Supercomputer network blasts torrent of data

University teams send 186 gigabits per second between two supercomputers in the quest for faster bandwidth for data from CERN's Large Hadron Collider and other research endeavors.

Martin LaMonica
Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
2 min read

California Institute of Technology

The petabytes of data being generated at the Large Hadron Collider and other research bodies are facing a physical bottleneck: the network.

A team of physicists, computer scientists, and network engineers have demonstrated a network capable of blasting 186 gigabits per second of data between two supercomputers. They call this new bandwidth record a crucial tool for scientific inquiry and a signal of where commercial networking products are going.

During the SuperComputing conference 2011 last month, researchers installed high-end servers and 100-gigabit-per-second networking gear to connect a supercomputer at the conference in Seattle to another in Victoria, British Columbia.

They were able to simultaneously send data at 98 gigabits per second in one direction and 88 gibabits in the other, breaking the record set by the team two years earlier. The team was led by California Institute of Technology, the University of Victoria, the University of Michigan, and the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) which operates the Large Hadron Collider.

The pieces of hardware used for the demonstration were optimized commercial equipment from Dell, Brocade, and other suppliers. Central to the experiment was a 100 gigabit-per-second optical network operated by Canada's Advanced Research and Innovation Network (CANARIE) which was established in 1993 for research.

The supercomputer network set up last month hits speeds capable of sending 100,000 packed Blu-ray disks per day. The CANARIE network itself last year carried out 20 times the annual residential traffic of all of Canada.

Fatter networking pipes are critical to many fields of research, such as genetics, climate change, and particle physics. The Department of Energy last month flipped the switch on a $62 million project to connect three national laboratories with 100-gigabit-per-second speed.

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN has generated more than 100 petabytes of data, which is more than 4 million Blu-ray disks. There are already 300 data centers receiving and analyzing that data but the volume is expected to increase one thousand times with further experiments. Yesterday, scientists announced that a round of particle-smashing experiments offered a glimpse of the Higgs boson a particle thought to give mass to matter.

"Enabling scientists anywhere in the world to work on the LHC data is a key objective, bringing the best minds together to work on the mysteries of the universe," David Foster, the deputy IT department head at CERN, said in a statement.