iCAIR News

Northwestern University Observer
Vol. 17, No. 13
January 24, 2002

StarLight program shines at Northwestern

The new Science Technology And Research Light-Illuminated Gigabit High-Performance Transit is a constellation of words that condense nicely into the acronym StarLight.

An international high-speed optical fiber network connection point — developed and operated in partnership by Northwestern, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory — StarLight links a global network of research computers via advanced fiber optic equipment. It provides both a stable high-speed link for advanced scientific work and a site for public and private information technology clients to test hardware for reliability, much as a speedway is used to test new cars.

StarLight provides a communication intersection for the information superhighway. As UIC computer science professor and StarLight co-creator Tom DeFanti put it: "Think of a two-lane road passing by your house as the equivalent of, say, a DSL or cable modem line. StarLight supports networking equivalent to a 10,000-lane highway."

SURFnet, the Netherlands' national research and education computer network, will be the fastest customer connected to the Chicago-based facility, moving data at the speed of 2.5 giga (billion) bits a second. "We're working to get it up to 10 gigabits and beyond," said DeFanti. The higher speeds will be reached as early as next spring.

With 10-gigabit links expected to Canada, Asia and other European sites within the next year, StarLight promises to support real-time, multi-site virtual reality presentations, advanced interactive data mining, remote control of large-scale telescopes and microscopes and other computing advances that will let the international scientific research community collaborate over the challenging problems of our time.

StarLight evolved from an earlier enhanced broadband facility called STAR TAP (Science, Technology And Research Transit Access Point) developed by UIC and Argonne researchers. STAR TAP, with a maximum bandwidth speed of 622 megabits a second, continues to serve the needs of researchers worldwide who cannot yet get the extra data flow offered by StarLight.

Joe Mambretti directs the International Center for Advanced Internet Research at Northwestern University. He says the world’s advanced research community is enthusiastic about StarLight.

"The group developing StarLight has been at the forefront of advanced networking for the last 15 years. Our community develops advanced applications requiring these high-performance networking technologies. There's no end to this trend in sight," Mambretti said.

StarLight will host connections to the world’s most advanced multi-site supercomputing system, called TeraGrid, scheduled to begin operation in mid-2002. It also connects with the State of Illinois-funded optical research network called I-WIRE.

StarLight's physical connection and routing point is at Northwestern's Chicago campus. The high-tech facility offers ample space for expanding existing networking and computing equipment — a rare and valuable feature offered to researchers worldwide.

Development funding for StarLight comes from the U.S. National Science Foundation and international research network partners. Argonne National Laboratory’s Math and Computer Science Division provides network design and engineering and is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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