CRPC Sites Connect to National High-Speed Network

Three CRPC sites and five affiliated sites are now linked to the very-high-speed Backbone Network Service (vBNS), an experimental network launched in 1995 that connects national supercomputing centers and universities across the country to collaborate and share powerful computing and information resources. Operated by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and MCI Telecommunications Corporation, the vBNS offers scientists speed and data capacity far beyond what is now available on the Internet.

A five-year, $50 million project, the sophisticated telecommunications network currently runs at 622 million bits per second and is expected to operate at 2.4 gigabits per second (2,400 mbps) by the year 2000. By comparison, the average home modem transmits 28,800 bits per second. The vBNS initially achieved bandwidths that were three times faster than typically available to universities, but later will run 12 to 24 times faster.

CRPC sites at Caltech, Rice University, and the University of Texas, and affiliated sites Drexel University, Indiana University, the University of Houston (UH), the University of Illinois, and the University of Maryland have been awarded connections to the vBNS. Connections are evaluated by a peer review process and are approved based on scientific and technical merit. There are now 92 institutions linked to the service.

The NSF will increase the connections up to 150 if Congress continues to support the NSF's role in President Clinton's Next Generation Internet, an initiative that is significantly impacted by the success of the vBNS. CRPC Director Ken Kennedy of Rice University is co-chair of Clinton's Advisory Committee on High Performance Computing and Communications, Information Technology, and the Next Generation Internet.

Rice University, UH, and the Baylor College of Medicine were among 13 original institutions awarded links to the vBNS in 1996 as part of the Houston Area Computational Science Consortium (HACSC). Chaired by Lennart Johnsson of UH, the Texas collaboration is using the vBNS to conduct computationally intensive research projects in areas like surgical simulation, 3-D modeling of molecular structures, computational steering of hydrocarbon reservoir models, and aircraft design. Led by Kennedy, Rice researchers are developing the software infrastructure that will make such distributed computer systems usable.

UH will link virtual environments in more than one location via the vBNS, enabling collaborative research in real time. UH is home to Texas's only CAVE, a cube with four display surfaces for total virtual reality immersion, and is the location of one of the most powerful computers in the state, an IBM SP2 with a 64-node supercomputer. Johnsson and the Globus team, led by CRPC researchers Ian Foster of Argonne National Laboratory and Carl Kesselman of the University of California Information Sciences Institute, successfully connected the IBM SP2 with SP2s in Stockholm and Chicago as part of the inaugural demonstration of the GUSTO Globus testbed at Supercomputing '97. This testbed uses Globus software to link computers at some 20 sites, many vBNS-connected, and during SC'97 provided more than 3600 processors and 2 Teraflops to researchers.

Initially connected at speeds of 45 megabits per second, the HACSC established in December 1997 a fledgling Texas Gigapop, a value-adding, three-layer meet point where customers can meet providers. This will eventually be the main connection for the Houston schools to the Internet 2 consortium.

Researchers at the University of Texas are using the vBNS for environmental simulations of groundwater transport in porous media. Ongoing collaborations with the CRPC and the U.S. Army Waterways Experiment Station are focused on the performance of water models for distributed memory computers, such as the long-term environmental impact of flows in bays and estuaries. The vBNS allows timely access to large-scale data for applications that involve 3-D, time-dependent simulations that can require hundreds of realizations to complete a single analysis in a given region.

CRPC site Caltech was awarded a connection to the vBNS through its affiliation with the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC), a nonprofit benefit corporation formed by California universities to achieve robust, high-capacity, Next Generation Internet communications services for the higher education academic and research communities. Its goals are to oversee and deploy a cost-effective, state-of-the-art statewide communications infrastructure for all post-secondary institutions in California, and to support ready access to supercomputing facilities and collaborations with federally sponsored research laboratories and partners.

CRPC affiliate site University of Maryland is using the vBNS to connect to supercomputer sites as part of its involvement with the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI). Led by CRPC researcher Joel Saltz, the work focuses on programming tools and environments and involves creating testbeds to develop experimental tools and streamline their dissemination and support. These tools are being evaluated on a scale that has not been feasible previously.

Other CRPC affiliated sites are using the vBNS for projects ranging from performance analysis tool development to stellar simulations. Indiana University's link, which just recently came online, is being used for wide-area metacomputing and tele-immersive (CAVE-to-CAVE) visualization experiments. Drexel University's newly awarded connection will be used for research in star cluster dynamics, numerical modeling, computational astrophysics, advanced cluster computing, and more. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is using the vBNS for research on performance tool development, I/O characterization, visualization, and collaboration, and a wide range of other projects related to the NSF's Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI). Illinois is the headquarters for the National Computational Science Alliance (NCSA), which, along with NPACI, is a lead institution for PACI. (See "Research Focus: PACI Projects at the CRPC." )

"The NSF's vBNS program will eventually provide gigabit connections to all the CRPC sites," says Kennedy. "With the advent of these connections, we are ready to move to the next great challenge: building software and algorithms that make heterogeneous distributed computing accessible to the end user."

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