Monday, April 4, 2011

Royal Society - Knowledge, Networks and Nations - open exchanges and future of R&E networks

[I highly recommend a recent report from the UK Royal Society called “Knowledge, Networks and Nations” ( ). The Royal Society which is fellowship of some of the world’s most eminent scientists and this report strongly endorses the importance of international collaborative research.
“With human society facing a number of wide-ranging and interlinked ‘global challenges’ such as climate change, food security, energy security and infectious disease, international scientific collaboration is essential if we are to have any chance of addressing the causes, or dealing with the impacts, of these problems… the primary driver of most collaboration is individual scientists. In seeking to work with the best of their peers and to gain access to complementary resources, equipment and knowledge, researchers fundamentally enhance the quality and improve the efficiency of their work.” Other than the US and perhaps soon China, many countries simply don’t have the financial resources to carry out world class research in significant number of fields of research and so international collaboration becomes increasingly important. Unfortunately, in many of these countries, funding councils still largely focus on small scale domestic research which often results in underfunded research and second rate results. This is particularly critical as the science community moves ever more so to eResearch and needs access to vast international computing resources, datasets and models. Stand alone, small scale provincial computing resources, data facilities, clouds, grids or networks will not enable world class science.
In light of this push to international collaboration I am pleased to be engaged in organizing discussions around the critical importance that open lightpath exchanges will play in this future world of international collaborative eResearch. At one time the eResearch community’s focus was on the deployment of national or pan-national research and education (R&E) networks. While these networks will still continue to play an important role, increasingly international open exchange points, interconnected with point to point, federated, multi-channel wavelengths will become the main focal point for supporting large scale international collaborative research. Examples of such facilities include the NetherLIght in The Netherlands, MAN LAN in New York City, STAR LIGHT in Chicago, Pacific Wave in Seattle and many, many others.
As the demands for eResearch increase with larger and larger datasets, that would swamp a normal IP network, special optical network facilities are required to handle these huge data volumes. More importantly the entire data distribution and replication model is changing because of these large datasets. A good example of this type of new network and data distribution architecture is the new proposed infrastructure to support the distribution of data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN called LHCONE ( ). The world of “end-to-end”, “campus to campus”, data transport and distribution, and all its attendant problems of throughput and performance is slowly disappearing. Instead large data sets, computing resources and models are increasingly being distributed and hosted at open exchange points, or specialized grid and commercial cloud facilities interconnected to these same exchange points. The proposed US eXtreme Data (XD) and PRACE in Europe are examples of this type of approach. These facilities will largely be interconnected with dedicated federated lightpaths terminating at open lighpath exchange points. It is not only big science like physics, climate modeling and astronomy that are moving in this direction, but “mid-level” science initiatives like genomics, oceanography, material science etc. For example the US Ocean Observatory Initiative will be using dedicated wavelengths interconnected through Pacific Wave to use commercial cloud services provided by Amazon and Microsoft Azure.
Not only is the R&E networking world moving in this direction, but so is the commercial world. Organizations like Google, Akamai, Limelight etc have deployed their own private optical networks interconnected to Internet Exchange points. Many of the original Internet Exchange points were created by the R&E community which enabled an entire commercial Internet eco-system to be built up around these exchange points. I suspect the same evolutionary path will happen with open lightpath exchange points as I have suggested in may paper on the “Future of R&E networks” ( Open Lighpath exchange points will be a nucleus for a new commercial ecosystem and create one again economic opportunities for the commercial sector.
One of the primary responsibilities for these open exchange point will be hosting and support the various tools for the support of international collaborative research. The initial focus of policy or governance discussions with respect to the responsibilities of open lightpath exchanges will be largely addressing optical network issues such as allocation and prioritization of lightpaths, management structures to enable trouble shooting and support, community definition, etc. In the longer run I suspect governance and policy issues will be more focused on developing the necessary collaborative tools for the eResearch community. In the past these tools were campus based, but given the nature of international collaboration and eResearch I think the infrastructure to support these tools will have to be hosted at the open lighpath exchange points. Most universities simply don’t have the resources or skill sets to support the demanding requirements of international collaborative eResearch and a lot of this work I think will have to be out sourced to the open lightpath exchange point themselves through Science DMZ services as proposed by Eli Dart at ESnet. International collaborative tool development such as SURFconext, CoManage and COIP ( will also be critically important. Another important issue will be interconnection to commercial clouds and other services at these exchange points and whether international researcher access these commercial services from distance open lighpath exchange points. As open lightpath exchange points become the critical infrastructure to support international research collaboration I suspect there will be a host of other governance and policy issues..
In the coming months I will be working with the open lightpath exchange community to organize discussions around what are currently called “governance” or “policy” issues with respect to open lightpath exchanges of which the first kick off meeting will be at the Spring Internet 2 meeting in Washington DC ( If you are interested in this topic and related issues please feel free contact me. I want to get input from as wide a range as possible of researchers, users, network operators etc into the issues surrounding policy or governance with respect to these increasingly essential facilities.
Bill St. Arnaud

Green Internet Consultant. Practical solutions to reducing GHG emissions such as free broadband and electric highways.
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