UCSD and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Linked Using OptIPuter Technologies over a 10-Gbps National LambdaRail Dedicated Optical Path
San Diego, CA, and Greenbelt, MD, August 12, 2005 -- There are four wings to the Earth Science building of the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD. But on August 8, "we added a virtual fifth wing," says NASA Emeritus Scientist Milton Halem. That new wing used experimental OptIPuter software to create a 'high-performance collaboratory' with the University of California, San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which allowed scientists to establish high-definition telepresence while also collaborating in real time on visualizing massive amounts of remote land and weather data.
The demonstration was dedicated to outgoing NASA Associate Administrator of Science Alphonso Diaz, who funded the project in March 2004 when he was still director of GSFC. "The demo exceeded every expectation I had when I initiated the program for information technology at Goddard," says Alphonso Diaz, who attended the event only days before his retirement from NASA. "At that time I hoped that this project would serve as a demonstration of the value of IT investments in the conduct of NASA-sponsored science, particularly Earth science. Not only did it do that, but I hope the demonstration serves to promote further investment."
"Information technology is changing the way that teams of scientists collaborate on large-scale problems that involve huge amounts of data," says NASA's Halem. "We are prototyping a new information infrastructure to provide NASA scientists along with their observational data holdings and models interoperable links with scientists at other research institutions engaged in collaborative investigations and studies. These successful demonstrations showed significant progress in achieving the Holy Grail of collaborative computational Earth and space science for the early decades of the 21st century."
The Aug. 8 demonstration gave Goddard officials a glimpse of a future when a scientist at the research center will be able interactively to visualize large remote data sets generated either by satellites or supercomputers connected to the National LambdaRail (NLR). NLR is a nationwide fiber optic network infrastructure designed to give academic scientists the predictable and large bandwidth they need to do advanced research.
At GSFC, researchers led by Christa Peters-Lidard were able to call up large Land Information System (LIS) data sets consisting of more than 20GBs residing at Scripps and being visually rendered on the OptIPuter visualization cluster in La Jolla. The graphic images then traveled over the NLR to Goddard and were displayed at Goddard on a large, tiled display called a HyperWall. Simultaneously, on the same screen, the Goddard group was viewing a high definition (HD) video stream of Calit2 director Larry Smarr and Scripps scientists V. Ramanathan and Jean-Bernard Minster sitting in front of theVizCluster. Observes Smarr: "It really is like the two research centers are just next door to each other!"
"This capability is going to become increasingly important as the explosion in sensor networks or grids continues, real-time data streams grow in size, and models assimilate these data to extend predictions into future hours and days," noted Scripps' John Orcutt, the director of UCSD's Center for Earth Observations and Applications (CEOA). "Next month UCSD, Scripps, the University of Washington and Woods Hole will use CAVEwave to bring real-time HD video from the seafloor to the iGrid meeting at Calit2 and HD back to the ship above the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) on the seafloor. The NSF Laboratory for Ocean Observatory Knowledge and Information Grid (LOOKING) project is funding this effort. We're all getting tangible samples of the collaborative science of the future."
The collaboration began serendipitously in March 2003, when Smarr was invited to give the annual Distinguished Information Science and Technology colloquium seminar at GSFC. He described the then newly NSF-funded OptIPuter project and the large-scale science research it could enable at NASA Goddard. Diaz, then-director of the research center, seized on the potential that extreme bandwidth could hold for NASA researchers. He asked his former Goddard Chief Information Officer, Milt Halem, to accept an assignment to work with GSFC information scientists and Smarr's team to explore the use of the OptIPuter paradigm for meeting the next-generation needs of NASA's Earth Observing System Data Information System. One year later, Halem and his information pathfinding colleagues submitted and won an internal GSFC IRAD to help prototype a 10-Gbps lambda network to create a virtual presence for Scripps at GSFC.
Even though GSFC's participation in establishing the network was partially funded through an internal award, its academic partners are freely contributing their time and resources in hopes of extending the value of their own research and infrastructure investments. "Volunteerism is a huge thread in this collaboration," says Calit2's Smarr, who is also the principal investigator on the OptIPuter project and previous chair of NASA's Earth Systems Science Advisory Committee. "NASA did not fund Calit2 or SIO to do this, and NSF didn't have NASA in mind when it funded the OptIPuter project. But it became clear to Al Diaz and our team that NASA could become an important testing ground for these cyberinfrastructure technologies that NSF-funded researchers are developing to enable a new generation of scientific and engineering facilities."
"The technical challenges often involved troubleshooting the convergence of many leading-edge, pre-commercial hardware/software components and individual systems into a seamless integration," notes GSFC Lambda Network Project Manager Pat Gary. "To isolate, diagnose, and resolve problems perceived to be network-related, we utilized 10-GE connected workstations hosting the GSFC-developed software-based nuttcp network performance measurement tool deployed at UCSD, StarLight/Chicago, McLean, and GSFC. We wanted and achieved 10-Gbps wire-speed performance end-to-end across the network; but we had to tune not only network hardware-based features but also end-user computer device drivers, TCP stacks, Linux operating system parameters, and user application software.""Establishing this optical 'clear channel' between two of the nation's premier centers for earth system science has been a project Milt and I have driven for the past two years," explains Calit2's Smarr. Adds Aaron Chin, the OptIPuter project manager at UCSD: "With the new 10-Gbps link, we have extended the Calit2 OptIPuter "living laboratory" for earth sciences on the UCSD campus to our colleagues at Goddard."
"We learned again just how complex these 'eruptive' networking events can become," adds Calit2 and EVL researcher Tom DeFanti, a co-PI on the OptIPuter project. "This was a big deal and the culmination of a year's effort, but it was all worth it. I'm sure we will have other opportunities to work with our friends at NASA Goddard based on the success of this demo."
Officials hope to extend the network infrastructure further within NASA, initially to its Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. For the Aug. 8 demo, Ames researcher Chris Henze demonstrated real-time forecasting visualizations for Hurricane Irene at every time-step of a model predicting Irene's movements. But since Ames is not yet hooked up to the NLR, the animations were assembled and compressed into MPEG movies and delivered over Internet2 instead.
"Everyone could sense how much more value there would be if those real-time images could be accessed without any compression at all, and that's what a 10-Gbps link would allow," says NASA's Halem. "The hurricane demo indicated the vast potential that the NLR network offers for simulating and analyzing multi-decade climate simulations."
The three applications in the demonstration involved Earth science research, where collaboration is made difficult because the data sets are so large. Scripps researchers Ramanathan and Minster are eager to use the newly established link to greatly increase their access to NASA Goddard's 2-petabyte repository of satellite data on earth systems science and to the Project Columbia supercomputer at NASA Ames. "Having been involved in satellite instruments and global modeling, I know that less than one percent of the information has been looked at, primarily because of the lack of access to remote users," said Ramanathan. "This system seems to have the capability to open this new door to the research community." Ramanathan now hopes to use the infrastructure to peer 100 to 150 years into the future for an assessment of the impact of aerosols on world climate change.
"I believe that this project will greatly enhance the ability of scientists to fuse very large data sets currently stored at NASA's Distributed Active Archive Centers and Federation of Earth Science Information Partners," adds Minster. "They will be able to do so without having to endure the tedious task of first subsetting all these data sets in a consistent way, and collecting all the subsets in a single location."
The OptIPuter project played a critical role in ensuring that the San Diego end of the network could support the extreme bandwidth required for transmitting data to and from Scripps. Much of the integration of the tiled display used at Scripps occurred at the UCSD-based National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research (NCMIR), an NIH/NCRR-supported biotechnology resource. NCMIR and Scripps are the two drivers of applications for the OptIPuter: Earth sciences, and biomedical imaging. NCMIR's David Lee was on hand for the demo at Scripps (see Collaborators below).
Participating in the demo as one of his last official functions before retiring from NASA, Al Diaz was impressed and touched at the effort. "To have the demo turned into a tribute was an emotional highlight to a major transition in my career and my life," says Diaz. "I am thankful to Milt Halem and Larry Smarr for turning one of my dreams into reality."
GSFC officials hope to do a more advanced demonstration in September. There are also plans to extend the network to NASA Ames in Silicon Valley, and subsequently to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech in Pasadena, CA. "It shows what power bottom-up teams have to demonstrate the capability of new technologies to transform scientific research," concludes Smarr. "It's one of those quantum leaps that come along only once in a long while. We will now work to obtain the funding necessary to enable researchers who want to use this new infrastructure that we have prototyped."
NASA Goddard Lambda Network »
National LambdaRail »
Electronic Visualization Laboratory »
Scripps Institution Of Oceanography, UCSD »
Visualization Center at Scripps »
July 28 NASA Goddard Announcement »
California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology »
National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research »
NIH National Center for Research Resources »
National Science Foundation »
Summary Accomplishments and Future Plans of GSFC's 10-Gbps Lambda Network »
More Computer Science and Engineering News Via RSS
Get the monthly newsletter from the Jacobs School of Engineering