3D Beamforming: Speeding Up the Data Center With Wireless

By | May 17, 2012

A technique called 3D beamforming has the potential to speed data center traffic by 30%, according to researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) who created the method. A recent article in ComputerWorld describes the research system, which uses 60GHz Wi-Fi and off-the-shelf equipment to bounce beams of data off ceiling plates and then to antennas on the servers. The success of this research could pave the way to future hybrid or adaptable networks that will adapt to peak load demands, without the high cost associated with adding a multitude of wired links or upgrading every node in the system.

As described in ComputerWorld, the typical data center operates at a maximum bandwidth to accommodate its peak loads, often leaving bandwidth idle much of the rest of the time. The UCSB researchers created a point-to-point wireless network that can send data at high speeds directly to where it is needed, and avoiding any bottlenecks along the way. The researchers also say that their system is easily reconfigurable, unlike the wired data center where pulling cable is costly, complex, and labor intensive.

Using 60GHz Wi-Fi is an interesting choice, likely selected because of its power efficiency as well as its speed. Multiple links can be deployed, because the signals weaken relatively quickly over distance. ZDNet describes the advantages of 60GHz Wi-Fi and makes note of the general disadvantages as well, particularly that a clear line of sight is necessary for the signal to go through. By bouncing the signal off the ceiling, however, the UCSB researchers ensured that barriers and radio interference were bypassed, and that point-to-point communication could still occur by way of an indirect line-of-sight. While certainly novel and perhaps even brilliant in its simplicity and efficiency, the question remains as to whether or not the research can scale up to the point where it can be used in day-to-day practice in a large data center. In that scenario, it could take thousands of wireless links to be practical.

It seems plausible that 3D beamforming could be deployed on a more modest scale, one that is suitable and cost-effective for the needs of small and midsize business, and then expanded as the scale of needs becomes known. Researchers may wish to consider a synergistic venture by prototyping a hybrid data center that uses wireless technologies suited to the needs of midsize business, particularly those midsize companies that might be willing to invest in new technologies if it met their needs and fit the budget. Perhaps it might even speed up the research cycle, bringing this novel technology to fruition a bit sooner.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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