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MU researcher secures NSF grant for 100G network

hGordon Springer connected the University of Missouri to its very first external computer network that was accessible to all university personnel in 1983. Now, the associate professor of computer science has secured a $1 million National Science Foundation grant to connect the Columbia campus to a 100-gigabit per second national research network.

The 1983 BitNet worked at only 9,600 bits per second (bps).  A 1998 network Springer helped set up had the capacity of 45 million bps. This network became known as the Internet2 network.

“The scale has increased enormously,” Springer said.  “Now the 4G cellular networks have that capability that we were so excited about for scientific research [in 1998].”

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A $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation will enable the University of Missouri to connect to a 100-gigabit per second national research network. Gordon Springer, an associate professor in computer science, secured the grant, which would enable researchers to transmit around five terabytes of data over the ultra high-speed network in less than a minute.

The growing importance of analyzing large amounts of data in disciplines like bioinformatics makes faster connections essential for research. Springer said the Life Sciences Center produces around five terabytes of data each week. With a 100 Gbps connection, that data could be sent and received in less than a minute.

The bulk of the NSF grant funds will be invested in the infrastructure to connect with the 100 Gbps optical recently installed by the Internet2 Consortium, of which Mizzou is a member. Springer said about $600,000 would be used for hardware including a switch to connect to the Internet2 network. A connection will be created by connecting to the Internet2 Network in St. Louis and use university-owned fiber along Interstate 70 to connect to the 100G switch in Columbia and continue on to Kansas City to connect back up to the Internet2 network on the opposite side of the state.

The cable runs from Kansas City to St. Louis along I-70, and from those cities to connect with cities and universities in every corner of the country from Seattle to Boston and from San Diego to Miami.

Internet2 is a collaboration of research institutions focused on the technological needs of its members, particularly cyberinfrastructure. MU is one of 21 campus pilot sites for the Innovation Platform, which aims to connect researchers throughout the country by providing high bandwidth without the usual traffic problems. The first step is the 100Gbps capability tapped into by the add/drop switch this grant will fund.

Research collaborations already in the works will be facilitated by this high data capability. Two main projects involving MU and The Ohio State University researchers will utilize the 100Gbps network’s capability to connect with a remote location, the OSU campus, which is also connected into the new Internet2 network.

“I’m interested in this whole idea of high performance computing in geographically distributed locations,” Springer said.

Ye Duan, an MU associate professor of computer science, will work with Umit Catalyurek on a brain imaging analysis project. Catalyurek is a professor of biomedical informatics and electrical and computer engineering at OSU.

He will also collaborate with a group led by Dong Xu, chair of the Computer Science Department, on a soybean genome analysis project.

“It’s not for the masses of students, it’s just for research and to see what does and doesn’t work,” Springer said.

In addition to enabling other types of data-rich research, Springer plans to use this opportunity to experiment with software to identify and troubleshoot traffic flow problems within the network. There will be four components that monitor network traffic and identify areas of lower-than-normal traffic, which might indicate problems.

Springer received a prototype of the monitoring device on Nov. 5, 2012. A standard-looking black box, with an SD card, USB port and plug for a monitor, its key component is the software.

“It watches the network,” Springer said. “It can tell us where the network is working and where it may be having problems.”

Monitoring traffic is only the first step. Springer’s challenge is to apply that ability to also manage the traffic.

“Let’s see what kind of things we can do with it rather than just watching it,” Springer said. “You’ve got to put applications and services in place that take advantage of the technology from the development labs.”

The amount of data transferred across the network will make managing the volume and flow even more important. Springer said he wants to create a system so the network will be able to do that routinely.

“If everybody makes a telephone call at the same time, not everybody is going to get through,” Springer said, likening the risks of researchers trying to send large packets of data at the same time to an overloaded cellular network. “We’re trying to automate so we can dynamically adjust to changing loads.”