National LambdaRail President Explains Research Focus

By By Tom West, President

October 13, 2006

I have been asked: Why is National LamdbaRail (NLR) focusing so much on facilitating network research and “big” science applications as its core mission? Is it not as important to give equal or greater attention to the networking needs of the broader research and education (R&E) community?

In answering these questions, permit me to draw a comparison to the historical development and evolution of the great cities around the world.

When investing in real estate today, you are told that the principle focus should be on Location! Location! Location! The root of this principle is evident in the development and evolution of the major cities and regions around the globe. In most instances, the selection of the location for each of these cities was based on such strategic factors as: safety and security; access to basic necessities and resources; transportation; and, the potential to develop commerce. As each city's core developed and prospered, the community grew and expanded geographically. Over time, each great city not only evolves, but also periodically reinvents its core in order to stay vibrant and respond to the changing needs of the society. The cycle, never ending, continues to repeat itself as new needs drive evolutions.

From my perspective, the development and evolution of networking in our R&E community has followed a similar cyclic path over the past four decades with the start of each cycle focused on Research! Research! Research!

In the late 60s, the revolutionary developments in packet networks and related technologies came from university researchers. Combined with DARPA's funding and deployment of the ARPAnet, these innovations created the initial core technologies and seminal implementation for the Internet. From that era forward, both research inventions and the specific needs of the researchers have been the core drivers for the major advances in networking for the general R&E community as well as for society at large.

Inspired by the pioneering researcher-driven development of APRAnet, the beginning network needs of the broader university and lab community were addressed by a major expansion and evolution of the ARPAnet and by the implementations of BITNET and CSnet. Together these efforts were able to bring much larger numbers of institutions online enabling broad use by researchers, educators, students and even administrators. By leveraging additional platforms (in BITNET's case via what were often institutional IBM mainframes reconfigured by computer center folks to enable a few forms of network capabilities) and funding sources, these much larger numbers established fertile ground for creating and deriving the benefits of what Metcalf came to call “network effects.”

In the late-1980s, the cycle renewed itself with the research community-driven convergence on the increasingly evolved core Internet protocols of the ARPAnet. Our research community created related usable network capabilities and applications like broadly usable email, ftp and listserv. And, to meet the growing needs of researchers, the use of networks in R&E became a key driver in the creation and rapid expansion, evolution and extension of the Internet protocol-based networks such as NSFnet, ESnet and DREN. As a companion to and major enabler of the NSFnet, regional research and education networks (the NSF Regionals) were developed as the most powerful means for extending the reach of, democratizing access to, and sustaining R&E networks by explicitly recognizing and addressing the diverse geographical and demographic realties of networks.

Advanced networking for the researchers and our larger R&E community suffered a serious setback in the early 1990's when NSFnet became a victim of its own success and was 'privatized' and the program discontinued. This came during a cycle in which many of the regional R&E networks and research community-based Internet providers were spun off, and either became or were sold off to the emerging commercial ISP's. While this helped enable the worldwide Internet revolution, it unfortunately left most of the R&E community without either a voice in (let alone control over) network capabilities and services, or direct access to innovating with (or configuring around) underlying network technology. The good news was that “our” Internet had become pervasive. The bad news was that we had lost nearly all control and were reduced to buying one-size-fits-all capabilities that were being evolved for mass market rather than research, education and clinical needs. And our network researchers had lost the ability to do network and network-based research and to innovate in those areas in big ways.

With the discontinuation of the NSFnet, the NSF sought to address the high-end advanced networking infrastructure needs and opportunities of the researchers with support for the vBNS program. This initiative, combined with the CoREN and other activities of the surviving Regionals, sustained the continuing regionals and stimulated their and other regional group's evolution into GigaPops. The GigaPops, in turn, worked for the creation of UCAID (the corporate entity underlying Internet2) and the development of the Abilene Network in a partnership with Qwest and Nortel. With this new cycle, our community enabled the formation of a state-of-the-commercial-art, packet-over-SONET shared layer 3 service and the ability to control bandwidth and topology. During this period, state/regional networks and GigaPops grew and developed rapidly to meet the burgeoning educational needs throughout the community.

Shortly after the beginning of this century, three new drivers emerged that called for a major leap forward in advanced networking to meet the needs of the researchers in the community and the community at large. These included:

Need One: More and more manageable bandwidth for “big” or specialized applications' research

  • High-end science needs terabits and petabytes
  • Predictable quality interconnect
  • Immersive (i.e. often high-resolution and low latency) presence
  • Deterministic control loops
  • Bit rate of reality-10 gigabits soon to be 40 gigabits, but more importantly given the realities of the instruments and cluster computers and storage systems many parallel 10 gigabits

Need Two: Breakable and researcher-controlled networks including waves for network research

  • New protocols
  • New devices
  • New architectures

Need Three: Underlying owned fiber

  • Ensuring that the limitations on what our communities can pursue are based on what we can imagine and afford, rather than what services telecommunications companies are willing to sell us and the conditions under which they are willing to sell them
  • Enabling partnering in truly new optical domains
  • Keeping prices from providers low

The result, National LambdaRail (NLR), has been the implementation of a fully operational national networking physical infrastructure based upon owned and lit fiber. This fiber is linked with multiple Regional Optical Network (RON) physical infrastructures that are RON-owned. By enabling the implementation of multiple networks, both experimental and production, to facilitate technology innovation, discovery and sharing of new knowledge, this new networking collaboratory is providing for the concurrent advancement of:

  • Network research;
  • Next generation network-based research applications in science, engineering, medicine and other disciplines; and,
  • Education program delivery at all levels — K through 20.

By focusing on facilitating Research! Research! Research!, NLR, in partnership with the RONs, continues the network innovation cycle and ensures that all the participants in the research and education community reap the benefits of big, fast, customizable networks. The reality is that researchers are the innovators — the folks who think big and drive myriad ways to create the networks of the future today. We in the R&E community can effectively learn from them and extend and recreate these innovative networks for universities, labs, the greater educational community as well as our society at large.

The cycle continues. What are the next drivers? Let's all learn together by serving and studying Research! Research! Research!


Tom West is President and Chief Executive Officer of National LambdaRail, a major initiative of U.S. research universities and private sector technology companies to provide a national scale infrastructure for research and experimentation in networking technologies and applications. Over the years, West has served as an advisor and consultant to a number of higher education institutions and systems, private corporations and state governments. West has been actively involved in national research and education networking in the United States for nearly two decades.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Penguin Computing Brings Cascade Lake-AP to OCP Form Factor

July 7, 2020

Penguin Computing, a subsidiary of SMART Global Holdings, Inc., is announcing a new Tundra server, Tundra AP, that is the first to implement the Intel Xeon Scalable 9200 series processors (codenamed Cascade Lake-AP) in t Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia's Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 "Accelerator Optimized" VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by t Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

HPCwire: Let's start with HLRS and work our way up to the European scale. HLRS has stood out in the HPC world for its support of both scientific and industrial research. Can you discuss key developments in recent years? Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

The Barcelona Supercomputing Center Offers a Virtual Tour of Its MareNostrum Supercomputer

July 6, 2020

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to threaten the world and disrupt normal operations, facility tours remain a little difficult to operate, with many supercomputing centers having shuttered facility tours for visitor Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

What’s New in Computing vs. COVID-19: Fugaku, Congress, De Novo Design & More

July 2, 2020

Supercomputing, big data and artificial intelligence are crucial tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Around the world, researchers, corporations and governments are urgently devoting their computing reso Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Maxar Builds HPC on AWS to Deliver Forecasts 58% Faster Than Weather Supercomputer

When weather threatens drilling rigs, refineries, and other energy facilities, oil and gas companies want to move fast to protect personnel and equipment. And for firms that trade commodity shares in oil, precious metals, crops, and livestock, the weather can significantly impact their buy-sell decisions. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time last year, IBM announced open sourcing its Power instructio Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia's Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 "Accelerator Optimized" VM A2 instance fam Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

HPCwire: Let's start with HLRS and work our way up to the European scale. HLRS has stood out in the HPC world for its support of both scientific and industrial Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ISC 2020 Keynote: Hope for the Future, Praise for Fugaku and HPC’s Pandemic Response

June 24, 2020

In stark contrast to past years Thomas Sterling’s ISC20 keynote today struck a more somber note with the COVID-19 pandemic as the central character in Sterling’s annual review of worldwide trends in HPC. Better known for his engaging manner and occasional willingness to poke prickly egos, Sterling instead strode through the numbing statistics associated... Read more…

By John Russell

ISC 2020’s Student Cluster Competition Winners Announced

June 24, 2020

Normally, the Student Cluster Competition involves teams of students building real computing clusters on the show floors of major supercomputer conferences and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers


Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This