Residents of San Diego got a new library on Sept. 30. The silver, nine-story complex provides access to more than 300 computers, free Wi-Fi, more than 1 million books, 3-D printers and iPad kiosks that provide access to rare and previously unreleased books and records. The latticed metal dome atop the San Diego Central Library tells passersby that the building is a modern one, and that claim is supported in many ways by the technology inside. In addition to the aforementioned devices and services, the building is also equipped with a passive fiber network to provide high-speed Internet access while using less power.
“We want a library of the future that is flexible, built for now and built for the future,” said Deborah Barrow, San Diego library director. “One of the early technology decisions we made was Optical LAN, a future-proof backbone to allow the library to expand as future changes occur. In a public building, the flexibility, the cost and the energy savings all need to be considered, and that’s what we’ve done here.”
As the needs and wants of people change, government adapts its services, and public libraries like San Diego's are a reflection of that. But maintaining a large network with many connected devices and a BYOD policy can be costly and difficult to manage in traditional settings, said John Hoover, senior product manager at Tellabs, the company that provided the library’s network infrastructure.
Hoover said that even though the library is three times larger than the facility it’s replacing, and serving three times as many people, the crew that manages the technology infrastructure has not needed to grow. He emphasized the value of a passive optical network (PON) over both active optical networks and copper-based networks for PON’s ability to reduce operating and capital costs, while also being easy to manage.
Initial cost analyses show that the city will save 80 percent on operational costs, thanks to reduced power consumption granted by passive networking, Hoover said, while capital expenditures will be reduced between 50 and 70 percent. “They can do that because of less moving parts, less electronics, and then it’s managed centrally from an open management system where you do things at a desktop computer,” he said. “So they don’t have the technicians running around, going in all those workgroup switches or all the distribution, aggregation equipment.”
The library’s network closets are either empty or full of brooms and cleaning equipment now, since there’s less equipment needed in a passive optical network. The server room consists of just a single shelf with the equipment that drives the network, rather than the usual racks of networking equipment.
While there are arguments for using passive or active networks, depending on the application, Hoover said large public facilities like libraries or even hospitals, which are known for consuming great amounts of power, passive networks help significantly cut power consumption.
“Fiber’s lighter, smaller, it costs less and it’s virtually future proof and you can do a terabit over it today with the right equipment,” Hoover said.
The library’s network delivers speeds higher than 1 Gbps, according to Tellabs. The facility has an automated materials handling system to speed up the check-in, sorting and distribution process, and self-check-out kiosks. The library has indoor Google Maps capabilities to help patrons navigate the facility’s nine floors, while electronic signs direct people to library events.
While copper-based networks are limited in their service area to hundreds of meters, Hoover said, optical networks have a reach of 30 kilometers, which means the new library network can also serve other libraries in the city.
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.