100G interconnect hooks UConn into massive research databases

Internet2 backbone connection offers big increase in available speeds.

The University of Connecticut announced yesterday that it has connected a new 100G fiber link, giving its faculty an improved ability to collaborate with others around the world on data-intensive research projects.

The connection links to a global backbone network called Internet2, which is a specialized research and education infrastructure linking government, corporate and academic organizations together.

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The new link is managed by the Connecticut Education Network, which functions as a specialist ISP and network services provider for most higher education in the state, as well as for K-12 schools. A central hub will connect both UConn’s main campus in Storrs and the UConn Health Center in Farmington to Internet2 via 100G fiber running through CEN.

CEN’s link to Internet2 will offer a host of new capabilities to UConn’s researchers, ranging from advanced cell biology and genomics processing at the Health Center to wide area network performance research at the school’s computer science department.

Previously, those researchers either had to make do with slower network speeds or use more lo-fi methods moving large quantities of data around, according to CEN senior network engineer Mark Brochu.

“Sometimes they even resort to literally shipping hard drives back and forth,” he said.

According to Brochu, navigating associated sources of red tape took more than a year, but the physical deployment of the new fiber links only required a couple of months’ time.

“And most of that was logistical difficulties,” according to Brochu. “We would need to get access to [UConn health’s] infrastructure, for example, and qualify any fiber-optic cables that go up to our equipment.”

While the new link does offer an operational advantage in terms of network redundancy, he said, it’s the researchers who are likely to see the biggest benefits.

“As the bandwidth needs of the network increase, we’re ahead of the curve now. That’s a huge bonus,” he said.

However, Brochu added that high-speed research network usage is far less predictable than standard consumer Internet use, making planning more complicated, and requiring more capacity.

“It’s my understanding that many high speed research applications produce short bursts of ‘elephant flows’ which can saturate links for short periods of time,” he said. “What makes research and education networks such as CEN unique is that we build these connections to ensure that there is no contention for these applications.”

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