The Internet is on the verge of overheating, as big network routers are forced to sort through more and more data packets. One solution is to install photonic routers that leave data in the form of light, thereby avoiding unnecessary electronic processing. Researchers at Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs and LGS Innovations, both in New Jersey, have built an operational photonic router prototype that could conceivably manage hundreds of terabits of data per second.
The DARPA-funded IRIS project is unique among other photonic routers in that it separates the two main jobs of a router: switching where packets go and managing when packets leave. This division of labor makes it easy to scale the design up for higher data rates. Like a traditional router, IRIS is connected to multiple optical fibers as input and output. Each fiber carries several wavelengths of light that encode their own separate stream of data packets. IRIS only reads and electronically processes the address header of each incoming data packet. Continue reading.