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World's fastest network gets £38m grant

First move to a 1Tbit/s set-up

Californian research facility, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is looking to build the world's fastest computer network.

The lab, which has just scored a £38 million grant, to develop the network, will use the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) to build a prototype 100Gbit/s Ethernet network to connect Department of Energy supercomputer centres at speeds 10 times faster than current ESnet. ESnet serves an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 DOE users, as well as more than 18,000 non-DOE researchers from universities, government agencies, and private industry.

"This network will serve as a pilot for a future network-wide deployment of 100 Gbit/s Ethernet in research and commercial networks and represents a major step toward DOE's vision of a 1-terabit-1,000 times faster than 1 gigabit-network interconnecting DOE Office of Science supercomputer centres," said Michael Strayer, head of DOE's Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research.

The $62 million comes courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and will be used to create new jobs for network and software engineers at Berkeley Lab, but the bulk of the funding will be used for purchasing networking equipment or services from service providers who have the infrastructure to support the new 100 Gbit/s technology, the lab said.

One of the largest applications that could benefit from such a high-powered network is the study of global climate change. For example, an archive of past, present and future climate modelling data maintained by the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory contains more than 35 terabytes of data and is accessed by more than 2,500 users worldwide. However, the next-generation archive is expected to contain at least 650 terabytes, and the larger distributed worldwide archive will be between 6 petabytes to 10 petabytes.

DOE scientists are now generating data at the terabyte scale, and datasets will soon be in the petabyte range, or 1,000 terabytes, the lab stated.

The ESnet recently announced a bandwidth reservation system known as On-Demand Secure Circuit and Advance Reservation System (OSCARS).

According to the lab, OSCARS automatically harvests information about the network's topology once an hour and determines if there are physical changes in the network, and then updates its database accordingly. When a new reservation is received, the system refers to the database to check for conflicts with existing requests, then reserves a path for information to flow around that.

In addition to the OSCARS website, some users can also make bandwidth reservations with either the TeraPaths or LambdaStation systems. Both were developed with support from ASCR, and are deployed at several universities and DOE laboratories across the country.

According to the lab, it used to take three months, 13 network engineers, 250 plus emails and 20 international conference calls to set up an inter-continental virtual circuit between the National Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics in France and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Chicago.


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