AmLight ExP Activates New, High-Speed Research Links Spanning Three Continents

By Oliver Peckham

March 5, 2020

Research institutions are constantly announcing new, more powerful systems and data sources – but for researchers who aren’t located near those tools, strong research networks are absolutely crucial. Now, a consortium of research partners has flipped the switch on a series of powerful research and education networks that link North America, South America and Africa.

The initiative began with Americas Africa Research and eduCation Lightpaths (AARCLight), a National Science Foundation-funded project that planned, designed and strategized for a new research and education network connecting the three continents. That grew into AmLight-SACS – itself an extension of the AmLight Express and Protect (AmLight ExP) project – which successfully established and activated the new paths. 

A map of the AmLight network. Image courtesy AmLight.

Through the new links, which leverage the South Atlantic Cable System (SACS) and the West African Cable System (WACS), AmLight connected its exchange point in Florida to South American eXchange (SAX) in Fortaleza, Brazil at 200 Gbps. Then, AmLight provisioned a 100 Gbps link from Fortaleza to Sangano, Angola, and activated another link from Sangano to the ZAOXI exchange point in Cape Town, South Africa. 

“The SACS cable system between Fortaleza, Brazil, and Sangano, Angola, is the first modern east-west subsea cable in the South Atlantic,” AmLight ExP wrote in an official announcement. “The activation of the AmLight-SACS path adds redundancy and resiliency to the global R&E network fabric by providing a transatlantic route across the South Atlantic, shortening paths from the Southern Hemisphere countries to Africa and Europe.”

AmLight is hopeful that the new connections will prove invaluable for collaborations among intercontinental researchers, allowing them to access data from “major scientific instruments” like the upcoming Square Kilometre Array in South Africa – which, when complete, will be the largest radio telescope in the world. Calling it a “big deal,” STEM-Trek’s Elizabeth Leake explained that the links represent a paradigm shift away from a world where, for example, large data transfers (and permissions) to and from end-points in South America and South Africa could have taken days – or even weeks. “[The new links] will benefit all globally-distributed research that has a footprint in the southern hemisphere: climate, food security, health, and more,” Leake told HPCwire.

AmLight ExP, which aims to further collaborative research infrastructure throughout the western hemisphere, is a joint project led by principal investigator Julio Ibarra (assistant vice president for technology augmented research at Florida International University) and supported by Florida International University, Rede Nacional de Ensino e Pesquisa, Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa and South African National Research Network and Angola Cables.

“AARCLight and AmLight-SACS have succeeded due to strong and consistent collaboration between the partners,” said Heidi Morgan, co-principal investigator and lead for the AmLight-SACS project. “Linking the U.S., Brazil and the nations of Africa to support robust research and education networking using a novel South Atlantic route is the culmination of three years of careful planning and execution. Enhancing the technological and social connections in many science disciplines including astronomy, biodiversity and genomics are anticipated to accelerate the rate of discovery while providing a diverse networking path for all collaborators.”

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