Discovery: VU launches universe-class Internet highway

By Milt Capps

Discovery:  VU launches universe-class Internet highway | Vanderbilt University, Large Hadron Collider, ORNL, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, physics, computing, Charles Maguire, Ken Russell, Matt Hall, Internet, broadband, Big Bang, CERN, astronomy, Advanced Computing Center for Research and Education, ACCRE, Elementary Particle Physics Group, EPPG, Michael Issah, Julia Velkouska, TISPA, Tennessee Internet Service Providers Association, National Science Foundation, Level 3 Communications, Southern Crossroads, SoX, National LambdaRail, Georgia Tech, Stanford University

VU's Matt Hall

Spurred by ties to an extraordinary laboratory in Europe, Vanderbilt University has established "leading-edge" broadband access to the rest of the world.

On Friday, the university announced completion of an upgrade of the campus data circuit that enables users to move data at 10 gigabits per second, a 15-fold increase over the system's previous limit.

The expanded capacity enables Vanderbilt users to transmit and receive data from farflung scientific communities -- foremost among them, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, home of the world's largest subatomic particles accelerator, located near Geneva and better known by its French acronym, CERN.

In September, with fanfare reserved for such events as human Moon landings, CERN's large-hadron collider (LHC) was switched-on, after 13 years in construction, and is now in its winter dormancy, prior to beginning its first full season of scientific activity.

The LHC has been dubbed the "largest physics experiment ever built," and, with the new high-capacity circuit in-place, Vanderbilt scientists will play a central role in analyzing and archiving mountains of data emanating from the LHC.

As recently reported in Symmetry Magazine, Vanderbilt investigators are part of a multi-university collaboration that is driving computer networking to support transmission of data from the LHC to institutions in the United States. Much of Vanderbilt's assignment and related physics work is done through VU's Advanced Computing Center for Research and Education (ACCRE) and the Elementary Particle Physics Group (EPPG).

Viewed more broadly, Vanderbilt is one of 157 U.S. institutions involved in high-energy physics research, a field in which scientists are said to be among the most aggressive in demanding high-bandwith resources.

Vanderbilt Physics and Astronomy Professor Charles F. Maguire (at left), Research Associate Michael Issah and Associate Professor Julia Velkouska are among VU scientists working with LHC experiments and data.

Although VNC attempts to reach Maguire directly have thus far been unsuccessful, he was quoted in a Vanderbilt release issued Friday. He said, in part, "There are hundreds of terabytes of data being generated at CERN and transferred to ACCRE - which is 1,000 times more data than we could possibly store on a single desktop computer system... We are on the leading edge of universities that have this capability, and I imagine that it will be used across the university and medical center to send and share data, such as MRIs and PET scans, with collaborators."

Maguire added that the Vanderbilt administration had been enthusiastic about making the commitment for improved broadband, after being approached by Maguire and his colleagues.

Putting broadband speed into perspective, Tennessee Internet Service Providers Association President Ken Russell (at right) told VNC that VU's broadband capacity is now the equivalent of 1,500 high-definition television channels.

TISPA's Russell said of VU's initiative, "Their new circuit is everything that it is billed to be... This 10-Gigabit channel allows Vanderbilt access to both Internet2 and the Lambda Rail networks at that bandwidth, worldwide. This boosts their capability of data analysis by several orders of magnitude. This brings Vanderbilt right into line with the top research institutions in the world."

The broadband upgrade was overseen by Matt Hall, Vanderbilt's associate vice chancellor for information technology services and associate chief information architect. When queried by VNC about the project, Hall credited execution to VU network and project-management team members and external resources. Hall declined to reveal the cost of the upgrade.

Hall said project contractors included Level 3 Communications and Southern Crossroads (SoX), the latter being a National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported, Atlanta-based consortium that supports broadband development for education, research and economic development in the South.

Hall said that examples of Vanderbilt's new broadband peer universities are Stanford University, Georgia Tech and institutions that are members of the National LambdaRail, which is a project designed to improve broadband infrastructure for the scientific-research community.

As the LHC on the Franco-Swiss border ramps-up its operations, Vanderbilt's role could expand, further, as oceans of data are generated. The LHC is designed to do nothing less than help scientists understand the origins of both the universe and the subatomic world. CERN LHC experiments center around simulating in miniature the "Big Bang" event from which the universe is believed by most scientists to have manifest.

Within the LHC particle accelerator (during preparations, at left), protons traveling at nearly the speed of light will make more than 11,000 laps of the 27-kilometer long oval tube each second, and major experiments will involve more than 600 million particle collisions per second, simulating energy levels heretofore found only in Nature.

The CERN scientific community has other ties to Tennessee. For instance, this spring CERN scientists will be among those convening within the Knoxville Convention Center for "Quark Matter 2009," a conference addressing collisions of subatomic particles. Vanderbilt and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are among the event's organizers.

QM09's official name is "The 21st International Conference on Ultra-Relativistic Nucleus-Nucleus Collisions." Resource: CERN LHC F.A.Q. is here.