May 2005
The Cyberinfrastructure Backplane: The Jump to Light Speed
TransLight, a Major US Component of the GLIF
An Optical Web Connecting Research Networks in North America, Europe and the Pacific Rim
Tom DeFanti, University of Illinois, Chicago
Maxine Brown, University of Illinois, Chicago
Joe Mambretti, Northwestern University
John Silvester, University of Southern California
Ron Johnson, University of Washington


The current monoculture of the Internet is already being replaced by a diversity of options for interconnecting researchers and educators, enabled by scalable wavelength technologies. By the year 2010, this trend will have substantially transformed networking, enabling multiple additional capabilities. Large-scale sensor nets and huge scientific instruments will generate extraordinary amounts of data. Cheap 1000-processor clusters will serve globally distributed science projects, interconnecting at tens of gigabits per second, working on computational problems, data-intensive applications, and visualization of massive datasets — if and only if there are sufficient, affordable and predictable networks by then. New research activities like the OptIPuter and new deployments like NLR in the US, as well as similar activities in other countries, and economically affordable trans-oceanic submarine capacity (up to 10Gb) are rapidly becoming essential components of the research and education landscape.

The ability to schedule and reserve lambda networks using advanced grid services is creating an advanced cyberinfrastructure, termed the LambdaGrid. A production-class, application-centric LambdaGrid, comprised of electronically and optically switched circuits and advanced grid services, is being built by teams of programmers, networking engineers, electrical/computer engineers, computer scientists and discipline scientists who are attacking the challenging research issues and helping develop innovative solutions.

The Global Lambda Integrated Facility (GLIF)4 is an international virtual organization that supports this decade’s most advanced data-intensive scientific research and middleware development for the LambdaGrid. GLIF participants include National Research Networks (NRNs), countries, consortia and institutions that have adequate bandwidth for research and education production traffic, and that also have additional capacity they are willing to make available for use by global teams of discipline scientists, computer scientists and engineers. The GLIF community shares a common vision of building a new grid-computing paradigm, in which the central architectural element is optical networks, not computers, to support this decade’s most demanding applications. To ensure the worldwide interoperability and interconnectivity of optical networks, GLIF has taken the lead in advanced facilities innovation and is developing architectural standards, or models, for open optical exchanges, which are being adopted by NRNs worldwide. The GLIF community is pioneering the concept of creating international, national, and regional distributed facilities, based on optical technologies, which departs from the traditional concept of a dedicated network that provides limited, non-deterministic services. For example, this new approach allows Grid applications to ride on dynamically configured networks based on optical wavelengths concurrent with normal Internet paths for the remaining traffic mix.

TransLight, and all the IRNC awardees, participate in GLIF and provide connectivity between multi-gigabit international networks and US/GLIF participants, including NLR, ESnet/UltraScience Net, and Internet2/HOPI.

Reaching Out to Broader Communities of Interest

TransLight’s goal is not only to make enough international bandwidth available to try a myriad of application-serving solutions, leveraging all nations’ and science, engineering and education needs, but also to empower access to a diversity of networking strategies. TransLight has proven that simply providing additional bandwidth with traditional networks, which provide only for a narrowly defined monolithic “best effort” service to all communities, is not a solution for long-term requirements. TransLight was the first advanced international infrastructure project that demonstrated the potential of agile optical networking in meeting the needs of these communities. TransLight has been developing powerful, sophisticated new techniques for matching specific community requirements with required infrastructure resources. TransLight continues to develop new techniques for precisely matching capability to each science and engineering research and education community served and, learning from the successes and failures of new models, continues to transfer best practices between these communities. Hybrid network services are desired by the international science community and are, in fact, required to advance science over the next decade. TransLight is using lambdas to advantage, using packets when expedient, and dedicated circuits when necessary.

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Reference this article
DeFanti,T., Brown, M., Mambretti, J., Silvester, J., Johnson, R. "TransLight, a Major US Component of the GLIF," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 2, May 2005. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2005/05/trans-light/

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