Vanderbilt scientists participate in effort that sets world network speed record

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Imagine digitizing the entire printed contents of the Library of Congress and transmitting it to another part of the globe in 10 minutes flat.

That is roughly equivalent to the world network speed record set by an international “high energy physics” team that includes several members of Vanderbilt’s Advanced Computing Center for Research and Education (ACCRE). The new record of 131.6 gigabits per second, set last month as part of the annual “bandwidth challenge” competition sponsored by the SuperComputing 2005 conference, was a 50 percent improvement on the previous speed record, which was set in 2004 by the same group.

The new record, announced on Nov. 17, is also comparable to downloading five full DVD movies per second or streaming 10,000 high definition movies at the same time.

“The ability to quickly transfer large amounts of data is becoming increasingly important to scientific research efforts,” explains Paul Sheldon, professor of physics and chair of ACCRE’s steering committee. “Not only are scientific experiments producing more and more data, but science itself is becoming increasingly international and interdisciplinary. So simply moving data around is a growing problem faced by high energy physicists, earthquake researchers and scientists in many other disciplines.”

The ACCRE contingent, led by project manager Kevin McCord, research lead Surya Pathak and technical director Alan Tackett, are the newest members of the record-breaking team headed by scientists and computer engineers from California Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and the University of Florida.

In the past, this collaboration has concentrated on increasing the capacity of the data “pipes” that connect universities and research centers around the world. They have been so successful, however, that the bottleneck has become the ability to pour data into the pipes fast enough at one end and to store it at the other.

“Imagine trying to catch the water from a fire hose in a Dixie cup,” says Sheldon. “The computers receiving the data have to catch it all and write it to disk in real time. And, at the other end, the computers must be able to read data fast enough to fill the pipe.”

For the last year, the ACCRE team has been working on storage software called Logistical Storage (L-Store) that is exceptionally good at reading and writing large amounts of data at high speeds. The group developed the software primarily to assist campus researchers who have accumulated large datasets. The Caltech/Michigan/Florida team heard about the L-Store development effort and, as a result, asked the Vanderbilt researchers to join the group.

In addition to participating in the high energy physics team’s record-setting effort in the bandwidth challenge at the SuperComputing conference last month, the ACCRE group demonstrated that L-Store software that can read and write data at 10 gigabits per second for sustained periods of time.

Contact: David F. Salisbury, (615) 343-6803

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