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What, you want better than 5000 miles of optical fibre?

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Here's a poser for you: What do you get if you cram 5000 miles of fibre-optics in a smallish box? A tangle that would terrify the keenest knitter in the universe? Or, just possibly, the world's largest hard drive.

We found an interesting story on Newsbytes today about a group of Canadian researchers who reckon it might just be the latter. They've dubbed their project the Wavelength Disk Drive, and say it promises massive improvements in access speeds to shared data.

The group told Newsbytes that an initial test of the technology could "create several gigabytes of storage within the nation wide fibre backbone known as "CA*net 3.""

Bill St. Arnaud, a senior director for networks at CANARIE, the group who created the WDD, said that there was more to fibre optics than point to point communications. "What we're doing is putting a packet onto the network and letting it circle continuously around the network," he said.

He went on: "The wavelengths are like tracks on a disk drive and the routers are like read/write heads."

All very interesting, but where is the advantage? Well, St. Arnaud says that CANARIE has developed drivers at the router level. This means that a seriously large number of users could have simultaneous access to the same data on a network without creating the mother of all bottlenecks.

But, and there are always buts when it sounds this good, consider the length of the network. Five thousand miles of cabling is a fair distance, even at light speed. A data packet will take around 100 milliseconds to travel that far, which, along with the number of wavelengths that will realistically be achievable on a fibre is a limiting factor.

We recommend that you look at the original report here and check out all this information about the project.

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