Peterborough, N.H. - The global alliance seeking to build 10-Gbit optical networks and applications to run on them will meet next month to showcase experiments built on high-tech input from 21 nations.
Larry Smarr, director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, or CalIt2, called the iGrid meeting a pivotal moment in the world of scientific computing. CalIt2 (San Diego) will host the meeting, Sept. 26-30.
More than 40 global-computing demos scheduled for the meeting cover an array of application types, including scientific, the arts and virtual reality.
"We are supporting about 100 Gbits/second of data into the building," Smarr said. "You are going to see for the first time just how many different applications are enabled by this new infrastructure."
The iGrid alliance promotes the transnational use of existing multiple 10-Gbit/s networks to advance scientific research. It has been meeting at roughly two-year intervals since 1998 to prototype this new interactive computing. As the global optical network matures, its proponents maintain, research groups on different continents will be able to unite their computing facilities at will.
This year's iGrid program lists projects addressing art, bioinformatics, chemistry, cosmology, cultural heritage, education, manufacturing, medicine, geoscience, neuroscience and physics. The meeting is also posing three grand-challenge problems to advance the global lambda grid.
- Build a terabit local-area network as a test bed for terabit global networks;
- Develop secure streaming media for superhigh-definition digital cinema, a video technology with four times the resolution of HDTV; and
- Experiment with high-definition video for virtual reality systems. The conference will have a large-format tiled display and a six-wall "cave" for the experiments.
This type of networking and computing is supported by a rapidly developing optical-network technology that fundamentally differs from the current Internet. Instead of the best-effort data transfer of the randomly shared Internet, which can be slow and unpredictable, the international lambda grid allows direct end-to-end connections at extremely high data rates. That not only requires long-haul optical backbones across continents, but also the creation of fiber-optic links directly to computing centers.
"Some campuses like my institute, CalIt2, are working with the campus people so that we now have dedicated fiber links to about a dozen buildings or so," Smarr said.
"What we are seeing now is like what we saw in the early years of supercomputing-early adopters who are willing to suffer and do things that are crazy, just to be able to get access to the bandwidth," he said.
The physical optical network is just one component of a larger optical grid-computing architecture being developed by a user-formed organization, the Global Lambda Infrastructure Facility. Grid computing is catching on, group members say, on a wider front as businesses, universities and government institutions seek to develop computing clusters with more security and predictability than the Internet.
What the iGrid participants bring to grid computing is a high-data-rate optical network. Smarr's CalIt2 facility is developing a general optical-computing architecture based on the Internet Protocol. Called the OptIputer, the architectural specification includes everything from the underlying dense wavelength-division multiplexed optical network through levels of grid middleware to the actual supercomputer clusters that have end-to-end connectivity. For the supernetworks, instead of a PC, a Linux cluster is the actual endpoint.
Smarr sees the emerging supernetwork as a pivotal event in the history of computing. "This is a once-in-20-year kind of transition and it's a worldwide phenomenon," he said. "Indeed, the United States is a laggard-late to the party. For example, Canada has had the Canary optical network in place for over five years and our country got organized with the National Lambda rail just last fall.