wavelength. Well - trials are trials - done in optimized and controlled laboratory type settings by people in white lab coats. Experts speculated whether these kinds of bit rates could be achieved in the real world. Well.... guess what?

Earlier this month, Verizon provisioned 200G technology using the same Ciena gear on an ultra-long-haul production network between Boston and New York without impacting live customer traffic on the same network and without making any modifications to the existing fiber or network infrastructure equipment. The new Ciena gear was only added on each end of the communications channel.

Significant? You bet. More information on a single wavelength over long distance without any loss of signal quality. All this without having to upgrade fiber and infrastructure equipment in the field. It opens the door for the possibilities of much higher bit rates over existing fiber-based networks. We'll see 400 Gbps soon and yes even Tera-bit-per-second (Tbps) rates over existing optical fiber infrastructure soon.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Closing the loop with IP/Optical Integration

I've spent the last 17 years focused on Internet Protocol (IP) over various transport systems - wired (copper), wireless and optical. With the explosion of video, social media and other bandwidth hungry applications we've seen fiber moving closer and closer to the end user. Wireless is the perfect example with towers back-hauled into the network by fiber. It's really just the last mile/final connection that is typically not optical fiber based for most of us.

We're seeing IP/optical integration today really ramping with these things called software defined networks (SDNs). I wrote a post defining and describing SDN's last month titled SDN: When The Hardware Becomes A Little More Soft

With the move to all-IP, SDN and cloud services, many service providers are now integrating IP routing and transport. In this short 4 minute and 50 audio clip, Arnold Jansen discusses how IP/optical control integration can help operators simplify and streamline their operations and drive better cost synergies.

 Smart, fast, efficient. Good stuff.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't

Stanford Professor Robert Sutton, one of my favorite authors, has written six excellent management books.  My favorite to date was written in 2007 -  a New York Times best seller titled The No A**hole Rule. You can fill in the *'s on your own :)

In the book, Sutton lays out a dirty dozen list of common everyday actions that a**holes use and how some companies - including JetBlue, Men's Wearhouse, and Google - have created work environments where positive self-esteem is used to build a more productive, motivated, and satisfied workforce.

 Here's Sutton's dirty dozen list:
  1. Personal insults.
  2. Invading one's personal territory.
  3. Uninvited personal contact.
  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and non-verbal.
  5. Sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems.
  6. Withering email flames.
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims.
  8. Public shaming or status degradation rituals.
  9. Rude interruptions.
  10. Two-faced attacks.
  11. Dirty looks.
  12. Treating people as if they are invisible.
You don't have to in be a position of power or money to be an a**hole. The pic above is a good example. Most would assume the Corvette parked that way first but - maybe it was the Jeep...... Regardless of whether you drive a Corvette or a Jeep - Sutton is always a good read.  

He's published a seventh book this year - Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for LessI just grabbed the Kindle edition and will start reading the new book this evening. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

SDN: When The Hardware Becomes A Little More Soft

I grew up in the dedicated hardware world. Switches and routers that – sure - included processors and a little bit of memory.  Devices with pretty basic operating systems that kept track of addresses to move content around on a network, making sure stuff gets to where it is supposed to go. Nothing fancy but it has worked pretty good with the build out of the internet over the past 20 years or so. 

Today, we’re seeing a pretty major shift to what people are calling Software Defined Networks (SDNs). You may have seen SDN also referred to as elastic computing and/or elastic networks. The idea with SDNs is to not just try and make the network more efficient but also make it flexible and scalable. The concept is pretty simple and SDN Central explains it pretty well:
Software Defined Networking (SDN) is a new approach to designing, building and managing networks. The basic concept is that SDN separates the network’s control (brains) and forwarding (muscle) planes to make it easier to optimize each. 
In this environment, a Controller acts as the “brains,” providing an abstract, centralized view of the overall network. Through the Controller, network administrators can quickly and easily make and push out decisions on how the underlying systems (switches, routers) of the forwarding plane will handle the traffic.
So, you’ve got a smart controller looking at the entire network including applications running on the end devices. The controller communicates with network controlling devices (switches and routers), adjusting and optimizing the network to real-time conditions. Sort of like a maĆ®tre d / head waiter in a busy restaurant.

For providers (Verizon, AT&T, etc) , SDNs reduce equipment costs and allow the networks to be more efficiently controlled. These networks are optical fiber-based and that has me pretty excited with my new position at the NSF-funded OP-TEC ATE Center

Centralized, programmable optical networks that dynamically adjust to changing requirements. Nice. I’ll be writing more about SDN and a number of other optics based technologies in future posts.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Blog in Transition

As some of you know I've gone through a few career-related changes over the past year. After seventeen years the ICT Center was sunset by the National Science Foundation. Seventeen years is a long time for anything to be funded by the NSF and I'd like to thank everyone involved - there are so many - from all over the United States. It was so much fun to do the work we did at the historical time we did it. We positively influenced tens-of-thousands of lives in our country - our legacy - and that is pretty cool.

On Sept 5, after a lot of contemplation, I early-retired from a tenured faculty position (basically a job for life) in Massachusetts and with that, many are convinced I have truly lost my mind :) 

Seriously, the time seemed right for me to do something a little different while I was still young and nimble enough! The opportunity was there and I accepted a four-day-a-week position as an Associate Director of the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education (www.op-tec.org).  OP-TEC is another NSF Advanced Technological Education center of excellence located in Waco, TX and funded via the University of Central Florida. I get to Waco once a month for four days. I'm also doing a little bit of evaluation work with NSF funded projects around the country

Hmmmmm, optics and photonics you may ask? "What the heck is that? I thought you were some kind of communications guy??" Well...... when I first started teaching (30 years ago) I taught both geometric optics and wave optics for a number of years. In fact, the faculty position I just retired from included seniority in the laser electro-optics department. It's been great to dig in to some familiar content and dust off my old notes again. I've also had to dust off some brain cells and that is always a good thing. I'm seeing lots of intersections and opportunities with optics, lasers and computers. Hmmmmm

So..... what's up with this blog? I'm feeling settled in now and am ready to start writing again. I'll be writing about many of the same emerging technology topics as the past and a bunch of new topics. I'm expanding horizons, learning new stuff, making mistakes as I learn, and learning from those mistakes. Not ready to spend my time fishing and golfing - I'm actually pretty good at fishing but really stink at golf :) At least not yet. 

Thanks to everyone who has followed me here in the past. You thought you got rid of me but - I'm back :)

Monday, July 7, 2014

What To Do When You Get a SPAM Text Message

I've been getting these daily it seems. The Federal Trade Commission has a set of guidelines you can use. Here's FTC recommendations on what to do when you get a spam text message:
  • Delete any texts asking you to confirm or provide personal information. Legitimate companies don’t ask for information like account numbers or passwords by text or email.
  • Don’t reply, and don’t click on links provided in the message. Links can install malware and take you to spoof sites that look real but whose purpose is to steal your information.
  • Don’t give out any personal information in response to a text. A spammer wants access to your Social Security number, credit card numbers, and bank and utility account numbers to open new accounts in your name.  
  • Report spam texts to your carrier. AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint or Bell subscribers can copy the original text and forward it to 7726 (SPAM), free of charge.
  • Review your cell phone bill for unauthorized charges.Report them to your carrier.