March 7, 2003  


SLAC Scientists Help Set Data Transfer Speed Record

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 physicist needs."

(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 BABAR 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.


The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is managed by Stanford University for the US Department of Energy

Last update Friday March 07, 2003 by Kathy B