By Shawna Williams
When it comes to computing, physicists can be more
power-hungry than a 16-year-old with a souped-up car. Which is why, in
early February, SLAC teamed up with three other academic institutions to
break the internet land-speed record. The four organizations transmitted
data from Sunnyvale to Amsterdam at 3,500 times the speed of a typical
home broadband connection.
"The record itself is mostly to get people’s attention,"
says Les Cottrell, Assistant Director of SLAC Computing Services (SCS).
"The important message is it’s now possible to transmit more data than a
(Graphic by SciArts Media)
How much data is that? SLAC now transmits about one
terabyte (a million million bytes) of data a day, and Cottrell expects
that number to double annually. The Lab communicates at a speed of about
half a terabyte per hour, so, "we’re ahead of the game but not very far,"
said Cottrell. All this communication is necessary so that groups such as
and GLAST can work effectively with colleagues throughout the world.
Recognizing the need for speed, Cottrell and other
computing experts from Caltech, Starlight in Chicago, the National
Institute for Nuclear Physics and High Energy Physics (NIKHEF) in
Amsterdam, and the Faculty of Science of the Universiteit van Amsterdam,
originally teamed up to compete in the Bandwidth Challenge at the Super
Computing 2002 conference in Baltimore. The team came in second place, but
continued communicating afterward and decided to try for the Internet2
Speed Record, an ongoing competition. Cottrell, Charley Granieri, and Gary
Buhrmaster (all SCS) contributed by installing and configuring equipment
in Sunnyvale, and worked with Cisco to get a router. Cottrell also helped
to get the fiber optic path from Sunnyvale to Chicago and the space in the
building in Sunnyvale.
On February 7, the team transmitted 6.7 gigabytes of
data—the equivalent of a four-hour DVD—over 6,800 miles in 58 seconds.
Internet2, the consortium that recognized this
achievement, is devoted to developing the "next generation Internet" to
connect and serve research and educational institutions with high
transmission speeds. Lightning-fast connections will be useful not only to
high energy physicists, but also to doctors, who will be able to confer
over long-distances on the meanings of diagnostic images. Internet2 is
also working on potential applications for distance learning.
For now, the collaboration is focusing on the next step:
beat the land-speed record again. In the process they hope to break past
the gigabyte-per-second rate, which is to computing what the sound barrier
once was to human flight.