Optical Network Links 'Virtual'

UIC UIC News Release

University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
601 S. Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607-7113, (312) 996-3456,

Release Date: September 25, 2002
Contact: Paul Francuch, (312) 996-3457, francuch@uic.edu

The University of Illinois at Chicago is one of six educational institutions selected to develop and build a high-speed computer that will use geographically distributed computational resources linked by a new generation network of ultra-high-speed optical fiber. Unlike today's "computer-in-a-box," this advanced research tool will be a "virtual" computer with the power to help researchers understand complex science as never before.

The $13.5 million, five-year project was announced Sept. 25 by the National Science Foundation. UIC's share will be 28 percent of the overall project budget.

Larry Smarr of the University of California, San Diego is the project's principal investigator. Thomas DeFanti, distinguished professor and co-director of UIC's Electronic Visualization Laboratory, along with Jason Leigh, EVL senior research scientist, will serve as co-principal investigators.

UIC will manage the virtual computer project, called "OptIPuter."

"Think of OptIPuter as a giant graphics card, connected to a giant disk system via a system bus that happens to be an extremely high-speed optical network," said DeFanti. "One of our major design goals is to provide scientists with advanced interactive querying and visualization tools to enable them to explore massive amounts of previously uncorrelated data in near-real time."

DeFanti is presently involved in several optical networking initiatives taking place in Chicago such as the NSF-funded StarLight, an advanced optical infrastructure and proving ground for network services used by scientific researchers worldwide.

DeFanti is also an inventor of the EVL's Cave Automatic Virtual Environment or "CAVE" — a real-time, virtual-reality device that allows participants in remote locations to simultaneously examine computer-generated images sent by high-speed data networks.

OptIPuter will support advanced scientific research and collaboration, allowing users to interactively analyze, correlate and visualize tremendous amounts of data. Biologists, geologists and medical researchers are expected to be among the first to test the system that will move massive amounts of data at speeds approaching ten-billion bits per second — or about 200,000 times faster than that of a conventional 56-kilobit dial-up modem.

While optical networks working in parallel now allow such speed, typical computers are not equipped to match these networks' capacity. Using specialized networking protocols and switching hardware, OptIPuter technology will let scientists using widely distributed computational clusters and repositories maximize the benefits of optical bandwidth. OptIPuter will not only work many times faster than today's fastest desktop computer, but will handle many times the information load.

New hardware and software will be needed to make OptIPuter work according to plan. UIC's primary contribution to the project will be in network and computer cluster architecture; data, visualization and collaboration tools and techniques; and educational outreach.

Researchers at both UIC and the University of California, San Diego will lead the project, in partnership with Northwestern University, San Diego State University, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Irvine.

OptIPuter will also be tested on undergraduate students at the University of California, San Diego and with younger students at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Oak Park, Ill. and the University of California, San Diego's Preuss School, a middle-high charter school in San Diego, Calif.

Additional contact: Laura Wolf, UIC's Electronic Visualization Laboratory, (312) 996-3002; laura@evl.uic.edu

For more information about UIC, visit http://www.uic.edu.