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National LambdaRail Network

The National Lambda Rail, as described in an email from Ron Johnson.

Here is a good description of the National Lambda Rail Network.
In NM the Lambda Rail Network is the fiber backbone connecting a number of R&D labs (Los Alamos, Sandia) and universities, as well as State fiber (and microwave) backbone systems; with intentions for greater network outreach connections.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 13 Sep 2006 10:59:33 -0700 (PDT)
From: Ron Johnson <[email protected]>

I am a co-founder, and a board member of National LambdaRail (NLR).

Organizationally NLR is a not-for-profit consortium with 501c3 status whose 'members' are mostly the major research and education (R&E) 'regional networks' (like SoX in Georgia) and 'regional optical networks' like CENIC in California, FLR in Florida, and LONI in Louisiana (aka 'RONs' because they are based on 'owned' and self-lit fiber optic infrastructures). These R&E 'regionals' and 'RONs' typically connect most of the major research universities and labs (sometimes including some corporate research facilities), plus often entire statewide (or even multiple state's) 'k20' networks (often including all of higher education as well as most/all of public k-12, and sometimes museums and other cultural institutions) to each other, to costeffective backbone level commodity internet services, and most importantly to the the rest of the R&E community via major research and education national backbones like NLR, Internet2/Abilene, ESnet, UltraScience Net, and DREN etc., as well as to various domestic and international R&E peering and exchange points.

NLR is a particularly interesting version of a national 'R&E' backbone as it is the only one in the USA that is based upon NLR having actually 'bought' (in reality this means NLR has acquired 20 year IRU's for) a national fiber optic cable footprint (and here mostly on Level(3) System's fiber footprint) of roughly 15,000 miles of fiber pair that interconnects the national major telecommunications hubs (which is where the regionals and RONs home) and which connects the 'regionals' and 'RONs' to each other with 'owned fiber'. NLR 'lit' the fiber with standard 'dense wave division multiplexing' (dwdm) 'optical kits' (in collaboration with Cisco) that can provide dozens of separate 10 gigabit 'wavelengths' (aka 'lambdas') that are (as they are in such systems) entirely independent from one another. Each individual wavelength can be used, as some are, for normal high performance layer 3 (and also layer 2) internet services. Specific waves are also be used as part of network and non-network research activities to run new and different protocols and/or to provide specialized, necessarily dedicated, services between specialized scientific instruments/apparatus and/or compute, mass store and/or viz. resources.

Among the many good things about having an optical system like this with multiple independent lambdas (thin of them as separate wires/circuits) is that one can run experiments that entail 'breakable' networks in one wave (or 'lambda') in such an optical system along side other completely independent waves that must support bulletproof 'production' network services for hospitals and clinics, without the two divergent networks and needs affecting each other in the least bit.

Another nice facet of such networks is that they can be (and in cases like NLR are) configured to use the kind of technology and provide the kind of services that you want and need, rather than just what telcos and isp's are willing to sell. Here for example various waves segments (and entire waves around the country) are configured as plain 10 gigabit *ethernets* (ie as LAN PHY) rather than SONET services, making it much easier and cheaper to build and operate certain kinds of networks needed to support researchers and/or specific R&E network service needs.

Another good thing about this sort of owned and lit fiber infrastructure is that it provides the R&E community with 'actual cost' based access to waves and bandwidth, and that is wildly less expensive than even heavily discounted educational pricing from carriers.
NLR's roots and focus to date have primarily been oriented to serving research. Here that
especially includes both 'network research' and also (and quite differently) specialized networks that support specific sorts of research and education and R&D. That said, NLR's capabilities do have broader utility and possible application in providing inexpensive and very high performance general layer3 (and/or layer 2) network services, as well as dedicated waves/'circuits', for various critical mass communities (like k20 networks) for both intra-community network services, and also for very cost-effective access to a powerful combination of peering and exchange capabilities (including direct settlement-free exchange with .coms like Microsoft, and with other exchanges) and very cost-effective access to top tier ISP services for remaining external traffic.

The NLR pages pretty much sketch the big picture, although in R&E network community terms.   If anyone has a specific interest in NLR please feel free to contact me directly outside the list.

NLR is an interesting infrastructure and one which at minimum we hope will help ensure that R&E does not fall complete victim to the attempted re-monopolization of telecom and internet facilities and services.   And in my experience peering and exchange fabrics are, work, and are often treated much differently.

And, here in some areas smaller commercial telcos, pud's, coops, cableTV and wireless
'operators' sometimes actually work together and with the R&E and other not-for-profit net communities (especially including many of the 'regionals' and RONs (which i will add
sometimes call themselves Gigapops) to achieve mutual advantage (vs the rboc's and major ISP's) in cooperating on peering and exchange connections, sites, and fabrics; and even on cooperative fiber etc projects.

I should probably also note that NLR has been set up to, and has a rule set that encourages work & teaming with the private sector. Further NLR is largely 'aup-free' in the sense that it does not restrict commercial use or commercial collaboration (although 501c3 preservation and related 'UBIT' sorts of issues do need to be considered and handled and NLR would not want to move towards serving as any sort of commercial style ISP or commercially oriented layer3 transit service).

Ron Johnson
University of Washington,
Pacific Northwest Gigapop, Pacific Wave

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