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


The NLR infrastructure is already being used to support national-scale projects that require capabilities that today only NLR can provide:

  • The Extensible Terascale Facility (ETF) supported by the National Science Foundation, is a multi-million dollar, multi-year effort that has built and deployed the TeraGrid, a world-class networking, computing and storage infrastructure designed to engage the science and engineering community to catalyze new discoveries. The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, one of the original TeraGrid participants, was the first organization to use NLR to connect its facilities to the nationwide TeraGrid facility. Recently, the Texas Advanced Computing Center acquired a 10 Gbps wave from NLR to connect Austin to Chicago. Oak Ridge National Laboratory also is using NLR for back-up waves between Atlanta and Chicago as part of ETF.

  • The HOPI project of Internet2 is using NLR to explore the evolution of the Internet’s core. This project is engaging industry, regional, and international partners to examine a hybrid of packet switching and dynamically provisioned lambdas. It is using a wavelength on the entire NLR infrastructure footprint.

  • The CENIC organization and the Pacific Northwest GigaPOP are undertaking a joint project that uses NLR infrastructure to create, deploy, and operate Pacific Wave, an advanced, extensible peering facility along the entire Pacific Coast of the United States. Pacific Wave will create a new peering paradigm by removing the geographical barriers of traditional peering facilities. Pacific Wave will enable any U.S. or international network to connect at any location along the U.S. Pacific Coast facility, as well as the option to peer with any other Pacific Wave participant regardless of their physical connection.

  • The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) UltraScience project is using NLR infrastructure to link Sunnyvale, Seattle, with Chicago. The UltraScience Net is an experimental research test bed funded by DOE’s Office of Science to develop networks with unprecedented capabilities to support distributed, large-scale science applications.

  • The OptIPuter is a powerful, distributed cyberinfrastructure supporting two major data-intensive scientific research and collaboration efforts in the Earth sciences and bioscience. OptIPuter is a five-year research program led by the University of California, San Diego and the University of Illinois at Chicago with several partners. NLR waves support the OptIPuter from University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University in the Southwest, to the University of Washington in the Northwest, to the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Midwest.
NLR and the Future of Research and Education

Cooperation and collaboration on common goals are the hallmark of the NLR. NLR provides a unique nationwide infrastructure that is able to provide the networking capabilities that are an increasingly critical part of the cyberinfrastructure required by the U.S. R&E community. This includes stable and reliable production networks at the regional, national, and international levels, as well as “breakable” experimental networks in support of network research. NLR also provides a locus for the symbiotic relationship between researchers using networking capabilities, and networking researchers looking to develop and test new network capabilities.

Large scale scientific applications, many driven by supercomputing, are becoming more routine. However, there is a looming collision between application requirements and network capacity. Ownership and control of the basic infrastructure can provide the most cost-effective way to meet the full range of networking needs. It provides a platform for researchers to spend the least amount of time possible working on connecting participants in large-scale research efforts.

An historic opportunity exists for the R&E community to leverage technology and achieve control over advanced network resources. This is an opportunity not only to meet today’s needs but also to lay the foundation for a new round of innovation. The R&E community has historically led the way in advanced networking and it can continue to do so.

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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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