U of Alberta contributes to international network project

The University of Alberta is working with 30 other partners to create an intercontinental IP-controlled optical network that will ease data sharing sharing and collaboration.

The Global and Advanced Research Development Environment

and Network’s (GARDEN) main backer is the European Union. Those working with the U of A include researchers at CERN, the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, and the Institute for Nuclear Physics in Poland.

With researchers increasingly collaborating with partners beyond their borders and needing to share ever-increasing amounts of data, sharing that data quickly, easily and efficiently is becoming a challenge, said Bryan Caron, manager of research computing and information systems at the U of A’s Centre for Subatomic Research.

Caron said there’s no real connection between the long-haul distance sonic connections that telecom operators are using and more standard LAN IP-based traffic.

“A lot of the driving force behind this is research and scientific projects,” said Caron. “But to actually enable a lot of the applications, and do it securely and in an efficient manner, they need to integrate some of the control mechanisms on the telecom side and the user side.”

Right now, Caron said, middlemen have to get involved when a researcher in Canada wants to exchange data with a partner in Europe over a guaranteed high bandwidth connection. The researcher here contacts an engineer who contacts an engineer in Europe and they arrange cross connections through the various devices at different national networks and negotiate times and availability. Sometimes this process can take days.

GARDEN’s goal is to remove those middlemen and automate the process for the researcher creating a user-controlled light path.

“What this is proposing is to have a more streamlined approach where you can actually guarantee your level of bandwidth and QoS in a more dynamic way,” said Caron. “The person, even though they’re transversing several national and international networks, will have a transparent experience. It essentially becomes a private network for them.”

The system will either allow the user to enter a manual interface to schedule their data transfer, or plug directly into their applications to make it a transparent experience for the user.

When the ATLAS experiment at the CERN Large Hardon Collider project in Switzerland commences data talking in 2007, it is expected to generate raw data at the amount of 1 PB per year. That data will need to be transferred to data farms and shared with CERN partners around the world.

To meet the needs of the bandwidth-intensive users interested in using the network, like ATLAS, GARDEN plans to offer a dynamic, packet-based connection of 10G/second with a guaranteed connection to minimize data loss. The paths will go through IP routers and dedicated light paths.

Caron said the standards to allow this sort of a network have already been written for the most part. What needs to be created, and what GARDEN is proposing to do, is to implement those standards and create the middleware software that will allow the telecom side and the IP side to interface.

“We need to write the glue that goes between them,” said Caron.

The GARDEN proposal is currently under review for funding approval by the EU, with final approval expected next May. Caron said if they get the go, trials for the three-year project should begin that summer with experiments running by the winter of 2004.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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