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Switching in the Optical Domain
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The principal form of optical switching is really nothing more than a very sophisticated digital cross-connect system. In the early days of data networking, dedicated facilities were created by manually patching the end points of a circuit at a patch panel, thus creating a complete four-wire circuit. Beginning in the 1980s, digital cross-connect devices such as AT&T s Digital Access and Cross-Connect (DACS) became common, replacing the time-consuming, expensive, and error-prone manual
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process. The digital cross-connect is really a simple switch, designed to establish long-term temporary circuits quickly, accurately, and inexpensively. Enter the world of optical networking. Traditional cross-connect systems worked fine in the optical domain, provided there was no problem going through the O-E-O conversion process. This, however, was one of the aspects of optical networking that network designers wanted to eradicate from their functional requirements. Thus was born the optical cross-connect switch. The first of these to arrive on the scene was Lucent Technologies LambdaRouter. Based on a switching technology called Micro Electrical Mechanical System (MEMS), the LambdaRouter was the world s first all-optical cross-connect device. The product has since been discontinued, but the technology remains a good illustration of optical switching. MEMS relies on micro-mirrors, an array of which is shown in Figure 7-25. The mirrors can be configured at various angles to ensure that an incoming lambda strikes one mirror, reflects off a fixed mirrored surface, strikes another movable mirror, and is then reflected out an egress fiber. The LambdaRouter and other devices like it offered switching speed, a relatively small footprint, bit rate and protocol transparency, nonblocking architecture, and highly developed database management. Fundamentally, these devices are very high-speed, high-capacity switches or
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Figure 7-25 MEMS mirror (Photo courtesy Lucent Technologies)
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cross-connect devices. They are not routers, because they do not perform layer three functions. They will, however; now that the nuclear winter of the telecom industry has ended, all major manufacturers have announced plans to incorporate a layer three routing function into what will become their devices. Optical networking, then, is a major component of the modern transport network. Together with switching technologies like frame relay and ATM, and physical layer standards like SONET, SDH, and copper-based transport technologies, the current network is able to handle the transport requirements of any traffic type while overlaying quality of service at the same time.
An Aside: A Trip to the Wave Venture
While working in Singapore recently, a friend approached me and said, I just finished reading your Optical Networking Crash Course book. And I noticed that you didn t have much to say in it about submarine cables. Yes, I replied, explaining that the book was really designed to explain the nature of terrestrial systems. I also added the observation that I had no experience in the submarine domain and didn t feel equipped to tackle that subject in detail in the book. So you ve never seen a cable laying ship he asked. No, I replied. Would you like to He countered. Absolutely! I said, probably a little more enthusiastically than I should have. He explained that a good friend of his was the President of Asia Global Crossing, that they had a ship in port, and if I wanted he could probably set up a tour. So, he went away to make a phone call, and when he returned he told me that it was all set up we would tour the ship on Friday. Friday morning arrived, and we took a taxi down to the industrial pier where we boarded an ancient, scabby work boat that tooled us out to the Wave Venture, anchored a few miles offshore (see Figure 7-26). Approaching the vessel I was amazed at its size: a 142-meter cable-laying and maintenance ship, originally built as a passenger ferry in 1982 and converted to a cable ship in 2000. She can stay at sea for as long as 40 days without resupplying food and equipment for her 62 crew members. We boarded the ship via a starboard boarding ladder and gathered on the fantail, where Martin Swaffield, master of the vessel, began the tour. We climbed up several flights of stairs to the driving bridge where he
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