Scientists break world record for data transfer speeds

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Researchers are claiming a new world record for data transfers over long distances.

Data was moved back and forth at a combined rate of 186Gbps (gigabits per second), fast enough to transfer two million gigabytes of data or 100,000 full Blu-ray discs in one day.

It could pave the way for networks with standard transfer rates of 100Gbps.

That would speed up the sharing of scientific research, such as that at the Large Hadron Collider.

Future networks

The tests involved sending data between the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia, and the Washington State Convention Centre in Seattle.

The team achieved two-way data rates of 186Gbps, breaking their previous record of 119Gbps set in 2009. The data's fastest speed in a single direction was 98Gbps.

By comparison the fastest speed offered to the UK public is a 1.5Gbps broadband connection trialled by Virgin Media in East London.

The distances spanned nearly 131 miles (212km) and relied on the latest optical equipment, highly tuned servers and ran over a 100Gbps circuit, set up by CANARIE, Canada's Advanced Research and Innovation Network.

In an even larger demonstration, researchers transferred massive amounts of data between a booth at the SuperComputing 2011 conference in Seattle and other locations within the US, Brazil and Korea.

The experiments brought together physicists, computer scientists and network engineers from a range of institutions, including the California Institute of Technology, the University of Victoria, the University of Michigan, the European Centre for Nuclear Research (Cern) and Florida International University.

"Our group and its partners are showing how massive amounts of data will be handled and transported in the future," said Harvey Newman, a professor of physics who headed up the physicist team.

Higgs boson

According to the researchers the achievement will help establish new ways to transport the increasingly large amounts of data that currently travel via optical fibre networks across continents and under oceans.

"Having these tools in our hands allows us to engage in realisable visions others do not have. We can see a clear path to a future other cannot yet imagine with any confidence," said Prof Newman.

Fast data transfers are particularly crucial for sharing the work of big scientific projects, such as work at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The LHC has made the headlines this week as scientists announced that they could have seen first glimpses of the elusive Higgs boson particle, believed to be responsible for giving everything in the universe its mass.

At Cern the group of scientists behind the particle accelerator have so far processed, distributed and analysed more than 100 petabytes of data - over four million Blu-ray discs - in their search for a better understanding of the nature of matter, space and time.

Lasers

Data volumes are expected to rise as the team cranks up their efforts and it is crucial to be able to share the data with researchers around the world.

Enabling scientists anywhere in the world to work on the LHC data is a key objective of the project as it seeks to solve some of the biggest mysteries of the universe.

"One can think of these 100Gbps links as a huge highway for our data. But we obviously don't ship data just to take it on a cruise: we want to get it from A to B because B will do the number crunching. And that in turn means we now have a huge bandwidth of data to crunch on," said Axel Naumann, one of the LHC scientists.

"The 100Gbps demonstration... is pushing the limits of network technology by showing that it is possible to transfer petascale particle physics data in a matter of hours to anywhere around the world," said Randall Sobie, a research scientist at the Institute of Particle Physics in Canada and a team member.

The push for higher data rates in light-based telecommunications technologies has seen a number of significant leaps in recent years.

In May, researchers set a new record for the rate of data transfer using a single laser: 26 terabits per second.

At those speeds, the contents of nearly 1,000 high-definition DVDs could be sent down an optical fibre in a second.

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