Cern, the world's largest particle physics laboratory, has built the first working intercontinental 10 Gigabit Ethernet wide area network. It will ultimately make up part of the fabric of the next-generation internet, dubbed Internet2.
Cern's Wan is based on the Terascale E-Series family of switches and routers, which underpin a high-performance grid computing farm with a data throughput of up to 2.4 terabits per second.
The computing farm is based in Geneva and made up of between 6,000 and 8,000 Intel-based Linux servers and 2,000 storage devices, co-ordinated by technology from Force10 Networks.
Cern's computing system will be able to process large amounts of data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator, which is due to go online in 2007. The LHC will rely on data from the server farm, and use the transatlantic infrastructure to send out information to what Cern calls tier-one locations.
The 11 tier-one locations comprise some of the world's largest and most complex research networks, including TeraGrid, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the California Institute of Technology and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information.
The Force10 Terascale E-Series will also provide 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections to Cern's multiple-campus-based experiments, which comprise individual computing clusters.
Prior to 2007, Cern will be ramping up use of this infrastructure, increasing the load and usage to test and debug the system.
The whole system is a set of federated grids, said David Foster, communications systems and networking group leader at Cern. The individual grid initiatives form part of a larger picture - a high-speed internet capable of hosting high-quality graphics, streaming video and vast amounts of transactional data.
Cern's project is part of the LHC Computing Grid Initiative, and EU projects such as Enabling Grids for E-Science.
Foster said, "This is a technology that is evolving, with the academic and scientific arenas pushing it forward and showing that it is really usable in a production environment. The industrial applications for this will come along later as a wave of production grids for many areas of science, though it is applicable in other areas, such as financial analysis. We can expect a ramp-up of uptake as the technology matures and as the business models become defined."
He said there had been a great increase in connectivity and bandwidth the world over, which was bringing in new ways of doing science and engaging more people in the process.
"It is taking the science to the scientists because you can move data across the globe very cost effectively. Scientists can work more locally than ever before. The grid infrastructure is the tool that facilitates this," he said.
Cern employs 2,600 people. Its most famous alumnus is scientist Tim Berners-Lee, who in 1989 invented the world wide web to meet the demand for automatic information sharing between scientists working in different universities and institutes around the world.
What is Internet2?
Cern's 10 Gigabit Ethernet wireless area network will link into the Internet2 initiative, which is based on other 10 Gigabit Ethernet networks. Internet2 is a consortium led by 207 universities working in partnership with industry and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies.
One of the projects to come out of Internet2 is Abilene, part of the Internet2 backbone network, and a system that enables US-wide testing of applications such as uncompressed high-definition TV-quality video; remote control of scientific instruments such as mountaintop telescopes and electron microscopes; collaboration using immersive virtual reality; and grid computing.