The Network as a Scientific Instrument

By Nicole Hemsoth

June 10, 2013

In June 2012, Greg Bell was named the head of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network, better known as ESnet.

Funded by the DOE Office of Science, and managed and operated by the ESnet team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, ESnet provides reliable, high-performance networking capabilities to thousands of researchers tackling many of the world’s most pressing scientific and engineering problems: finding sources of clean energy, understanding climate change, developing advanced materials, and discovering the fundamental nature of our universe. ESnet interconnects scientists at more than 40 DOE sites with experimental and computing facilities in the U.S. and abroad, and with collaborators around the world. 

Invited to give the closing keynote address at the 2012 NORDUnet conference in Oslo, Norway, Bell delivered a presentation entitled “Network as Instrument: The View from Berkeley,” in which he argued that it’s time to start thinking about research networks as instruments for discovery, not just infrastructures for service delivery. The talk struck a chord with the audience, and Bell has since been invited to give versions of the presentation at conferences in the United States and Canada. Most recently, he contributed the April 25 keynote address at the THINK Conference 2013 organized by ORION, the high-speed network linking 1.8 million researchers in Ontario, Canada.

A video of Bell giving a version of this presentation at a meeting on the genomics of energy and the environment, sponsored by the DOE Joint Genome Institute, can be found at the end of the article.

In this Q&A for HPCwire, Berkeley Lab Computing Sciences Communications Manager Jon Bashor talks with Bell about his vision, ESnet news and more.

Question: To start, can you give us a short description of ESnet?

Bell: We’re the Department of Energy’s high-performance networking facility, engineered and optimized for large-scale science. ESnet was created in 1986, making it one of the longest-operating research networks in the world.

ESnet interconnects the entire national lab system, including its supercomputer centers and dozens of large-scale user facilities. Thanks to ESnet, tens of thousands of scientists around the world can transfer data, access remote resources, and collaborate productively. 

ESnet is more than a network, though — it’s a collection of skilled and dedicated people, and a great place to work. Even though we’re located near Silicon Valley, we find it relatively easy to attract talent, because we do cutting-edge engineering in the service of scientific discovery. 

Q: In a sense, ESnet has always been at the forefront of handling Big Data, and now the rest of the community is catching up. How big is Big Data on ESnet?

Bell: Scientific data sets can be truly enormous, up to petabytes in size, and they’re growing rapidly. Sometimes we use the term “Extreme Data” to distinguish data at this scale from the Big Data you’ve read about in other contexts.

The advent of extreme-data science naturally has an impact on the amount of traffic ESnet carries. In fact, we’re growing about twice as fast as the commercial internet — our traffic doubles every 18 months. I don’t foresee this trend slowing down any time soon, because the underlying exponential drivers just keep cranking along.

Everyone reading this understands that high-performance computing changed the way large-scale science is conducted. It’s clear that data intensity will have an important impact as well. Modeling and simulation will continue to be critically important, but these tools will be supplemented by new techniques that can extract insight from complex data sets, exchanged and accessed over ultra-fast research networks.

Q: Although ESnet was created in 1986, its profile seems to have risen considerably in the past five years or so. What’s behind this?

Bell: More and more researchers are discovering that networks are critical to their science. Faster networks mean faster discovery. In addition, ESnet was lucky enough to receive significant stimulus funds a few years ago. That investment allowed us to build the world’s first 100 Gbps network at continental scale, in partnership with Internet2. We finished that project just in time: the previous-generation network was showing its age, and we were beginning to outgrow it. Our new architecture gives us lots of headroom, and the ability to develop new architectures for maximizing scientific productivity. 

We’ve also significantly ramped up our activity in the area of science engagement, partnership, and outreach. We understand that building the world’s fastest science network is not sufficient. We need to make it useful to scientists, and easy to use. That’s harder than it sounds, and we’re still developing models for helping scientists take full advantage of the “fast lanes” we’ve engineered for them. 

One final contributor is the success we’re having with applied research and innovation. This critical activity has been enhanced by our dedicated, national-scale 100 Gbps research testbed, which has supported dozens of researchers in the public and private sectors. We’re really trying to push the envelope on a range of topics — including software-defined networking, alternatives to TCP, and security models for 100 Gbps and faster networks. 

While we appreciate the recognition, it’s not really important unless it helps us advance our overall mission, which is to accelerate discovery for DOE’s Office of Science. And I do think it’s having that effect. Vendors are coming to us to ask about the unique challenges of supporting science, and our users are beginning to have much higher expectations of ESnet. These are both good developments. 

Q: You’ve also been busy. Your talk describing the network as an instrument of discovery has led to multiple invited presentations in North America and Europe — and most recently you gave a version of it as the April 25 keynote address at the THINK conference organized by ORION, the high-speed network in Ontario, Canada. What’s the gist of your presentation?

Bell: My overall goal is to inspire the audience to start thinking about networks differently. Modern research networks such as ESnet and Internet2 (and similar networks around the world) can do a lot more than most people imagine. I try to explain how certain collaborations have profited by incorporating advanced networks into their discovery processes. High-energy physics pioneered this model, and other fields are following. I make the argument that research networks such as ESnet have evolved into extensions of large-scale discovery instruments. For example, the discovery of the Higgs Boson would not have been possible without a worldwide grid computing infrastructure, interconnected by high-speed research networks. Harvey Newman at Caltech pioneered this idea years ago, and the world has finally caught up. 

In these presentations, I also give concrete advice about how people can improve networking in their own back yard. ESnet maintains a website devoted to this sort of simple, practical advice: fasterdata.es.net. If you want to start learning about how to use advanced networks more effectively, this is the place to start. It’s a very popular website, with more hits than www.es.net

Q: Why do you think the message has resonated so well in the networking community?

Bell: It’s not surprising that networkers like to hear that their work is important! But there are a couple of deeper reasons as well. In recent years, networking had become a little dull. Thanks to the challenges of extreme data (and also to the advent of software defined networking), it’s a really exciting place to be again. This new energy is very obvious at networking conferences, and in the academic research community. There are a lot of eyes on networking at the moment. 

Q: Last question: What is ESnet focusing on for the coming year? For the next five years?

Bell: Over the next five years, our challenge will be to accommodate the remarkable growth curve in DOE science traffic while simultaneously making the network useful to many more researchers. It’s hard to believe, but even with our new 100 Gbps network and access to underlying optical capacity to carry multiple terabits per second, we will begin to feel a little cramped by 2018-20. At that point, we think we’ll need to light up a new nationwide optical fiber footprint. Whatever else we do, we’re always in a mode of acceleration and growth!

In the coming year, we’ll focus on recruiting about eight new staff, most of them technical. When you consider that we now have about 40 employees, adding eight is significant. We take recruitment very seriously at ESnet. We look for people who are at the top of their game technically, but that’s not enough — they need to be flexible, great communicators, and exemplary colleagues. 

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!

What’s Hot and What’s Not at ISC 2018?

June 22, 2018

As the calendar rolls around to late June we see the ISC conference, held in Frankfurt (June 24th-28th), heave into view. With some of the pre-show announcements already starting to roll out, what do we think some of the Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Servers in Orbit, HPE Apollos Make 4,500 Trips Around Earth

June 22, 2018

The International Space Station shines a little brighter in the night sky thanks to what amounts to an orbiting supercomputer lofted to the outpost last year as part of a year-long experiment to determine if high-end com Read more…

By George Leopold

HPCwire Readers’ and Editors’ Choice Awards Turns 15

June 22, 2018

A hallmark of sustainability is this: If you are not serving a need effectively and efficiently you do not last. The HPCwire Readers’ and Editors’ Choice awards program has stood the test of time. Each year, our read Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Taking the AI Training Wheels Off: From PoC to Production

Even though it seems simple now, there were a lot of skills to master in learning to ride a bike. From balancing on two wheels, and steering in a straight line, to going around corners and stopping before running over the dog, it took lots of practice to master these skills. Read more…

Tribute: Dr. Bob Borchers, 1936-2018

June 21, 2018

Dr. Bob Borchers, a leader in the high performance computing community for decades, passed away peacefully in Maui, Hawaii, on June 7th. His memorial service will be held on June 22nd in Reston, Virginia. Dr. Borchers Read more…

By Ann Redelfs

What’s Hot and What’s Not at ISC 2018?

June 22, 2018

As the calendar rolls around to late June we see the ISC conference, held in Frankfurt (June 24th-28th), heave into view. With some of the pre-show announcement Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Servers in Orbit, HPE Apollos Make 4,500 Trips Around Earth

June 22, 2018

The International Space Station shines a little brighter in the night sky thanks to what amounts to an orbiting supercomputer lofted to the outpost last year as Read more…

By George Leopold

HPCwire Readers’ and Editors’ Choice Awards Turns 15

June 22, 2018

A hallmark of sustainability is this: If you are not serving a need effectively and efficiently you do not last. The HPCwire Readers’ and Editors’ Choice aw Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ISC 2018 Preview from @hpcnotes

June 21, 2018

Prepare for your social media feed to be saturated with #HPC, #ISC18, #Top500, etc. Prepare for your mainstream media to talk about supercomputers (in between t Read more…

By Andrew Jones

AMD’s EPYC Road to Redemption in Six Slides

June 21, 2018

A year ago AMD returned to the server market with its EPYC processor line. The earth didn’t tremble but folks took notice. People remember the Opteron fondly Read more…

By John Russell

European HPC Summit Week and PRACEdays 2018: Slaying Dragons and SHAPEing Futures One SME at a Time

June 20, 2018

The University of Ljubljana in Slovenia hosted the third annual EHPCSW18 and fifth annual PRACEdays18 events which opened May 29, 2018. The conference was chair Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake (STEM-Trek for HPCwire)

Cray Introduces All Flash Lustre Storage Solution Targeting HPC

June 19, 2018

Citing the rise of IOPS-intensive workflows and more affordable flash technology, Cray today introduced the L300F, a scalable all-flash storage solution whose p Read more…

By John Russell

Sandia to Take Delivery of World’s Largest Arm System

June 18, 2018

While the enterprise remains circumspect on prospects for Arm servers in the datacenter, the leadership HPC community is taking a bolder, brighter view of the x86 server CPU alternative. Amongst current and planned Arm HPC installations – i.e., the innovative Mont-Blanc project, led by Bull/Atos, the 'Isambard’ Cray XC50 going into the University of Bristol, and commitments from both Japan and France among others -- HPE is announcing that it will be supply the United States National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with a 2.3 petaflops peak Arm-based system, named Astra. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

ORNL Summit Supercomputer Is Officially Here

June 8, 2018

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) together with IBM and Nvidia celebrated the official unveiling of the Department of Energy (DOE) Summit supercomputer toda Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Sympo Read more…

By Staff

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

SC17 Booth Video Tours Playlist

Altair @ SC17

Altair

AMD @ SC17

AMD

ASRock Rack @ SC17

ASRock Rack

CEJN @ SC17

CEJN

DDN Storage @ SC17

DDN Storage

Huawei @ SC17

Huawei

IBM @ SC17

IBM

IBM Power Systems @ SC17

IBM Power Systems

Intel @ SC17

Intel

Lenovo @ SC17

Lenovo

Mellanox Technologies @ SC17

Mellanox Technologies

Microsoft @ SC17

Microsoft

Penguin Computing @ SC17

Penguin Computing

Pure Storage @ SC17

Pure Storage

Supericro @ SC17

Supericro

Tyan @ SC17

Tyan

Univa @ SC17

Univa

Google I/O 2018: AI Everywhere; TPU 3.0 Delivers 100+ Petaflops but Requires Liquid Cooling

May 9, 2018

All things AI dominated discussion at yesterday’s opening of Google’s I/O 2018 developers meeting covering much of Google's near-term product roadmap. The e Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Pattern Computer – Startup Claims Breakthrough in ‘Pattern Discovery’ Technology

May 23, 2018

If it weren’t for the heavy-hitter technology team behind start-up Pattern Computer, which emerged from stealth today in a live-streamed event from San Franci Read more…

By John Russell

Sandia to Take Delivery of World’s Largest Arm System

June 18, 2018

While the enterprise remains circumspect on prospects for Arm servers in the datacenter, the leadership HPC community is taking a bolder, brighter view of the x86 server CPU alternative. Amongst current and planned Arm HPC installations – i.e., the innovative Mont-Blanc project, led by Bull/Atos, the 'Isambard’ Cray XC50 going into the University of Bristol, and commitments from both Japan and France among others -- HPE is announcing that it will be supply the United States National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with a 2.3 petaflops peak Arm-based system, named Astra. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Part One: Deep Dive into 2018 Trends in Life Sciences HPC

March 1, 2018

Life sciences is an interesting lens through which to see HPC. It is perhaps not an obvious choice, given life sciences’ relative newness as a heavy user of H Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Pledges First Commercial Nervana Product ‘Spring Crest’ in 2019

May 24, 2018

At its AI developer conference in San Francisco yesterday, Intel embraced a holistic approach to AI and showed off a broad AI portfolio that includes Xeon processors, Movidius technologies, FPGAs and Intel’s Nervana Neural Network Processors (NNPs), based on the technology it acquired in 2016. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Charts Two-Dimensional Quantum Course

April 26, 2018

Quantum error correction, essential for achieving universal fault-tolerant quantum computation, is one of the main challenges of the quantum computing field and it’s top of mind for Google’s John Martinis. At a presentation last week at the HPC User Forum in Tucson, Martinis, one of the world's foremost experts in quantum computing, emphasized... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cray Rolls Out AMD-Based CS500; More to Follow?

April 18, 2018

Cray was the latest OEM to bring AMD back into the fold with introduction today of a CS500 option based on AMD’s Epyc processor line. The move follows Cray’ Read more…

By John Russell

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