Data has been sent across a wide-area optical network ink at 101Gbit/s - the fastest-ever sustained data transmission speed.

It was demonstrated by a High Energy Physics research team in the USA. The 101Gbit/s transmission lasted several minutes, as part of a 90-minute test and won the Supercomputing Bandwidth Challenge, intended to help increase network transmission speeds for grid computing such as CERN's Large Hadron Collider project.

Sun Microsystems was a member of the team led by the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and including CalTech and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratories (FNAL). They set a new world record aggregate bandwidth peak of 101.13Gbit/s - far in excess of the 2003 record of 23.21Gbit/s, and beating the nearest contender by more than 300 percent.

The research team's "High-Speed TeraByte Transfers for Physics" record data transfer speed - 12.6 Gbit/s or 4.6TB an hour - is equivalent to downloading three full DVD movies per second, or transmitting all of the content of the Library of Congress in 15 minutes, and it corresponds to approximately five percent of the rate that all forms of digital content were produced on Earth during the test.

The sending and receiving servers were Sun Fire V20z servers, based on the AMD Opteron processor, running Solaris 10 and Linux. SLAC was able to completely fill a 10Gbit/s transcontinental network path for a sustained time with standard 1500 byte packets, and the team achieved over 15Gbit/s (9.43Gbit/s in one direction and 5.65Gbit/s in the other simultaneously) on a single 10Gbit/s wavelength path. More network equipment details can be found here.

Glenn Weinberg, VP operating platform group at Sun Microsystems, was ecstatic: "Blistering TCP/IP network performance with Solaris 10 allowed this collaborative effort ... to blow away previous records."

Future optical networks, incorporating multiple 10Gbit/s links, are expected to be the foundation of grid computing systems. A "hybrid" network integrating both traditional switching and routing of packets, and dynamically constructed optical paths to support the largest data flows, is a central part of the near-term future vision that the scientific community has adopted to meet the challenges of data intensive activities. By demonstrating that many 10Gbit/s wavelengths can be used efficiently over continental and trans-oceanic distances (often in both directions simultaneously), the High-Energy Physics team showed that this vision of a worldwide dynamic grid supporting many-terabyte and larger data transactions is practical.

A probable key part of this is the use of a Fast TCP protocol, developed by Professor Steven Low and his Caltech Netlab team. This prevents buffer overflow and packet-dropping better than the standard TCP method which counts packet drops as a congestion measure.

It all means that SANs will be able to accommodate remote components as if they were local. It will also strengthen moves to storage consolidation as remote access will be as fast as local access.