long-distance optical interconnects

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Tue Nov 19 02:02:58 PST 2002

I think I saw a press release from Sun yesterday about Fire Link, which 
has 3-5 us latency at several GBytes/s bandwidth and Remote Shared Memory 
support. It's supposed to be presented at SC2002 in Baltimore, or 


Supercomputer to Use Optical Fibers

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 17 . Highlighting a radical departure in the design of 
the fastest computers, the California Institute for Telecommunications and 
Information Technology plans to announce on Monday that it will use an 
optical router designed by a Texas company as the heart of a campus-wide 
supercomputer that will be woven together with optical fibers.

The new design will turn some traditional computing ideas upside down. In 
the past, computer processors have been the fastest part of a 
supercomputer, while memory and disk storage have been bottlenecks. In the 
new design, the communications lines will be the fastest part of the 
computer and the processors will become slower "peripherals."

The new style of supercomputing is called an "optiputer" and it will be 
housed at the University of California at San Diego. The optiputer will 
initially consist of about 500 processors linked via the optical switching 
system that will permit parts of the computer to share information at the 
speed of light. Each of the clusters is based on Intel microprocessors and 
runs the Linux operating system.

The optiputer is an example of a new trend in advanced computing, known as 
grid computing, which permits solving complex problems by linking 
processors that may be separated by thousands of miles.

Chiaro Networks, the maker of the optical router at the heart of the 
optiputer, is a start-up in Richardson, Tex.

The computer is the brainchild of an organization, led by Dr. Larry Smarr, 
that is a joint venture of the University of California at San Diego and 
the University of California at Irvine. Before coming to the California 
project, Dr. Smarr was the director of the National Center for 
Supercomputer Applications in Illinois. That group developed Mosaic, the 
first popular Web browser, in 1994.

Dr. Smarr's new organization has joined with Chiaro Networks, whose vice 
president for technology, Steven J. Wallach, is a well-known supercomputer 

"We're moving to an optical-centric world in which the computers are the 
slow things and you reluctantly add them in," Dr. Smarr said.

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