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Research community looks to SDN to help distribute data from the Large Hadron Collider

John Dix | May 27, 2015
Most advanced research and education networks have transitioned to 100 Gbps, but as fast as the core networks progress, the capabilities at the edge progress even faster.

Most advanced research and education networks in the last year or two have made the transition from 10 Gb/sec (Gbps) backbones to 100 Gbps; so people tend to say, "Wow, now you have lots of bandwidth." But the laboratory and university groups in our field people have deployed facilities where many petabytes of data are stored, along with very large numbers of servers which are moving from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps and in some cases 40 Gbps network interfaces. And 100 Gbps interfaces are expected within the next few months, so as fast as the core networks progress, the capabilities at the edges are progressing even faster, so this is a real issue.

Are you looking at using SDN on specific research networks or trying to implement the capabilities across a range of them?

NEWMAN: There is one project called the LHC Open Network Environment (LHCONE) that was originally conceived to help with operations that involved multiple centers. To understand this, though, I have to explain the structure of the data and computing facilities.

The LHC Computing Model was originally a hierarchical picture that included a set of "tiered" facilities. We called CERN the "Tier 0" where the data taken at the LHC are first analyzed. There are now 13 Tier 1 centers, which are major national computing centers including centers at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and the Brookhaven National Lab (BNL) in the US.

There are also more than 160 so-called Tier 2 centers at universities and other labs throughout the world, each of which serves a region of a large country like the United States, or in some cases they serve an entire country. Then every physics group has a so-called Tier3 cluster, and there are about 300 of those. All of these facilities are interconnected by the research and education networks mentioned.

The US is involved mainly in the two biggest experiments at the LHC. The one I work on is called CMS, short for the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) which is served by FermiLab, and our competing experiment is called ATLAS, which is served by BNL.

CMS and ATLAS are multipurpose particle physics experiments exploring the most fundamental constituents of matter and forces of nature. In 2012 they both discovered the Higgs boson, thought to be responsible for mass in the universe. And with the restart of the LHC higher energy and luminosity (intensity) we anticipate even greater discoveries of physics beyond the Standard Model of particle physics that embodies our current knowledge.

University connections to the Tier 1 centers are mostly through Internet2 and regional networks. So, for example, I am at Caltech so we work with Internet2 and with CENIC which is the California region network.


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