Mar 17 2014

IBM Records Fastest Data Transfer Ever: 64 Gigabits per Second

How will better fiber-optic technology change computing?

Thanks to innovators like IBM, the Internet is getting faster. While the United States still lags in home broadband speeds, research into fiber-optic technology could soon boost speeds around the world.

IBM recently announced a new record for data transfer: 64 gigabits per second. According to The Connectivist, speeds this fast have the potential to revolutionize high-speed computing:

They achieved a data rate of 64 Gb/s, which is around 14 percent faster than their previous record and about 2.5 times faster than the general capabilities of current technology. Although this speed increase is impressive on its own, this data record also serves a higher purpose as a much-desired evidence that the data communications technology we have now still has some extra years in it. “The general theme of the research is to try to explore the limit of the datacom technology that’s currently being used today,” says Dan Kuchta, one of the IBM researchers who worked on this project.

This milestone emphasizes the continued usefulness of current technology in several ways. The multimode optical fiber they used is a relatively low-cost cable often found in data centers and supercomputers. These cables are limited to 57 meters in length, but Kuchta says the optical links in the last two systems they built were all less than 20 meters. One of these systems was the Sequoia supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The researchers also used standard non-return-to-zero (NRZ) modulation to send the data — think 1’s and 0’s. The pairing of these two allows for especially quick transmission time, which is vital in high-performance computing.

Before this research, some experts believed that transfer rates using NRZ modulation would be limited to 32 Gb/s, perilously close to the 25-28 Gb/s rate that much of our technology is currently running on. As many of us know, slow data rates can hinder activity on computers, like when a video keeps stopping to buffer. If transfer rates drop too far for our tech, some applications may quit working entirely.

To put this kind of speed into perspective, consider that it’s at least 64 times faster than Google Fiber, which is already 100 times faster than the average home Internet connection. What would you do with that kind of speed?


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