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High-Speed Data Transfer System Garners Outreach Award

PASADENA, Calif.--The Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) has rewarded researchers at the California Institute of Technology for better connecting physicists worldwide. Lead project scientist Harvey Newman, professor of physics at Caltech, Julian Bunn of the Caltech Center for Advanced Computing Research, and their international team of researchers will receive a trophy for Innovations in Networking at a ceremony in Oakland, California, on March 11.

Each year, CENIC, which designs, implements, and operates a high-bandwidth, high-capacity Internet network specifically designed for faculty, staff, and students in California's educational and research communities, solicits nominations for its awards. The Caltech team submitted a nomination for their project, called UltraLight, based on exciting recent developments, Bunn says.

UltraLight was developed in 2004 in large part to support the decades of research that will emerge from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. The project provides advanced global systems and networks, and this summer will start transferring data as the LHC becomes operational.

Physicists at the collider face the unprecedented challenges of handling globally distributed datasets that will likely grow to hundreds of petabytes by 2010, as well as petaflops of distributed computing for collaborative data analysis by global communities of thousands of scientists. UltraLight will aid scientists by monitoring, managing, and optimizing use of the network in real time.

UltraLight exhibited its capabilities in a showroom demonstration for CENIC during a supercomputing conference in November 2007, sustaining disk-to-disk data transfers of up to 88 gigabits per second (Gbps) between Caltech and Reno, Nevada, for more than a day. But data flows from the LHC experiments will be the first time that UltraLight will strut its stuff for scientists hungry for data.

"The detector itself is like an onion--each layer is good at detecting different types of particles, and has electronics that read out bits and bytes that go onto an online database," Bunn explains. Those bits and bytes will then travel to storage at Tier 1 computing facilities, whence they can be analyzed at Tier 2 computing centers around the world. With UltraLight, Bunn explains, "physicists can quickly move the data out to these centers to reconstruct at home what was detected at CERN."

Another feature of the UltraLight project is the way it treats all computing resources as part of a worldwide network readily available to anyone who needs it. "To most scientists, the network is someone else's provision," Bunn says. "We want to make it easy for physicists to make their requests on the network. Our collaborators in Rio or São Paolo can now very easily request a dataset and have it delivered in a timely manner."

One of the tools developed in the UltraLight project is an interactive monitoring and control system called MonALISA (Monitoring Agents using a Large Integrated Services Architecture), which can, for example, monitor and display the activity and speed of all network links via a map that looks much like a flight path map.

The CENIC Innovations in Networking awards are split into four categories, and this year for the first time CENIC declared a tie in Experimental/Developmental Applications between UltraLight and another contender, CineGrid, which facilitates the exchange of digital media over a network. Bunn will accept the trophy and present the group's project at the CENIC 2008: Lightpath to the Stars conference in Oakland on Tuesday, March 11.

To learn more about UltraLight, visit
To explore the interactive system, visit

Written by elisabeth nadin

Caltech Media Relations