NSF grant will create dedicated computer network to handle large volumes of research data
Campus researchers have received a two-year, $867,040 grant from the National Science Foundation to build a high-bandwidth optical data network to handle large amounts of computerized research data. The new network is designed to separate research data traffic from the rest of the data traffic on the Amherst campus.
Researchers in fields such as genomics, remote sensing, biostatistics and planetary science, who require high-speed transport of very large amounts of data, will be the major beneficiaries of the new network.
“This project is about how we can improve the computer network infrastructure at the university,” explains Michael Zink, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
The new network will allow scientists to move large data sets to and from campus and to the Massachusetts High-Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, where large-scale, high-performance computers will be housed. Currently that can’t be done and instead researchers have to physically ship hard drives containing high volumes of data back and forth.
The research team will build a dedicated, high-speed, high-volume transport ring connecting the UMass Amherst campus, the MGHPCC, and the Northern Crossroads facility in Cambridge, Mass. This high-bandwidth network will allow research traffic to be isolated from the mix of other information by dedicating specific wavelengths for the research network only. All other UMass Amherst data traffic will be transported on a separate wavelength.
Currently, all users at UMass Amherst share bandwidth, Zink says. “What happens is, if that data pipeline is already full with regular campus traffic, researchers have to wait much longer for their data to go through, possibly hours or even days. With the new infrastructure we’re putting in place, we’re getting an extra pipe that gives us competition free access. With this new setup, we can speed up the transmission of data by as much as 100 times.”
The NSF funding is an equipment grant, a major part of which will support the purchase and installation of three reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexes, which cost approximately $150,000 each. In fiber optics, a reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexer is a device which allows individual or multiple wavelengths carrying data channels to be added and/or dropped from a transport fiber eliminating the need to convert the signals on all of the channels to electronic signals and back again to optical signals.
Zink says that the remainder of the grant will support the purchase of routers required to employ regular Internet Protocol and Software Defined Networks. He envisions that all the hardware will be installed within the next 12 months. The second year of the grant will be devoted to orienting researchers at UMass Amherst to the new network and enabling them efficiently and productively use the new resource.
The leader of the project is John Dubach, the campus's chief information officer. Other key participants include Yanlei Diao and Prashant Shenoy, Computer Science, Andrea Foulkes, Public Health, Mario Parente, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Rick Palmer, head of Civil and Environmental Engineering and lead researcher for the Northeast Climate Science Center.
Photo: Michael Zink, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.