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 demands of leading-edge science increasingly require networking capabilities beyond those currently available from even the most advanced research and education networks. As network-enabled collaboration and access to remote resources become central to science and education, researchers often spend significant time and resources securing the specialized networking resources they need to conduct their research. As a result, there is less time and fewer resources available to conduct the research itself.

New technology holds the promise of providing more easily the networking capabilities researchers require. Increasingly, the best option for ensuring the technology and these capabilities are available seems to be for the research and education community to own and manage the underlying network infrastructure. This movement towards a facilities-owned approach is relatively unprecedented in the history of research and education networking, yet holds the promise for unique benefits for research and education. Ownership provides the control and flexibility, as well as the efficiency and effectiveness needed to meet research and education’s uniquely demanding networking requirements.

A new global network infrastructure owned and operated by the research and education community is being developed, deployed, and used. In the United States, a nationwide infrastructure is being built by the National LambdaRail (NLR) organization, in collaboration with scientists and network researchers, with leadership from the academic community, and in partnership with industry and the federal government. Furthermore, NLR both leverages, and provides leverage for, existing and new regional and local efforts to deploy academic-owned network infrastructure.

History of Research Networking

To understand how the most recent movement in research and education (R&E) networking differs from those of the past, and how unique the capabilities it provides are, let us take a look back at how R&E networking has developed in the United States over the past 35 years. In 1987, the initial NSFNET backbone provided just 56 kilobits per second of bandwidth. Even in 1991 only 1.5 megabits per second were available on the backbone, less than many current home broadband connections. Today, nationwide R&E networks have links of 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps), nearly 7000 times their capacity just 15 years ago. Yet it is increasingly apparent that even this is not enough capacity to meet emerging demands.

It is also important to realize that, tracing the development of today’s Internet back to the ARPANET of 1969, pioneers from the university community, with the support of government and industry, have provided leadership for network development to meet the needs of research and education. While many share in the development and evolution of the Internet as we know it today, university-based researchers played a key role both in developing fundamental Internet technologies and in providing large-scale testbeds that put those technologies to work and drove their further development.

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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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