The National Science Foundation Awards $13.5 Million

September 25, 2002 / By Doug Ramsey

Larry Smarr
Calit² director Larry Smarr talks about the paradigm shift to a bandwidth-dominated (rather than processor-centric) computing world.
Length: 2:28
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San Diego and Chicago, September 25, 2002 - The National Science Foundation (NSF) today awarded $13.5 million over five years to a consortium led by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The funds will support design and development of a powerful distributed Grid "infostructure" to support data-intensive scientific research and collaboration. Initial application efforts will be in biosciences and earth sciences research, including brain and seismic imaging, and environmental remote sensing. It is one of the largest Information Technology Research (ITR) grants awarded since the NSF established the program in 2000.

Dubbed the "OptIPuter"-for optical networking, Internet Protocol, and computer storage and processing-the envisioned Grid infostructure will tightly couple computational, storage and visualization resources over parallel optical networks using the IP communication mechanism. "The opportunity to build and experiment with an OptIPuter has arisen because of major technology changes in the last five years," said principal investigator Larry Smarr, director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology [Calit²], and Harry E. Gruber Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering. "Optical bandwidth and storage capacity are growing much faster than processing power, turning the old computing paradigm on its head: we are going from a processor-centric world, to one centered on optical bandwidth, where the networks will be faster than the computational resources they connect." We will in the words of futurist George Gilder, author of Telecosm, have to learn how to "waste" bandwidth and storage, while conserving computing, says Smarr.

The OptIPuter project will enable scientists who are generating massive amounts of data to interactively visualize, analyze, and correlate their data from multiple storage sites connected to optical networks. Designing and deploying the OptIPuter for
Grid-intensive computing will require fundamental inventions including software and middleware abstractions to deliver unique capabilities in a lambda-rich world. (A "lambda," in networking parlance, is a fully dedicated wavelength of light in an optical network, each already capable of bandwidth speeds from 1-10 gigabits/second.) The researchers in southern California and Chicago will focus on new network-control and traffic-engineering techniques to optimize data transmission; new middleware to bandwidth-match distributed resources; and new collaboration and visualization to enable real-time interaction with high-definition imagery.

UCSD and UIC will lead the research team, in partnership with researchers at Northwestern University, San Diego State University, the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California and University of California-Irvine [a partner of UCSD in Calit²]. Co-PIs on the project are UCSD's Mark Ellisman and Philip Papadopoulos of the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UCSD, who will provide expertise and oversight on application drivers, Grid and cluster computing, and data management; and UIC's Thomas A. DeFanti and Jason Leigh, who will provide expertise and oversight on networking, visualization and collaboration technologies. "Think of the 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, a distinguished professor of computer science at UIC and co-director of the university's Electronic Visualization Laboratory. "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." The OptIPuter project manager will be UIC's Maxine Brown. SDSC will provide facilities and services, including access to the NSF-funded TeraGrid and its 13.6 teraflops of cluster computing power distributed across four sites.

The project's broad multidisciplinary team will also conduct large-scale, application-driven system experiments. They will be carried out in close conjunction with two data-intensive e-science efforts already underway: NSF's EarthScope, and the Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN) funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They will provide the application drivers to ensure a useful and usable OptIPuter design. Under co-PI Ellisman, UCSD's National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research (NCMIR) is driving the BIRN neuroscience application, with an emphasis on neuroimaging. Under the leadership of UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography Deputy Director and Acting Dean John Orcutt, Scripps' Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics is leading the EarthScope geoscience effort, including acquisition, processing and scientific interpretation of satellite-derived remote sensing, near-real-time environmental, and active source data.

Larry Smarr
Calit²'s Smarr talks about how the OptIPuter will help scientists collaborate on data-intensive applications including earth sciences and bioscience.
Length: 2:34
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The OptIPuter is a virtual "metacomputer" (a term coined by Smarr in 1988) in which the individual "processors" are widely distributed clusters; the "memory" is in the form of large distributed data repositories; "peripherals" are very-large scientific instruments, visualization displays and/or sensor arrays; and the "motherboard" uses standard IP delivered over multiple dedicated lambdas. Use of parallel lambdas will permit so much extra bandwidth that the connection is likely to be uncongested. "Recent cost breakthroughs in networking technology are making it possible to send multiple lambdas down a single piece of customer-owned optical fiber," said co-PI Papadopoulos. "This will increase potential capacity to the point where bandwidth ceases to be the bottleneck in the development of metropolitan-scale Grids."

According to Calit²'s Smarr, end of the decade Grid-intensive applications "will require an international distributed cyber infrastructure based on petascale computing, exabyte storage, and terabit networks." A petaflop is one million times faster than today's personal computers, which process one billion floating-point operations per second (gigaflops). An exabyte is a billion gigabytes of storage, and terabit networks will transmit data at one trillion bits per second-some 20 million times faster than a dialup 56K Internet connection.

The southern California- and Chicago-based research teams already collaborate on large-scale cluster networking projects and plan to prototype the OptIPuter initially on campus, metropolitan and state-wide optical fiber networks (including the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California's experimental developmental network CalREN-XD in California, and the Illinois Wired/Wireless Infrastructure for Research and Education [I-WIRE] in Illinois).

Private companies will also collaborate with university researchers on the project. IBM is providing systems architecture and performance help, and Telcordia Technologies will work closely with the network research teams to contribute its optical networking expertise. "The OptIPuter project has the potential for extraordinary innovations in both computing and networking, and we are pleased to be a part of this team of highly qualified and experienced researchers," said Richard S. Wolff, Vice President of Applied Research at Telcordia. Further, the San Diego Telecom Council, which boasts a membership of 300 telecom companies, has expressed interest in extending OptIPuter links to a variety of public- and private-sector sites in San Diego County.

The project will also fund what is expected to be the country's largest graduate-student program for optical Grid research. The OptIPuter will also extend into undergraduate classrooms, with curricula and research opportunities to be developed for UCSD's new Sixth College, whose inaugural freshman class in Fall 2002 will be the first to benefit from the college's commitment to the use of ubiquitous broadband connectivity technologies. Younger students will also be exposed to the vision of the OptIPuter, with field-based curricula concentrated on Lincoln Elementary School in suburban Chicago, and UCSD's Preuss School (a San Diego City charter school for grades 6-12, offering intensive college preparatory school for low-income student populations).

For more information on organizations involved in the OptIPuter project, visit the following websites:

Media Contacts

Doug Ramsey (858) 822-5825
Laura Wolf (312) 996-3002
Paul Tooby (858) 822-3654