UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering University of California San Diego
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Dial Node M for Networking

Greg Hidley inspects optical router.

It’s shaping up to be a nexus of one of the most advanced computer networks in the world – but “Node M” is located in UCSD’s Central Utilities building that also houses lower-tech power-generation facilities for the campus. There, UCSD has installed a revolutionary new router to direct traffic over a high-speed optical networking testbed. Together with a second router installed at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) in May to upgrade networking services for university users at large, the new technology puts UCSD and the Jacobs School firmly on the road to tomorrow’s Internet.

“These new routers are leading edge. One of them is at the heart of the UCSD OptIPuter and the other will greatly increase the university's connectivity to the outside world," says Larry Smarr, the Harry E. Gruber Professor in Computer Science and Engineering. “UCSD’s commitment to networking testbeds emphasizes that this is the university to watch in telecommunications.”

Smarr and fellow Computer Science and Engineering professor Fran Berman are leading the campus effort in optical networking, together with Elazar Harel, UCSD’s Vice Chancellor for Academic Computing and Telecommunications (ACT). In their roles as directors respectively of Cal-(IT)² and SDSC, Smarr is leading the OptIPuter project, and Berman the TeraGrid. Both projects are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and are based on a Grid computing concept. The projects require the latest in networking technology to carry data at super-high speeds between computing, storage and visualization resources. On top of NSF funding, UCSD has committed roughly $1.5 million to implement the networking upgrade.

Indeed, as part of the OptIPuter project, the campus itself is becomingan experimental networking testbed. Researchers are linking nine different locations on the La Jolla campus, including Engineering Building 1, SDSC, and Cal-(IT)²’s Visualization Center at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. This involved deploying new optical fiber, and repurposing existing fiber, to connect each location to the rest through a Chiaro Enstara router/switcher located at Node M in the Central Utilities building.

The Enstara routing platform is the first of its kind installed anywhere by Texas-based Chiaro Networks. It is an optical core router that combines the advantages of traditional routing along with leading-edge optical switching. The Enstara will support the OptIPuter and other campus experimental networks, and enable participating groups to experiment with various characteristics of the network itself.

In early May, UCSD also purchased and installed a top-of-the-line enterprise router from Juniper Networks. “By pooling campus resources, we were able to invest in a system that is much more powerful than any of us could have purchased on our own,” says Greg Hidley, director of engineering services for the Jacobs School and Cal-(IT)². The new router is one of very few on the market that can support native 10-gigabit Ethernet speeds. As a result, the Juniper router will connect campus users efficiently to state and national networks that are being upgraded.

UCSD’s investment in optical networking could also give the campus a competitive edge for new NSF funding proposals. One of those would make UCSD the official testbed of six leading universities that hope to build an engineering research center devoted to optical networking. A decision is expected later in 2003.