World’s Largest Fiber Optic Network Speeds Nuclear Research

The world’s largest fiber-optic local network is going behind the walls at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

Replacing copper wires with a fiber-optic network will give the labs the speed they need to support research on nuclear security, and it will save them tons of money, according to the labs. Lab officials estimate they’ll see $20 million in savings over five years, from energy savings and from not having to replace the optical fibers as frequently as you have to replace copper wires. The full switchover will cost about $15 million.

Along with Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia is a major U.S. nuclear weapons engineering facility. Sandia scientists run enormous virtual experiments, such as computer-model tests of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, and share data between 265 buildings and 13,000 ports.

The new network works at “10 gigabit-type rates,” Sandia network engineer Steve Gossage said. The average U.S. connection is just under seven megabits per second; Google’s Fiber project runs at one gigabit per second.

Optical fibers save electricity by reducing the number of switches and routers a network needs, a Sandia announcement explained. Places that use traditional copper wires have separate networks for their phones, computers, security and other electronics. With fiber optics, everything can go on one network, with fewer power-hungry switches.

Sandia will recycle all of its old copper wire, which will bring in $80,000 to help offset the cost of the new network.

Sandia National Laboratories