RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — In the networking world, the blessing of the FCC can carry a great deal of weight. So one can imagine that a development team at MCNC’s Research and Development Institute was sweating bullets for a recent demonstration of its new network protocol.

Apparently the North Carolina crew that has developed “Just-in-Time” optical networking passed their test with flying colors.

“The JIT protocol is a new approach to light path provisioning that could significantly reduce communication delays in the networks,” is how Edmond Thomas, FCC chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology reacted to the demo at the Navy Research Laboratory’s Center for Computational Science in the Washington, DC area.

Those are pretty strong words, but Thomas had more to say.

“JIT not only has the potential to enhance today’s network infrastructure but the technology also could potentially improve efficiency for applications bound by limited resources such as the wireless spectrum,” he said. “This protocol is yet another example of technological innovation which could result in more efficient use of the radio spectrum and hopefully lead to new and affordable services for the American public”

Wow. No wonder MCNC couldn’t wait to get out a press release. Wireless, too, eh?

JIT could mean much faster provisioning for networks and open the doors for virtually instant bandwidth on demand. This could be shaping up as a revolutionary tool, and it was developed right here in RTP.

MCNC, NCSU scientists team up

JIT was created by a team of some 20 to 30 people at MCNC and three NCSU professors – Paul Franzon, Harry Perros and George Rouskas. Dr. Franzon is a professor of electrical and computer engineering; Dr. Perros and Rouskas are professors of computer science. The development team has also created a protocol called PAC, or Protocol Acceleration Circuit, which is a new breed of router.

The project not only has the attention of the FCC but also NASA and the Department of Defense’s prestigious Advanced Research and Development Activity, which is providing funding support.

MCNC announced its creation back in January, and Dan Stevenson, vice president of MCNC Research and Development’s Advanced Network Research Division, told me that he already had email from Cisco and Nortel wanting to know more about the JIT and PAC.

Kind words from Gartner

In addition to the FCC statement, MCNC’S efforts received a boost from research firm Gartner — one of the most respected in the business.

“Standards for signaling in optical public networks are evolving and will ultimately lead to connectivity between today’s optical networking equipment and the rest of the global telecommunications network,” said John Mazur, principal analyst at Gartner, in a statement that MCNC put out. “Carriers must explore new signaling protocols to provide bandwidth on demand capabilities to both higher layer equipment and to end-users. Minimizing bandwidth provisioning cycles and their expense will go far in improving carriers’ profitability as well. The JIT protocol provides a migration path to tomorrow’s optical technological advances in bufferless switched networks, nano-second optical switch configuration times, inexpensive wavelength conversion technology and fine-grain lambda multiplexing.”

Lambda is another high-speed networking technology.

Removing latency and improving network performance are so crucial for high-powered computing as well as on-line, interactive games. If JIT and PAC continue to perform well in tests and draw more support, the development group could produce a financial windfall for MCNC.

But the project has been far from easy, as Stevenson has stressed.

To give you an idea, what follows is a list of “highlights: about JIT as provided by MCNC:

Out-of-band signaling on a single channel — Signaling channel undergoes electro-optical conversions at each node to make signaling information available to intermediate switches.

Data transparency — Data is transparent to the intermediate network entities, i.e., no electro-optical conversion takes place at intermediate nodes and no assumptions are made about the data rate or signal modulation methods.

Network intelligence at the edge — Most “intelligent” services are supported only at edge switches. Core switches are kept simple.

Signaling protocol implemented in hardware — To avoid bottlenecks and to achieve wire speed operations, the signaling protocol is implemented in hardware.

No global time synchronization — Time synchronization between nodes are not assumed

In other words, JIT and PAC enable files to be transported across a network without having to be converted back and forth from optics to electronics as they hit “hops” or routers on the network. According to Stevenson, JIT and PAC convert the traffic control information at each hop, thus reducing power consumption – and improving speed.

Speed is a killer app, and MCNC apparently has it.

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.