The World's Biggest Fiber LAN Lives at a Nuclear Weapons Research Lab

Sandia National Laboratories is the nation's premiere nuclear weapons research facility, and for more than 60 years, its researchers have poked and prodded the interiors of atoms to suss out their secrets—a task that has produced mountains of data that the facility's copper network struggles to contain. But now, even the most remote building's on Sandia's campuses have access to the biggest bandwidth modern technology can muster.

"Whether it's a materials science problem or modeling an event, we need a lot of data and a lot of processing capability," Steve Gossage, a senior engineer at Sandia National Laboratories, said in a press statement. "We need to be able to see it, we need to be able to view it, we need to be able to put teams together. This is a large laboratory, deeply stocked with scientists and engineers and test labs. For the analyses we get, the problems are not small and they're not easy."

But for Sandia's previous copper wire network, tying together 13,000 network ports in 256 buildings across a pair of campuses covering nearly 8,700 acres proved immensely challenging. And for buildings beyond the standard 100m operational radius for wiring closets, such as the National Solar Thermal Test Facility, broadband speeds were a pipe dream. What's more, each network—voice, data, wireless, and security, for example—required its own set of 4-inch copper cables as well as rooms full of switches and routers and miles of conduits carrying the wire.

The passive fiber optic that Sandia has installed, on the other hand, uses a single network of optical cabling consisting of 288 individual fibers and requiring a fraction of the conduit space and a network switch the size of a microwave. Not only will the new fiber network save space, Sandia officials expect to the facility to save $20 million over the next five years alone through a 65 percent reduction in energy usage and reduced equipment maintenance costs. "We're at 10 gigabit-type rates and looking hard at 100," Gossage said.

"As we research and deploy new technologies, our main objectives are to enable the labs' mission, decrease life-cycle costs and if possible reduce our footprint on the environment. With the deployment of passive optical networks we have been able to meet and exceed all of these objectives," said Sandia manager Jeremy Banks. To that end, Sandia officials have announced that they'll be recycling its new-found bounty of copper wiring for an estimated $80,000 and use the proceeds to help cover the new network's $15 million price tag.
[Sandia 1, 2 - Networkworld - Wikipedia - Image: asharkyu / Shutterstock]