MIT's New Supercomputing Network
How long do you think it would take to download 10 full-length, high-definition movies from the Internet? Well, it could take you an hour, several hours, maybe even several days, depending on your type of network connection and its bandwidth. If you have access to one of today’s high-speed supercomputing networks, it would take you only 30 seconds.
There’s the MIT Regional Optical Network, for example. This all-optical network provides connectivity to key Internet exchange points at speeds of 10 Gbps and beyond, making it one of the world’s largest and fastest institutional networks for global research and collaboration.
In its simplest terms, the MIT Regional Optical Network is a computer network comprised of network infrastructure connected to a series of cables – but not just any ordinary type of cable: optical fiber cable. An optical cable is a piece of very thin glass or silica used to transport laser light; in practice, this means it’s transporting Internet data signals.
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MIT faculty and researchers working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project, for example, have substantial data sets that need to be analyzed and shared with others in near real time. The LHC smashes protons moving at nearly 100% of the speed of light into each other. Faculty and researchers then wait to see what happens; in particular, they are waiting to see what new particulate matter is found. With data transfer numbers at 2-4Gbps and 24 hours/day, each collision produces about 2MB of data – the size of a small digital photo. With so much data being generated, high-speed computing capability is required to analyze it. In fact, the LHC project was the biggest driver early on for the creation of the MIT Regional Optical Network.
For a closer look at how faculty and researchers have been using the MIT Regional Optical Network since it was launched in March 2008, refer to the research project profiles for the LHC and the MIT Darwin Project, a new program to develop computational models of how marine microbes live and evolve in the ocean.
Sample comments by MIT faculty include:
“The MIT Regional Optical Network represents a big leap for the institute, solidifying MIT’s leadership in cutting edge physics. The global, high-speed network connection is critical to the success of the LHC project. By having this network, IS&T makes it possible for MIT to host a major supercomputing facility locally, thereby giving MIT a leadership role in research taking place on a global scale. This network literally puts MIT on the world map.”
- Prof. Bolek Wyslouch, MIT Professor in the Department of Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science (LNS)
“The Darwin Project is advancing computational modeling of marine microbial communities, with the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Marine Microbiology Initiative. As part of this work, we need to efficiently transfer high volumes of numerical model results across the country and to interact effectively with collaborators on the west coast. The National LambdaRail and MIT Regional Optical Network will provide the very high-bandwidth needed for seamless collaboration.”
- Mick Follows, PI of The Darwin Project and a Senior Research Scientist with the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS)
“MIT is at the forefront of high-speed network delivery, having constructed a network resource vital to our research community today, with flexibility and redundancy to ensure its reliability and growth into the future.”
- Prof. Bruce Tidor, MIT Professor of Biological Engineering and Computer Science with CSAIL, Co-director of MIT’s Computational and Systems Biology Initiative and a Darwin Project participant
Information Services & Technology (IS&T) at MIT partnered with Nortel to create this next-generation network, acquiring already-laid fiber-optic lines (“dark fiber”) from Level 3 Communications. The result is an adaptive all-optical intelligent network designed to accommodate faster technologies and upgrades as they become available in the coming decade.
Today, the network offers 10 Gbps connection speeds. MIT and Nortel have 40 Gbps in their sights with 100 Gbps as a possibility within a couple of years.
The ultimate objective – according to Jerrold Grochow, Vice President for IS&T – is to help create the fastest and most flexible network possible to further MIT’s mission on a global scale – a network with the potential to revolutionize education and research. He notes, “With the Regional Optical Network as a resource, educators and researchers at MIT are able to collaborate with peers in new ways. The network’s abundant bandwidth and ability to provide upgrades into the future supports the dynamic exchange of data, whether for seeking new particle matter or explorations of the deep seas.”
If your computationally intensive project or research might benefit from the speed and power of MIT’s regional optical network, contact IS&T’s Infrastructure and Services Team at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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