NSF Award to Support Data-Intensive Applications for Advanced Networks

July 26, 2010

San Diego, Calif., July 26, 2010 — Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Northwestern University have received a 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to encourage and enhance digital communication and collaboration between the U.S. and international science and engineering research and education communities. The award was announced at the GENI Engineering Conference, which showcased the NSF-funded research being conducted under the Global Environment for Network Innovations program.

The project, known as International Research Network Connections (IRNC) TransLight/StarLight, will enable multi-national collaborations by integrating high-performance networks with advanced data-intensive applications so that scientists and engineers can communicate with colleagues while simultaneously conducting major research projects. Researchers will, for example, be able to share data from instruments, sensors, high-definition cameras, data storage and computational resources located throughout the world.

“The concept behind the IRNC is to engage people across the planet, to allow people with aggressive or advanced networking needs to interconnect,” says Thomas DeFanti, principal investigator for the project and a research scientist with the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). “Multi-gigabit optical networks are available for most countries with economies robust enough to support scientific research. The issue now is how one best utilizes that bandwidth by increasing the richness of how individual researchers connect to the links. We can do this by developing networking capabilities that ­ unlike email or sending files by attachment ­ optimize the use of available bandwidth speeds.”

Leading the TransLight/StarLight experimental networking effort are DeFanti and co-principal investigators Maxine Brown of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago; Joe Mambretti of the International Center for Advanced Internet Research, Northwestern University; and Tajana Rosing of UCSD’s Computer Science and Engineering Department.

DeFanti, Brown and Mambretti have over 15 years of NSF-funded experience in developing both the large-scale applications and the cyberinfrastructure for bandwidth-hungry applications. One example is StarLight, an advanced national/international open communications exchange facility in Chicago that supports grid-intensive e-Science applications, network performance measurement and analysis, and computing and networking technology innovation. UCSD and many other universities nationally and globally link to StarLight with 10 gigabit/second networks, and 100 gigabit/second network trials are in the planning stages.

Together, the PIs will continue to build cooperative partnerships and serve the users of advanced networking in the Global Lambda Integrated Facility, the National LambdaRail and Internet2 by sharing best practices, creating new services with industrial and government partners, and creating new opportunities for NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU).

More specifically, the TransLight/StarLight team will focus on enabling multi-national applications, middleware and network testbed exemplars over international networks. These experiments include the High-Performance Digital Media Network (HPDMnet), iGENI (International Global Environment for Network Innovations) project, GreenLight International, the Scalable Adaptive Graphics Environment (SAGE) project, the Science Cloud Communication Services Network (SCCSnet) and CineGrid.

CineGrid, for example, uses networked collaborative tools to produce, use, preserve and exchange very high-quality digital media over optical networks. DeFanti says that the nature of the project presents several challenges pertaining to networking.

He explains: “The quality of the imagery (which is mostly 4K, or four times the resolution of typical high-definition media) means it’s using huge amounts of bandwidth during the â”post-production” stage. In other words, raw data must be streamed to various sites worldwide, where each site has different duties, such as adding visual and audio special effects, editing, color correcting and reviewing.

“If the effects teams, editors, colorists, and so on are not in the same city,”DeFanti continues, “it’s a CineGrid-scale problem needing 10s of gigabits/sec to multiple locations. Another challenge is that when you’re shooting a movie, that’s the last time it sees a piece of film (if even then). Everything in post production is done digitally.

“So we have to look at how people might work together to produce the digital media without having to travel around or overnight express storage devices ­ and, once they’re finished with the film, how they can distribute and archive it. It used to be that someone would take a print and stick it in a vault, but we all know that disks crash, so how can we mitigate digital disasters?”

One middleware solution CineGrid has developed is the CineGrid Exchange, which links terabytes of storage in Amsterdam, Chicago, Monterey, Prague, San Diego, Tokyo, and Toronto. Based on iRods software originally developed at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, the CineGrid Exchange provides the high-throughput data transfer capability and comparisons necessary for archiving large datasets.

“The ability to collaborate internationally in real-time on data-intensive projects is becoming increasingly important in disciplines as diverse as the digital arts ­ including CineGrid ­ climate change research, disaster response and financial markets,” says Calit2 Director Larry Smarr.  “This NSF-funded IRNC grant enables the development of the underlying technologies needed to make this more broadly adopted in the near future.”

DeFanti says one thing is clear: “As costs for networking infrastructure come down, the money needed to lease network circuits becomes less and less of an issue. The value has shifted to the open communications exchanges, which provide places for these circuits to connect their users. Cities are attracting business by providing municipal circuits to these exchanges, a trend sure to accelerate.”

“The cost of a 10 gigabit circuit to Europe right now is about the cost of funding a single network technician or supporting a couple of grad students,” DeFanti notes. “The day may soon come when you will be able to bid for networking circuits on eBay. That’s not too far-fetched. But there are still places around the world ­ primarily where network monopolies and monocultures exist ­where high-bandwidth connections are very expensive, and these places are becoming less and less competitive.”

“Our NSF project,” he continues, “steps further into the future by looking past the issue of cost of circuits and focusing on the knowledge needed to make it all work. If you think of the existing fiber optic networks as expressways with hundreds of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, the question then becomes: How do we pack the cars so they make optimal use of the HOV lanes? And, how do we optimize the speeds at which the cars move?”

Joe Mambretti further notes, “The StarLight research community has pioneered multiple innovations in communication services and network technologies, which have been adopted nationally and internationally. This new award will assist in continuing that tradition. The revolution in advanced digital communication has just begun.”

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About TransLight/StarLight

TransLight/StarLight has its beginnings in the US-based Euro-Link initiative. In 1999, the NSF High-Performance International Internet Services (HPIIS) program initially funded Tom DeFanti (then at University of Illinois at Chicago) and Maxine Brown to facilitate high-performance connections between the US and Europe in support of advanced networked scientific applications. UIC created the Euro-Link consortium with several NRNs in Europe and Israel ­ the Netherlands’ SURFnet, the Nordic countries’ NORDUnet, France’s RENATER and Israel’s IUCC (Inter-University Computation Center), with CERN joining mid-year as the fifth member. Funding continued through 2005, when it was replaced with the NSF International Research Connection Networks (IRNC) program. IRNC funding for 2005-2010 enabled the establishment of TransLight/StarLight, whose mission was to best serve established US/European production science, including support for scientists, engineers and educators who had persistent large-flow, real-time, and/or other advanced application requirements, by providing advanced networking and supporting infrastructure to connect National Research & Education Networks (NRNs) in the US to their counterparts in Europe, as well as to supplement available bandwidth provided by other countries. Last year NSF announced its new IRNC program, and TransLight/StarLight received new funding for the period 2010-2013 to develop grid-intensive e-Science applications and middleware experiments to determine best practices for utilizing high-performance optical networks.

About Calit2 at the University of California, San Diego

¨The California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) represents a new mechanism to address large-scale societal issues by bringing together multidisciplinary teams of the best minds (both on and beyond University of California campuses) in a way that had been impossible earlier.

About the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago

The Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago is a graduate research laboratory specializing in the design and development of high-resolution visualization and virtual-reality display systems, collaboration software for use on multi-gigabit networks, and advanced networking infrastructure. EVL partners with iCAIR at Northwestern University, Argonne National Laboratory, at Calit2/UCSD, in collaboration with Canada's CANARIE and the Netherlands' SURFnet, to manage and grow the StarLight optical network exchange.

About the International Center for Advanced Internet Research (iCAIR) at Northwestern University

The International Center for Advanced Internet Research (iCAIR) at Northwestern University accelerates leading-edge innovation and enhanced global communications through advanced technologies, in partnership with numerous international community, and national partners. iCAIR partners with EVL at University of Illinois at Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, and Calit2/UCSD, in collaboration with Canada's CANARIE and the Netherlands' SURFnet, to manage and grow the StarLight optical network exchange.

About StarLight

StarLight is the world's largest optical networking exchange facility. StarLight provides advanced networking services and technologies that are optimized for high-performance, large-scale metro, regional, national and global applications. With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), StarLight was designed and developed by researchers, for researchers. StarLight is managed by the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the International Center for Advanced Internet Research (iCAIR) at Northwestern University, the Mathematics and Computer Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory, and Calit2 at University of California, San Diego, in partnership with Canada's CANARIE national networking organization and The Netherlands' SURFnet.

About the Global Lambda Integrated Facility (GLIF)

The Global Lambda Integrated Facility (GLIF) is an international virtual organization that promotes the paradigm of lambda networking (primarily using lightpaths on optical fiber). GLIF participants are National Research and Education Networks (NRENs), consortia and institutions working with lambdas. Participation in GLIF is open to any organization that subscribes to the GLIF vision and can contribute to the GLIF activities.

Last Updated: 15 September 2010