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Feature - EVO powers communication in global collaborations

Feature - EVO powers communication for global collaborations

Image courtesy caltech.edu.

For the Large Hadron Collider collaborators who are spread across the globe, staying connected presents challenges. The Enabling Virtual Organizations (EVO) system, a worldwide network designed for institutions participating in the LHC experiments and other high-energy physics collaborative programs, makes international collaboration easier by providing a reliable and secure system for real-time virtual meetings.

EVO, winner of the 2009 Internet2 IDEA award for applied advanced networking "at its best," hails from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In 2008 it hosted more than 9,100 virtual LHC collaboration meetings with a total of over 4,200 users. The combined time each user spent in EVO LHC meetings last year totals more than 86,300 hours. Unlike commercial networks, EVO poses no restriction on the number of participants in a meeting. On September 10, 2008, about 1,250 sites around the world participated via EVO in the LHC startup event, with up to 250 sites connected at any given time.

"The EVO team's primary objective is to provide a collaborative service that meets the unique requirements of usability, quality, scalability, reliability, and low cost necessary for globally distributed research organizations," said Philippe Galvez, senior research scientist at Caltech and EVO's chief architect.

The EVO "grid" consists of 52 servers deployed at key network locations in 22 countries. Network locations include institutions linked by education and research networks such as JANET in the UK and RENATER in France, and at large laboratories such as CERN in Switzerland and Brookhaven National Laboratory in the U.S. EVO uses the grid monitoring service MonALISA (Monitoring Agents using a Large Integrated Services Architecture), also developed at Caltech, to connect users to the best available server and to provide load balancing for the entire system.

A partial screen shot (click on image to see more of screen) showing EVO connections to the LHC startup event at CERN on September 10, 2008. Image courtesy EVO team, Caltech.

Stepping forward

"The integration of the MonALISA architecture into EVO was a vital step in the evolution of the service towards a globally-distributed dynamic system that is largely autonomous," Galvez said. "The EVO infrastructure automatically adapts to the prevailing network conditions and configuration, so as to ensure that the collaboration service runs without disruption."

EVO features audio, video, instant messenger, phone bridging, file exchange, and a whiteboard on which to draw, write or display images. Users can record meetings and hold private audio discussions inside of meetings - a bit like whispering to your neighbor while someone else is talking. EVO replaces and improves upon its predecessor, the Virtual Room Videoconferencing System (VRVS), which offered only audio and video capabilities.

Joel Butler, a Fermilab, Illinois-based collaborator for the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at the LHC, relies on EVO to communicate with fellow collaborators at CERN and around the world on a daily basis.

"The CMS collaboration includes 38 nations with about 165 institutions and 3,000 physicists, engineers, computer scientists, and technicians. At any given time, fewer than one-third of the collaboration is at CERN," Butler said. "EVO permits us to hold meetings that span the geographic divide, and it would be impossible to collaborate to the degree of interaction that we have without such a service."

-Amelia Williamson, for iSGTW

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