Ultrafast Networks

Editor’s Note

In a foreseeable future, we will be able to pour in unimaginable amounts of information to a worldwide cloud of data centers. Internet technology is headed for a terabit equivalent of one thousand gigabit soon. The beauty of the matter is that you can reach the gigantic pool of information even from your cell phone.

Some of us who are immigrants from the so-called developing world countries well remember that the first thing all dictators do is burning books, destroying libraries, and limiting access to education and all types of communications as well. Hopefully the “cloud” eventually becomes the savior of our books, music, and all form of art and civilization and possibly our humanity.

I like in a humble way to ask these questions. Is it not true, that even o.1 percent of super-privileged citizens of our planet like liberty, awareness, peace, justice and education as well? Is it not true that liberty, free access to information that facilitate the fullest growth potential of all is an added value to our system and makes all feel better, work harder and help each other?

Of course this technological breakthrough will open the door for major cyber attacks and abuse by harmful individuals and powers to be as is happening in a smaller scale now. Until then, we all should remember what Albert Einstein warned us about: “The world is a dangerous place for living not because of harmful individuals with their satanic thoughts, but because of those who are passive and do nothing.”

Ultrafast Networks

Source: Quentin Hardy

SANTA CLARA: If nothing else, Arista Networks proves that two people can make more than $1 billion each building the Internet and still be worried about its reliability. David Cheriton, a computer science professor at Stanford known for his skills in software design, and Andreas Bechtolsheim, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, have committed $100 million of their money, and spent half that, to shake up the business of connecting computers in the Internet’s big computing centers.

As the Arista founders say, the promise of having access to mammoth amounts of data instantly, anywhere, is matched by the threat of catastrophe. People are creating more data and moving it ever faster on computer networks. The fast networks allow people to pour much more of civilization online, including not just Facebook posts and every book ever written, but all music, live video calls, and most of the information technology behind modern business, into a worldwide “cloud” of data centers. The networks are designed so it will always be available, via phone, tablet, personal computer or an increasing array of connected devices.

Statistics dictate that the vastly greater number of transactions among computers in a world 100 times faster than today will lead to a greater number of unpredictable accidents, with less time in between them.

“We think of the Internet as always there. Just because we’ve become dependent on it, that doesn’t mean it’s true,” Cheriton says. Bechtolsheim says that because of the Internet’s complexity, the global network is impossible to design without bugs. Very dangerous bugs, as they describe them, capable of halting commerce, destroying financial information or enabling hostile attacks by foreign powers.

More transactions also mean more system attacks. Even though he says there is no turning back on the online society, Cheriton worries most about security hazards. “I’ve made the claim that the Chinese military can take it down in 30 seconds, no one can prove me wrong,” he said. By building a new way to run networks in the cloud era, he says, “we have a path to having software that is more sophisticated, can be self-defending, and is able to detect more problems, quicker.”

The common connection among computer servers, one gigabit per second, is giving way to 10-gigabit connections, because of improvements in semiconductor design and software. Speeds of 40 gigabits, even 100 gigabits, are now used for specialty purposes like consolidating huge data streams among hundreds of thousands of computers across the globe, and that technology is headed into the mainstream. An engineering standard for a terabit per second, 1,000 gigabits, is expected in about seven years.

Arista, building a fast data-routing switch that could isolate problems and fix them without ever shutting down the network. It is intended to run on inexpensive mass-produced chips. In terms of software and hardware, it was a big break from the way things had been done in networking for the last quarter-century.

Bechtolsheim said. Because of improvements in the quality and capability of the kind of chips used in computers, phones and cable television boxes, “we could build a network that is a lot more software-enabled, something that is a lot easier to defend and modify,” he said.

For Cheriton, who cuts his own hair despite his great wealth, Arista was an opportunity to work on a new style of software he said he had been thinking about since 1989.

No matter how complex, software is essentially a linear system of commands: Do this, and then do that. Sometimes it is divided into “objects” or modules, but these tend to operate sequentially.

From 2004 to 2008, when Arista shipped its first product, Cheriton developed a five million-line system that breaks operations into a series of tasks, which when completed, other parts of the program can check on and pick up if everything seems fine. If it does not, the problem is rapidly isolated and addressed. Bechtolsheim worked with him to make the system operate with chips that were already on the market.

“They have created something that is architecturally unique in networking, with a lot of value for the industry,” says Nicholas Lippis, who tests and evaluates switching equipment. “They built something fast that has a unique value for the industry.”

“The great enemy is complexity, measured in lines of code, or interactions,” he said. In the world of cloud computing, “there is no person alive who can understand 10 percent of the technology involved in my writing and printing out an online shopping list.”

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