May 2005
The Cyberinfrastructure Backplane: The Jump to Light Speed
The National LambdaRail
Cyberinfrastructure for Tomorrow's Research and Education
David Farber, National LambdaRail and Carnegie Mellon University
Tom West, National LambdaRail


Begun in 2004, phase one of deployment is complete, with the entire infrastructure on schedule to be finished by October 2005. Already, nearly 25 percent of the capacity is in use and it is anticipated that nearly 60 percent of the total capacity will be in use by late 2007. Planning for increased capacity and enhanced capabilities is already underway to ensure that NLR is always ready to meet the most demanding requirements of the research and education community.

NLR members and associates span a wide geographic and organizational range including individual universities; boards of regents; consortiums of institutions; not for profit corporations; a supercomputing center; a limited liability corporation; and Internet2, a not-for-profit organization that represents more than 300 organizations, including all the NLR members. In stark contrast to the government support provided to most R&E networking in the United States, NLR has been funded by the direct contributions of more than two dozen members and key corporate participants. The major strategic, corporate participant has been Cisco Systems. NLR would not have happened without the commitment of Cisco Systems to provide major resources, including optical equipment, routers, and switches. Cisco also provided early and ongoing support for, and focus on, advancing the network research. Level 3 Communications and WilTel Communications, as NLR’s predominate providers of fiber and related services, provided consideration in the acquisition of fiber and in providing the related services.

There are two main audiences for the NLR: network researchers and researchers involved in big science applications, including supercomputing. The focus on network researchers is a distinguishing characteristic of NLR. Fifty percent of NLR capacity is being devoted to support network research projects under the auspices of a network research advisory council led by NLR Chief Scientist David Farber of Carnegie Mellon University.

The NLR Network Research Council gathers thought leaders to guide NLR’s support of network research and provides a direct and enduring link to the community at the forefront of conceiving, developing, and testing revolutionary, not just evolutionary, networking technologies and capabilities. Directly engaging the network research community ensures that as the fundamental shift in networking to increasingly leverage optical technology continues, the NLR infrastructure will continue to be in the best possible position to support the investigations of cutting-edge network research — work that is not possible in the laboratory or any other national-scale network.

NLR already provides a unique, world-class nationwide testbed for network research. Dramatic experiments in new technologies such as dynamic wavelength provisioning and quantum encryption can be conducted without concerns about interrupting production services. Furthermore, the usage and performance of existing production services that use the NLR infrastructure can be examined in detail, providing the possibility for improving the capabilities of other networks that use those technologies.

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Reference this article
Farber, D., West, T. "The National LambdaRail," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 2, May 2005. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2005/05/national-lambdarail-cyberinfrastructure-for-tomorrows-research-and-education/

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