10 really cool university networking labs

Advances in wireless, cloud computing, security and more are cooking at these laboratories

10 really cool university networking labs featuring advances in wireless, cloud computing, security and more.

You're inundated with pitches about the latest and greatest network technology from all your favorite vendors, plus a bunch you never heard of. But some of the truly interesting stuff is still percolating in the labs – the labs of universities and colleges, that is. Here's a brief look at 10 such labs, which are working on the next wave of technologies that could be coming soon or maybe further down the road to a network near you. To get a feel for what the labs look like, switch over to our slideshow on these labs. 

UNH InterOperability Lab

Created: 1988 Durham, N.H. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2008, the lab at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. tests networking and data communications products in a multivendor environment that undergraduate and graduate students can learn in. The lab grew out of the University's Research Computing Center, which had been testing Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) equipment for its own network and wound up bringing a couple of vendors together to get their products to interoperate. From there, it went on to test 10Base-T interfaces for interoperability with computers and has since tested everything from Power over Ethernet to Linux. The lab offers testing services and also has hosted many multivendor consortia and plugfests focused on technologies such as wireless and Gigabit Ethernet. Includes 802.11n and Power-over-Ethernet Plus.

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Rutgers University's Wireless Information Network Laboratory (WINLAB

Created: 1989 North Brunswick, N.J. WINLAB combines university, industry and government resources to advance development of wireless network technology. The center aims to train a new breed of wireless technologists via graduate research programs. The original focus was on digital CDMA radio resource management and power control, back before cell phones were all the rage. WINLAB launched in late 2005 the Open Access Radio Grid Testbed (ORBIT), which houses 400 programmable radio transceivers, each with multiple radio interfaces. Funded by $5.4 million over four years from the NSF, ORBIT lets researchers simulate, test and retest how experimental protocols perform in varied but controlled conditions. WINLAB today has become a key player in NSF's Global Environment for Network Innovation initiative.

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Current projects: WINLAB focuses on three key areas: mobile Internet, which will revamp today's Internet architecture and protocols to include mobile users and wireless links; cognitive radios, which can seek out and use any available frequency; and "pervasive wireless," or embedded sensor networks wirelessly linked with Internet-based services.

University of California, Berkeley's Parallel Computing Laboratory 

Created: 2008 Berkeley, Calif. The Par Lab focuses on ensuring software smoothly scales as the number of cores per chip in servers and other systems rapidly increases. UC Berkeley researchers had issued a paper in 2006 outlining their concerns about this issue and that paper is said to have led to the school being awarded the funds for the project. Microsoft and Intel are the key funding sources behind the lab. Ensuring application and operating system developers can efficiently create software for multicore systems.

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The University of Arkansas RFID Research Center 

Created: 1985 Fayetteville, Ark. This lab is used not just by engineering students and faculty, but is staffed by students from almost every college on campus, including the Sam M. Walton College of Business. That speaks to the many applications RFID has and will have, including loss prevention, inventory accuracy. Consists of a 10,000-square-foot lab at Hanna's Candle Co., plus a 4,500-square foot lab in a cold storage facility. The labs feature conveyors, forklifts and other things you'd find in stores and warehouses that use RFID for their supply chains, asset tracking and such. Big name companies such as J.B. Hunt, Dillard's and Wal-Mart are among more than 50 supporting work at the lab. The center is a founding member of the Global RF Lab Alliance. Bill Hardgrave, the center's director, says "the most exiting ones involve the item-level research we are doing with Dillard's, Wal-Mart and others on the use of RFID for such things as inventory accuracy, out-of-stock reduction and loss prevention. It doesn't sound 'hot', but is significant in its importance to industry" in the realization of return on investment of RFID.

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Iowa State University of Science and Technology's Internet-Scale Event and Attack Generation Environment (ISEAGE

Created: 2004 Ames, Iowa This lab is capable of simulating attacks, defenses and network loading scenarios, and of identifying weaknesses in equipment and networks before those attacks hit the real thing, says Doug Jacobson, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University. The lab supports educators, researchers, equipment vendors and government agencies. MapIowa, a graphical simulation of the Iowa Communications Network that can be dynamically attacked, crippled or modified to research the effects of a catastrophic failure of the network; ISECUBE, a portable ISEAGE that can be used to create a virtual copy of a network for testing; national and local Cyber Defense Competitions; IT Adventures; a program to motivate high school students to pursue a career in IT.

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Stanford University's Nanoscale and Quantum Photonics Lab 

Created: 2003 Stanford, Calif. The researchers in this lab aren't messing around with any incremental technology updates. Led by Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Jelena Vuckovic, the lab has made advances in energy efficient and solid-state lasers that could support 100Gbps telecom connections. 

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"We had quite a lot of interest from venture capitalists and companies at that time, but we postponed any steps towards

commercialization until we develop an electrically pumped laser and until students graduate. We have almost completed both of these goals now, and we will see where to go from here," Vuckovic reports. The lab has also developed a quantum "light switch" that could be used one day to power computers whose speed would blow away today's top-of-the-line models and to support quantum cryptography used to safeguard data.

Current projects: Earlier this year the journal Science featured a report on work done by Stanford and University of California-Santa Barbara researchers who demonstrated photonic crystal technology enabling two photons to interact with each other. This could be a big step along the way toward enabling chip-based quantum computers to be built, Vuckovic says.

Carnegie Mellon University's Data Center Observatory 

Created: 2006 Pittsburgh The Data Center Observatory (DCO) is a dual-purpose facility within CMU's Parallel Data Laboratory (PDL), which studies storage systems. It serves two important roles: It provides computational and storage resources for heavy duty research projects and also provides researchers with insight into the operational costs of running (cooling, powering) a data center. The 2,000-square-foot DCO is designed to accommodate 40 racks of computers weighing 2,000 pounds each and consuming a total of 774 kW. Two of an eventual four high-efficiency APC InfraStruXure zone systems for powering, cooling, racking and managing equipment are in place. The first zone houses 326 machines with 530 terabytes of storage. An additional 185 machines, including 125 dual quad-core machines, will be installed soon in the second zone. Instrumentation was built in from the start to enable pinpoint monitoring of the facility. CMU researchers have worked with power management companies such as APC to explore new frontiers in data center optimization and with CMU's own Parallel Data Lab to focus on storage costs. The facility features a windowed wall through which onlookers can view up-to-the minute measurement data via thermal graphs. Network World profiled lab director Greg Ganger in 2006. Live study of improving the energy efficiency of data centers, of data center failure rates and the consequences of failures, and of reducing costs by sharing resources among users; deployment location for Self-* Storage, a new storage architecture; will host parts of two new cloud-computing research test beds – OpenCirrus, established by Intel, HP and Yahoo, and Open Cloud, established by the Open Cloud Consortium.

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Georgia Institute of Technology Center for Manycore Computing 

Created:2008 Atlanta Multi-core microprocessors (such as "Intel's Core 2 Duo") are becoming commonplace. These have two to four cores (processors) per microchip. But where is this headed? Georgia Tech thinks the answer is that multi-core leads to "manycore," chips where there are hundreds or more processors in a single microchip. The CMC is plotting the course to thousands of cores per microchip by designing and building hardware today that can be used to study tomorrow's technology challenges. Chief among these is how to connect thousands of cores so they communicate efficiently to support robotics, computer vision, human interaction and the sciences. "The Internet is going indigene!" says center director Tom Conte, professor of computer science at the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. "We’re shrinking the technology that made the Internet possible and implementing it inside a single microchip."

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SUBHED: Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s

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Oregon State University's Open Source Lab 

Created: 2003 Corvallis, Ore. Hosts some of the best known open source projects such as the Linux kernel, Drupal, the Apache Software Foundation and more than 50 others. Provides open source development resources and industry events such as the Government Open Source Conference (GOSCON). Funded entirely by individual and corporate donations. Developing and hosting the Oregon Virtual School District (K-12 online learning portal). New hosted partners include yum, RPM and the Linux Foundation.

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The National Center for Data Mining at UIC 

Created: 1998 University of Illinois at Chicago campus in Chicago NCDM develops open source technologies that allow scientists, who are not necessarily computer experts, to store, distribute and analyze datasets that are terabytes in size or larger using big numbers of commodity computers and high-speed wide-area networks. For example, NCDM developed UDT, a protocol that allows data to be transferred at 8Gbps (disk to disk) from the United States. to Japan. It also designed a cloud computing system called Sector/Sphere that is at least twice as fast as Hadoop as measured by the Terasort benchmark.

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For each of the past four years, the NCDM has won a major award at the SC XY technical workshops on supercomputing. At SC 08, Sector and the Open Cloud Testbed won the Bandwidth Challenge. NCDM developed and runs the Teraflow Testbed for networking research and is a founding member of the Open Cloud Consortium.

NCDM's philosophy is to show that distributed computing and high-speed networking can be made as simple as possible, with a lightweight, easy-to-use infrastructure.

Current projects: At SC 08 in November, the NCDM won the Bandwidth Challenge using Sector, Sphere and the Open Cloud Testbed. NCDM demonstrated technology for the first time that enables cloud computing to utilize high-performance networks and spread cloud computing across data centers to create wide-area clouds. One application, dubbed TeraSort, involved sorting 1 terabyte of data in 30 minutes, with the average data moving rate of about 4.8Gbps, with a peak speed reaching 10Gbps.

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