Optical fiber networks carry the lifeblood of research facilities like Jefferson Lab. Bundles of these thin glass, fiber or plastic lines transmit vast amounts of information and data, coded into beams of light and traveling nearly as quickly.
The lab’s original optical fiber network, installed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was built to transmit data from CEBAF’s (then) three experimental halls and for high-speed Internet connectivity. Over the years, many of the lab’s infrastructure and utilities systems were also moved onto the fiber optic network; and it now carries operational data for everything from telecommunications and email to security and heating, ventilation and cooling.
The original system is reaching the end of its programmed lifespan and experiencing capacity limitations, according to Network Manager, Bryan Hess, Information Technology Division.
“What we have is no longer reliable to support the number of systems we are funneling through the lines,” Hess explains. As part of the Utilities Infrastructure Modernization (UIM) project, a new fiber optic network is being installed. “The requirements placed on our network have grown so much that we knew much of it would have to be replaced. Some of our buildings weren’t even connected to the existing system,” Hess adds. “And, over the last two decades, many improvements and advancements have been made to fiber optics technology and capabilities. So it made more sense and was more effective to put in a new system.”
When complete, the new network will stretch around the Accelerator Site and connect every building at the lab. It will provide increased speed and improved reliability and be robust enough to handle the data load of all four experimental halls. “We expect to see long bursts of data in the 10 Gbps (Gigabits per second) range from both Hall B and Hall D,” Hess says, “and Hall D is expected to produce more than 20 Terabytes of data in every running day.”
“We are getting a system with much, much greater capacity. With more on the network, it is imperative to make it robust and redundant – having more than one path into each building will help keep it running smoothly. We’re not throwing out the existing system; it is forming the base and we’re reusing what we can. But because so much new material is going in, it is essentially a new system.”
Design work for the new fiber optic network began in March 2014. Construction on the $2,032,284 project began in March 2015 and is slated for completion early in 2016, according to Jason Willoughby, an electrical engineer in the Facilities Management and Logistics Division. Hankins and Anderson, out of Glen Allen, was the design engineering firm for the project, and York River Electric is the primary contractor for the on-site installation.
To illustrate the current system’s capacity compared to the new network’s capacity, Hess offers this illustration: “With the current fiber optic cable and technology, on one cable, we can carry the traffic equivalent to 800 houses streaming multiple Netflix movies, the next generation will be able to carry the traffic for the equivalent of 8,000 homes. That's per cable, and we're installing hundreds of these cables all over the site. Physics needs a big data pipe,” he acknowledges.
All of the manholes and nearly all of the conduit banks have been installed. Putting in the innerduct (smaller conduit that protects the fiber optic lines connecting systems in a building) and finally the optical fiber lines will follow. Much of the underground conduit system was put in using a process called directional boring, which makes it much easier to get cable under parking lots, streets and sidewalks and saves the time and expense of excavating (digging a trench, laying the conduit and covering it up). Boring has been a huge time saver, according to Willoughby.
“We have had to make sure that all underground utility lines are clearly marked,” he points out. “That is why some ground and paved surfaces around the lab are liberally dotted with red, orange, green, black and blue painted lines, and small flags. In some areas, the contractor carefully digs small holes to confirm the location of a utility line before starting work.”
“When designing the new system, we made sure every network switch connects with two other switches upstream and every line is connected via two different paths,” Hess says. “If one path is broken, the other path is still there, keeping everything up and functioning.”
“IT and Facilities Management collaborated on the design – the type of fiber needed and the path structure to give us the redundancy needed in the system. I needed to determine how much fiber optics is needed and where it goes,” Hess adds. “Facilities worked all the logistics and engineering aspects of the job – from the size of the manholes and piping to excavation work. We have worked closely with FM&L staff on this project and it has been great.”
Throughout all these changes – keeping everything up and running has been challenging for both IT and Facilities Management and Logistics. But Willoughby says that the installation is going well and is on schedule. “The added bandwidth will divide the load, so everything will run more smoothly and be more dependable. This has been pretty exciting.”
“The networking group has waited a long time for this,” Hess concluded. “We are excited. This will allow us to build better networks.”