High-Performance Networked Applications a First for the National Science Foundation at the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago

February 2009

The National Science Foundation Showcases Gigabit-enabled Science at the World’s Largest General Science Conference
CHICAGO – The transformative technology of high-performance networking in support of science was prominently featured at the 175th American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting held February 12-16 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. For the first time, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided an advanced network service for its exhibition space at the conference, enabling multiple gigabit-performance applications to be demonstrated continuously.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Northwestern University were invited by the NSF to showcase its International Research Network Connections (IRNC) program in the city where StarLight, the world’s most advanced communications exchange facility, was established with funding from the NSF.
To support the demonstrations, a high-performance network was extended from StarLight, located on the Chicago campus of Northwestern University, to the Hyatt Regency Hotel, site of the conference. The StarLight communication services supported high-resolution video teleconferences with international collaborators as well as several high-performance application demonstrations.
The high-definition video teleconferences took place between the NSF booth and scientific institutions in Michigan, Russia, the Netherlands, Korea, the Czech Republic and Brazil. Attendees were able to watch the live presentations and question the scientists appearing on a 65-inch LCD display, as if meeting face to face.
“The clarity of high-definition audio and video were compelling, eliminating technological artifacts so we could easily interact with our colleagues and concentrate on what they were saying and showing us,” said Maxine Brown, Associate Director of UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) and co-principal investigator of the NSF IRNC award TransLight/StarLight, which provides connectivity between the U.S. and Europe.
In addition to the teleconferencing demonstrations, Greg Cole from the University of Tennessee and principal investigator of the NSF IRNC GLORIAD award gave booth presentations on GLORIADEarth, a real-time graphical depiction of network use of large science applications on the GLORIAD network, a research and education network ring circling the earth.
Northwestern University’s International Center for Advanced Internet Research (iCAIR) demonstrated its High Performance Digital Media Network (HPDMnet) by streaming high-resolution digital content from servers in Spain, Canada, the Netherlands and StarLight to the displays in the NSF booth.
HPDMnet is an advanced digital media service that is being designed and developed by an international consortium which has created unique technologies that allow high-performance networks to stream exceptionally high-quality digital media from any source, including cameras, servers, scientific instruments and data repositories.

HPDMnet, which is based on a global optical networking facility, can support high-volume digital media streams including individual streams thousands of times larger than those on the common Internet.
“Today’s Internet provides a generalized service that does not support high-quality digital media,” said iCAIR director Joe Mambretti. “Using HPDMnet, you can transport digital media worldwide in the highest possible resolution, including media that’s more than four times the resolution of HD.”
UIC’s National Center for Data Mining (NCDM) used the gigabit bandwidth to demonstrate Sector, a cloud computing platform that is designed to support computing over geographically distributed racks of computers. At the AAAS meeting, Sector was used over four racks located at UIC, StarLight, Johns Hopkins University, and Calit2 at University of California, San Diego.
NCDM is the first group to use cloud computing for data intensive computing over wide-area networks rather than within a single data center. Sector was used to sort one terabyte of data over racks at four sites to demonstrate how a large data computation can be performed across several data centers at scale.
“The high-performance networks already connect data centers around the world,” said NCDM director and UIC professor of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science Robert Grossman. “Sector allows a user to harness the combined computational power of several data centers simultaneously, with only a slight degradation in the quality of the computing work. It’s a major leap in the field of high-performance computing.”
In addition to these networked demonstrations, UIC’s EVL demonstrated its TacTile multi-touch display, which is a funded NSF Major Research Instrumentation project. The TacTile system has touch-enabled pan, zoom and interactive functions, like a tabletop-sized Apple iPhone, but in high-resolution suitable for displaying scientific data.
TacTile was running RainTable, an application EVL developed with the Science Museum of Minnesota to demonstrate how water flows over terrain, which is now part of a traveling museum exhibit about water. TacTile was extremely well received by AAAS attendees, as well as the hordes of students and children who participated in the AAAS Family Science Days.
The NSF was pleased to have gigabit networking to its booth, enabling its funded researchers to show their work rather than just talk about it. The 2010 Annual Meeting of AAAS will be in San Diego, and NSF is already thinking of the possibilities!

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