North Atlantic Connectivitiy

Researchers, educators and students in Europe and North America collaborate over network infrastructure with a bandwidth of multiple 100 gigabit/s. This means that the path across the North Atlantic Ocean is not a bottleneck for such collaborations. Lessons learned in bringing the path across the North Atlantic Ocean on par with network speeds that are available on the continents continue to help develop an architecture for a global high-speed research network, that nowadays is referred to as the GREN (Global Research & Education Network).

State of the Art

Currently, eight 100 Gbit/s lambdas are active across the North Atlantic Ocean, in use for R&E purposes. These are supplied by the ANA collaborators, i.e. CANARIE (Canada) , ESnet (USA), GÉANT (Europe), Internet2 (USA), NORDUnet (Nordics), and SURFnet (The Netherlands), and the NSF-funded NEAAR Project, run by Indiana University (USA).






The ANA (Advanced North Atlantic) Collaboration started in 2012 when NORDUnet and other Research & Education (R&E) Networks were actively planning the next step for connectivity between Europe and North America. Back then, in the transoceanic transmission market, 10 Gbit/s was the highest available bandwidth. Several network providers were asked about their ability to deliver 100 Gbit/s bandwidth across the ocean.

“They answered that they had no imminent plans because there was no market demand for it yet. So we had to create the network (and the demand) ourselves,” said Erik-Jan Bos, Policy & Strategy Officer at NORDUnet.

NORDUnet and its partners contacted several providers, among them Tata Telecommunications, who runs fiber-optic cables across the North Atlantic Ocean, to check if they were willing to experiment with some leading R&E Networks. Tata agreed to grant NORDUnet and its partners access to spectrum on one of their cables, for experimenting with alien wave technology.

Equipment supplier Ciena supplied the 100 Gbit/s equipment needed. And then the trial was ready. A 100 Gbit/s connection between the GXPs (Global R&E Exchange Points) NetherLight in Amsterdam and MAN LAN in New York City was established. One day before the TERENA Networking Conference began in Maastricht, The Netherlands in April 2013, the system was working.

“When the ANA project began, NORDUnet ran two 10 Gbit/s connections to North America. We anticipated the need for a third connection in 2015. Thanks to ANA, we could step up to the 100 gigabit/s level at a lower price than three 10 Gbit/s connections would have cost us,” said Erik-Jan Bos.

Building a global architecture

In 2017, a collaboration similar to ANA emerged across the Pacific Ocean, and that lead to the APR (AsiaPacific Ring) Collaboration. Currently at three 100 Gbit/s, this network infrastructure for R&E fulfills an important role for R&E collaborations between Asia and North America.

Valuable experience has been gathered during the many years of the ANA Collaboration. Those learning lessons and many others are fed into the Global Network Architecture (GNA).

“In the GNA, we look at all the many issues when building a global high-speed network for research and education: Technical, financial, policy, legal and operations issues. In another collaboration, between Europe and Asia, we are now applying some of those lessons with the aim to step up the transmission speed for R&E on this path; results are expected in 2019,” said Erik-Jan Bos.