8,000 mile connection enables visual supercomputing at upcoming conference

NCSA press release

November 14, 1997

SAN JOSE — If all goes well, attendees to the SC97 conference in San Jose, CA, will witness the culmination of months of international collaboration and the first sustained usage of the STAR TAP global interconnection point in Chicago as they view a demonstration of interactive visual supercomputing across an 8,000 mile distance.

The demo - a 3D physics simulation - will be computed on a CRAY T3E-600 system at Rechenzentrum Garching (RZG) der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft Garching in Garching, Germany, and displayed on ImmersaDeskTM systems in the National Computational Science Alliance (Alliance) and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) booths on the conference floor. It will be a feat remarkable not only for the scientific achievement it represents, but also for the struggle required to negotiate the complex labyrinth of international collaboration that has made it possible.

"Many, many people have had to agree to give priority, time, and cooperation; but, in the end, all our efforts have paid off - the response has been great," said Ed Seidel, a physicist at the Max-Planck-Institut für Gravitationsphysik and the key researcher behind the demonstration. "Our testing over the last month shows that the application works, and that the necessary bandwidth can be acheived. If all goes well with the complex networking on the days of the show, we will prove that high-speed networking makes the distance between remote locations irrelevant." In an international community of computational researchers unlimited by physical distance from the resources needed to advance individual disciplines, a significant global acceleration in scientific achievements becomes possible.

"By organizing a special connection that enables us to do something exceptional," Seidel said, "we also draw attention to the need for high-speed international networking and to the acheivements such networks can support." At present, researchers wishing to use high-performance networks to take advantage of remote resources often have to devote months of time and money negotiating for the required connections. "This project has helped the various groups involved to develop a spirit of cooperation that I hope will make it easier for researchers to access such connections in the future," he added.

For Seidel and the international team of scientists from the four research centers, making arrangements was a complex problem from the start. Simply identifying possible paths between Munich and San Jose, and determining whom to contact at intermediate sites, required much time and investigation. Once alternatives were identified, the resource owners had to be convinced of the benefits of cooperation. In the end, Seidel and his team were able to attract support by generating excitement about doing something new and headlinesworthy.

Instrumental in providing the network connections to enable this demonstration were the Rechenzentrum Universität Stuttgart, Deutsche Telekom AG, Teleglobe, CANARIE INC/NTN, and the National Science Foundation. "The STAR TAP connection," Seidel noted, "enabled us to connect to the National Science Foundation's vBNS (very high-performance Backbone Network Service), which is an essential link in our network. Without STAR TAP, it would have been difficult or impossible to make the connections in time for SC97." STAR TAP is an interconnection point established by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and its partners, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, ANL, and Ameritech Advanced Data Services (AADS) to offer a persistent switch for international connections that will enable the exchange of high-speed network traffic among research institutions worldwide.

With all the necessary pieces in place, Seidel expects to have excellent connectivity all the way to San Jose. These pieces were assembled and tested by an international team of researchers from RZG, ANL, NCSA, and the Max-Planck-Institut für Gravitationsphysik. The connection will travel across Germany from Garching to Stuttgart via the Deutsches Forschungsnetz's (Germany's high- performance networking testbed, the DFN) 34Mbit ATM connection. (ATM is an innovative networking technology that provides for exceptionally fast transmission of data at rates that exceed one million bits-per-second.) Deutsche Telekom has arranged for a line going from Stuttgart to Sylt, an island in the North Sea, from whence a transatlantic connection will be established via Teleglobe's ATM link to CANARIE, an experimental Canadian high- performance networking testbed. The connection will then move to CANARIE's link to STAR TAP and, from there, across North America via the vBNS to San Jose. Special TCP/IP tuning for efficient long distance transfers are being implemented in the communicating applications that will be in place in Garching and San Jose.

The effort will result in an opportunity for attendees to SC97 to witness the real-time solution of Einstein's three dimensional equations, some of the most complex in all of physics, which describe the simulation of interactions between black holes and gravitational waves. "Five years ago," Seidel pointed out, "such simulations were virtually impossible in 3D, and now we can run one interactively, in almost real time, remotely across this 8,000 mile distance." For the conference, as in previous tests, Seidel hopes that a data stream of 1 Mbyte-per-second can be produced that is suited for direct visualization on the ImmersaDesk and will enable gravitational wave iso-surfaces to be selected and displayed in near to real time.

"We have already demonstrated that it can work in tests between Germany and the U.S." says Seidel. "We just hope that we can demonstrate the application in action at SC97, where there will be a few more complications due to the temporary setup in San Jose. NCSA's SGI/CRAY Origin2000 system will be standing by as a backup in case any of the myriad of vital links should fail during the demonstrations.

SC97 is the annual conference for leaders in high-performance networking and computing. It will be held November 17 to 21, 1997. The demonstration will take place at 4:00 p.m. on both Tuesday, November 18, and Wednesday, November 19.

STAR TAP, the Science Technology And Research Transit Access Point - is a persistent infrastructure, funded by the NSF CISE Networking and Communications Research and Infrastructure, to facilitate the long-term interconnection and interoperability of advanced international networking. The STAR TAP anchors the international vBNS connections program.

The Albert-Einstein-Institut (AEI), part of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, is located in Potsdam, Germany. The institute was established in 1995 to pursue the study of gravitational physics, especially general relativity and quantum gravity. In pursuing its research the institute supports large-scale computer calculations, both in house and in collaboration with other groups, and it participates in a number of international projects.

The Rechenzentrum Garching, a joint computing center of the Max Planck Society and the Institute for Plasmaphysics, is located close to Munich, Germany. On its large CRAY T3E system, research is carried out in the fields of material sciences, polymer research, plasma physics, biochemistry, laser physics, astrophysics, and gravitational physics.

The National Computational Science Alliance is an initiative to prototype an advanced computational infrastructure for the twenty-first century and includes more than 50 academic research partners from across the United States. It is funded by the National Science Foundation. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the leading-edge site for the Alliance. It is funded by the the NSF, the State of Illinois, the University of Illinois, industrial partners, and other federal agencies.

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