Working to provide the most advanced networking possible to the U.S. scientific and research community, Internet2, a university-led research consortium, is starting to deliver a technology called dynamic circuit network (DCN).
DCN combines packet-based Internet communications with the dedicated circuit-based communications more commonly used in telephony. The end result is dramatic improvement in Internet bandwidth, tooling, and performance, proponents claim.
“Classic Internet bandwidth is packet-based, but with the growth of files in the scientific, research, and educational communities, we needed to provide researchers and scientists more flexibility with the types of bandwidth they provisioned, based on the applications they were running,” says Eric Boyd, deputy CTO of Internet2.
One case in point is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project, which is based at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, and on which physicists around the world collaborate.
“In high-energy physics, we try to understand how the Universe works at a fundamental level,” says Shawn McKee, a research scientist with the University of Michigan, and director for the U.S. ATLAS Great Lakes Tier 2 Center, one of the key U.S. research centers involved with the LHC. “We collide particles together in accelerators to provide enough energy to possibly create as-of-yet undiscovered particles, and we have designed and built large, complex detectors to capture the results of these collisions in great detail. Because the… detectors produce so much data, and the interesting events we are looking for are so rare, we have to process petabytes of data to look for new, interesting results.”
LHC requires enormous storage; powerful processors to reconstruct, validate, filter, and scan data; and super networks capable of transporting large data payloads under highly secure conditions. This last element is what DCN is supposed to help deliver.
“In an advanced network, we are talking about a minimum bandwidth of 100 megabits [per second], compared to a typical broadband DSL bandwidth of 1 to 3 megabits or a cable bandwidth of 3 to 6 megabits,” says Gary Bachula, VP of external relations for Internet2.
DCN can also give projects like LHC a greater degree of manageability. “The large Hadron collider project is a good example of how… science and research sites can… provision circuits with software, in place of having to set up circuits by hand, as they had to in the past,” notes Boyd. “The integration between packet- and circuit-based communications gives sites technology choices that can be tailored for the applications that they work with.”
The biggest challenge is to get scientists and researchers the toolsets that allow them to provision bandwidth on demand via DCN for their own applications -- and to manage that bandwidth for optimal performance.
The Internet2 DCN system also needs further simplification for installation and use; and tools must continue to evolve for problem debugging and DCN monitoring. Until it has these capabilities, it will remain largely an experiment.
“We have used DCN primarily in demonstrations and as proof-of-principle regarding LHC so far,” says Shawn McKee. “We have had a bit of a problem because DCN was not available when our software and architecture were first developed, so now physicists and engineers are working on an overall computing framework that treats the network like a black box, puts bits into the network at the source location, and hopes that they are available at the destination when you need them.”
However, scientists seem optimistic that DCN will get there.
“DCN is one step toward a different way of networking, and there are still many open questions,” says Internet2’s Boyd. “We have a lot of work remaining in integrating these network technologies, while at the same time maintaining the bedrock of standard networking that we already have… We want to enable using different transport technologies into different environments that work easily for whoever uses them… To the extent that we can achieve this, the door will be open to further advances in networking that combine Internet and other technologies.”
— Mary E. Shacklett, President, Transworld Data