Fiber Central: a quantum leap in computer networking
|Bottom-up view of Fiber Central cables in a repurposed dumbwaiter.
Tucked away on the eighth floor of Wilson Hall is an unassuming room with an aura of science fiction. It might not look like much, but like the nondescript phone booth so crucial to the plot of the movie "The Matrix," that room has great powers of high-speed connection.
The room is the nerve center of Wilson Hall's fiber-optic communication network. Every byte of data that fires from an experiment to a Wilson Hall office desktop passes through a fiber optic cable in the room known as Fiber Central.
"Even the cafeteria has a connection to Fiber Central," said Orlando Colón, a network analyst in the Computing Division.
When information destined for Wilson Hall leaves any remote laboratory location, it travels down a nine-micron-core glass fiber to a repurposed dumbwaiter shaft in the high rise. The shaft, which connects the building's 15 floors, houses 96 snake-like hoses, each encasing 19 tubes containing bundles of between two and 18 glass fibers. The hoses all end up under the floor tiles in Fiber Central. The thousands of color-coded fibers inside them rise from under the floor and terminate tidily in slots on approximately 200 labeled cartridges.
The system can connect any point A on the Fermilab site to point B in Wilson Hall.
Keith Chadwick, head of the Grid Facilities Department in the Computing Division, helped consolidate all of Wilson Hall's network cables to a single accessible location beginning in 1995. Replacing the old copper-based network, his team eliminated the trouble-prone shared co-axial cabling (think cable TV) with dedicated stretches of glass fibers.
"The longest fiber-optic run in the building is less than 500 meters," Chadwick said. "It's well beyond the capabilities of high-speed copper-based networks, but it's a piece of cake for fiber."
Fiber Central is a significant improvement over the original distributed copper network, which was "like lots of spaghetti," Colón said. "When all connectivity is within arm's reach, you can greatly improve the speed of service."
-- Leah Hesla