Metcalfe's column: From the Ether

An all-optical Internet is the vision of InfoWorld's Internet Plumber of 1999Dr David R Huber is InfoWorld's Internet Plumber of 1999. Join me in cheering him on to even greater glory.

From past awards, I know that many InfoWorld readers cringe at the word plumber. But having been one myself for 20 years, between 1970 and 1990, I think Internet plumber is a high calling.

On second thought, among the seven layers of open systems interconnection (OSI), Internet plumber is a low calling. Plumbing is what goes on at the OSI physical (1), link (2), network (3), and transport (4) layers. And maybe at the session (5) and presentation (6) layers. But not high up among OSI's application (7) sublayers.

These days there is a lot of Internet plumbing and little of it leaks. We just passed from hexadecimal year 7CF to 7D0 with nary a glitch and no gigalapses. Few people have to think about Internet plumbing. Somebody has to honor the ones who do.

Ethernet, TCP/IP, URLs, HTTP, and HTML are Internet plumbing, which has made it difficult to choose just one Internet Plumber of 1999. But, wait, there's more.

Optical fibres are being installed at Mach 3. Their capacity is doubling annually toward a terabit per second per fibre. Internet switches and routers, slowed by Moore's Law, but sped up by competition, are catching up.

Deployment of residential broadband is accelerating, thanks to cable television modems. And now Digital Subscriber Lines have joined the race.

Mobile wireless is ... I'll call back if I lose you. And fixed wireless has been, well, fixed.

Voice and video are on the verge. Gateways are expediting early convergence of Internet, telephone, and television networks -- see www.vortex2000.com.

The next generation of Internet Protocol (IPv6) nears deployment. And I can talk about the DNS being demonopolised and reconciled with trademarks.

Security, privacy, and identity mechanisms are improving. Software for scaling up fast, reliable, controlled, and rich content distribution is being sown in sprawling server farms.

Infrastructure for commerce, billing, payments, and even micropayments is proliferating. Application service providers are powering up the heavy metal for "everything.com."

So where in all of this do we find our Internet Plumber of 1999? At the bottom of the middle. There the man Forbes Magazine calls the Light Knight is driving us inexorably toward the all-optical Internet.

Again, InfoWorld's Internet Plumber of 1999 is Dr. David R. Huber, optical transmission and switching pioneer.

In 1992, Huber founded and for 18 months was the only employee of Ciena Corporation, which led in the dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) of optical fibres. Ciena shipped the first optically amplified 16-channel (16-lambda) DWDM system (see www.ciena.com).

In 1997, Huber founded Corvis Corporation, which is now the leader in optical switching and the all-optical multiterabit Internet backbone (see www.corvis.com).

In 1999, Corvis introduced CorWave and began trials with its carrier partners, Broadwing, Qwest, and Williams (see "Qwest is testing its lambda switching Net backbone with Corvis and Qtera," www.infoworld.com/printlinks).

CorWave's first generation uses 2.4Tbps optical switches to carry 160 channels (lambdas), each carrying 2.5Gbps, or 400Gbps per fibre, up to 3,200 miles, without electronics -- nothing but photons. Huber says Corvis will ship 10Gbps lambdas by late summer.

Huber sees Corvis replacing the electronically switched rings at the core of the Internet. Optical meshes will cut costs by a factor of 12 and deployment delays from six months to two hours.

Huber says that DWDM optical transport is doubling annually -- outpacing Moore's Law -- and will for at least the next two years. Maybe someday we'll talk about Huber's Law.

Join me in congratulating Dr. David R. Huber, InfoWorld's Internet Plumber of 1999.

Former Internet plumber Bob Metcalfe has been a technology pundit since 1990. Find his columns and subscribe to them by e-mail at www.infoworld.com/metcalfe.

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