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Feature - Recovery Act funds speed up high-speed ethernet

Feature - Recovery Act funds speed up high-speed ethernet

Photo courtesy of Phil Edon, stock.xchng.

ESnet will build the world's fastest supercomputing network and test subnetwork for future technology using $62 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

ESnet, which is based at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, described their plans for the network in an announcement on the 10 August. Dubbed the Advanced Networking Initiative, it will serve as a pilot for 100 gigabit per second ethernet technology.

"We're moving to 100 gigabits because the standard today is 10 gigabits, and we already have individual streams of data that are bumping against that limit," said Steve Cotter, ESnet department head, in a recent interview. "We'd like to have a system out there that can handle more."

The Initiative will build 100 gigabit connections between the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. A fourth as of yet undetermined location in New York City will serve as a peering point - a sort of gateway - to international collaborators in Europe and Asia.

The Advanced Networking Initiative is being designed with the needs of some of today's largest international science collaborations in mind. For example, the next-generation archive of climate modeling data, which is maintained by the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, will contain at least 650 terabytes of data accessed by more than 2500 researchers worldwide. Likewise, once the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland goes online, it will be able to generate in excess of 100 gigabits of data per second.

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory have been invited to propose upgrades to their local network (the Chicago Metropolitan Area Network); the upgrades would link both labs to the Advanced Network Initiative. "Although no other LHC physics centers would initially have 100 gigabits per second access, this could raise the aggregate speed of all sites to access the 18 petabytes of data at Fermilab," said Matt Crawford, head of data movement and storage at Fermilab.

Inside the Fermilab Grid Computing Center.
Photo credit: Reidar Hahn, Fermilab Visual Media Services.

To make sure the pilot network keeps up with the needs of cutting-edge science, between $8 million and $9 million of the initiative money will go towards a national network test bed. All researchers and industry will be able to access the prototype network via the test bed. This will give them the opportunity to test forward-thinking computer technologies so that when 100 gigabit ethernet becomes more widespread, they are prepared to use the network immediately.

The U.S. Department of Energy is also putting $5 million into a fund for related research grants. "It will fund technologies for which we can help do the technology transfer from research to production," Cotter said. "So we'll provide the platform where we take it out of the laboratory and move it into a real network environment."

In order to create this super-speed network, researchers will have to overcome a number of technological difficulties, such as designing a new power and cooling system for routers. . Nonetheless, Cotter said that he expects the prototype to be up and running by the end of 2010. "We hope to run it in prototype format for two years until all the kinks are worked out," Cotter said.

IEEE, an international non-profit that often sets standards for new technologies, is scheduled to establish a 100 gigabit per second ethernet standard sometime next year, and ,with Recovery Act funds in hand, Cotter expects the project to move forward at a rapid pace. "Our objective is to try to accelerate this," Cotter explained. "We want to kind of push the vendors towards getting this out."

-Miriam Boon, iSGTW

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