Tech, Oak Ridge National Lab Complete High-Speed Internet Connection

A new computer link connecting the Georgia Institute of Technology to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) -- a link 200,000 times faster than the fastest dial-up connections typical of home computers -- is expected to spur significant advances in science and economic development in the Southeast and beyond.

The newest link will connect the U.S. Department of Energy's ESnet computer network with Internet2, the network used by top-tier universities throughout the nation, at speeds up to 20 times faster than the previous ORNL connection. With the new link, a data file the size of the film "Gone With the Wind" could be transmitted in a mere six seconds.

Ray Orbach, director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, this past week symbolically completed the connection linking the supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to Southern Crossroads universities -- a cooperative initiative led by members of the Southeastern University Research Association.

The Southern Crossroads Network is designed to facilitate access to highly integrated digital communications services used in education, research and economic development initiatives within the Southeast and throughout the United States. Other universities connect to the network via Georgia Tech, the site of the 10 gigabit connection.The high-speed link is provided by Qwest Communications International, which also supplies the backbone for ESnet and Internet2.

The new link will allow for vastly increased flow of information between ORNL researchers and collaborators at Internet2 institutions, and it stands to enhance the ORNL-Chattanooga technology corridor by positioning the region for new research and development opportunities. Its benefits are likely to extend far beyond, including throughout Georgia.

"During the past several years ORNL, Oak Ridge Associated Universities and the core universities -- Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, Duke, North Carolina State, University of Tennessee and Florida State -- have worked together in order to foster inter-institutional, multidisciplinary research," said Charles L. Liotta, vice president for research at Georgia Tech.

"The new high-speed network will allow this partnership to evolve to a new level of research/education collaboration," Dr. Liotta said. "I predict that an important outcome will be enhanced economic development for this region of the nation."

Thomas Zacharia, associate lab director for ORNL's Computing and Computational Sciences Directorate, said, "This new, high-speed network strengthens the partnership between DOE and the academic community, which is critical to our plans to reassert U.S. leadership in computational sciences."

With the link to ORNL's Cheetah -- a 4.5 teraflop IBM machine recently listed No. 8 in the Top 500 list of fastest computers in the world -- researchers from leading universities and national laboratories will have access to incredible amounts of data that will help them in their studies of astrophysics, biology, chemistry, climate modeling, materials and fusion. Researchers will be able to acquire data through ORNL's Center for Computational Sciences in a matter of seconds.

And this is just the beginning, as DOE and ORNL look forward to an ongoing partnership with the nation's research universities. Officials are confident they will see extraordinary progress in computers and high-performance networks for science and engineering.

"The network forms a test bed that will serve as the basis for network research and development that will carry DOE's computational mission forward for the next five to 10 years," Zacharia said. "Soon, we will need to transport petabyte-size files and this network and the research it enables will be crucial."

ORNL officials also noted that linking Internet2 and Esnet through Georgia Tech is a natural step for ORNL, because the Center for Computational Sciences is the designated primary site for DOE's Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing. The initiative involves extensive partnerships between 13 DOE labs and about 50 universities and is intended to solve research problems of national importance.

For example, John Drake, an ORNL senior researcher, noted the immediate impact the high-speed connection will have in ocean-science studies and a $20 million SciDAC climate study.

"This enables our collaborators at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Los Alamos National Laboratory to receive very large data files containing new analyses of the ocean's influence on future climates," Drake said. "With that information readily available, researchers will be able to perform studies more quickly and they will be able to develop more sophisticated models."

Recently, the new computing power of the Cheetah enabled researchers at ORNL and the National Center for Atmospheric Research to double the resolution of climate studies. Scientists expect that breakthrough to result in a better understanding of local impacts on global climate change.

Efforts to make the connection happen began more than a year ago and have involved dozens of people, said Zacharia, who acknowledged the support from Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn).

"Without their diligence and commitment to this project, we simply would not be poised to leap into an era of new collaborations and discoveries certain to make our lives better," Zacharia said.

ORNL is a Department of Energy multiprogram research facility managed by UT-Battelle.

Ron Walli
Communications & Community Outreach
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
(865) 576-0226

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.