CERN Bulletin 44/98; 26 October 1998

New fast computer interconnect technology demonstrated at CERN

The Gigabyte System Network, GSN, sets a new standard for high performance data transfer. With an error-free transmission capacity of 800 Megabytes per second in each direction, equivalent to the contents of nearly two CD-ROMs, it is the highest bandwidth computer interconnect standard. It provides full control of data flow and has a very low set-up time of just one microsecond. GSN can carry data 1300 times faster than today's standard 'Ethernet', 64 times faster than 'Fast Ethernet' and 6.4 times faster than the emerging 'Gigabit Ethernet'. GSN was demonstrated for the first time at CERN on 13 October during a Workshop whose goal was to advance the new standard. In the world at large GSN could mean faster Internet access and maybe Web TV.

Ben Segal, Carl Pick and Arie Van Praag, holding one of the

new boards which made the GSN demonstration possible.

GSN was invented in 1995 by Greg Chesson, Chief Scientist at Silicon Graphics, and developed by several institutes and the five biggest computer companies around the world. Work was steered by the High Performance Networking Forum, HNF, under the guidance of Don Tolmie from the US Los Alamos laboratory. By 1998, the new technology was sufficiently advanced for the American National Standards Institute, ANSI, to take notice and process GSN as a standard for future networking. The proposed ANSI standard provides for interoperability with many other networking standards such as Ethernets, Fibre Channel, ATM, and HIPPI-800.

Anyone with a slow modem link to the Internet will recognise the value of high-speed networking, but at CERN it is particularly important. Experiments being prepared for the Laboratory's next big particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, LHC, will generate data at thousands of Megabytes per second. CERN has been working with high speed link technologies for over a decade and used them for connections from experiments to the central Computer Centre as well as for fast links within the Computer Centre. The Laboratory has actively followed the development the new GSN technology.

Using the very first commercial GSN interfaces to be produced by Silicon Graphics and Genroco, the new technology was demonstrated at the CERN Workshop, connecting Silicon Graphics, Compaq (Digital), and Sun computers. A new record for networking with readily available computer and network components was set at 444 Megabytes per second. GSN will soon make its first appearance in computing centres around the world. And who knows? Before long we might all be watching the Web instead of the television.