New world record for data transfer set – a scorching 186Gbps

15 Dec 2011

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Researchers from Caltech, CERN and a number of top universities around the world have established a new world record for data transfer – a superfast 186 gigabits per second – fast enough to transfer 100,000 full Blu-ray disks or 2m gigabytes in one day.

California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the University of Victoria, the University of Michigan, the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), Florida International University and other partners led the team of high-energy physicists, computer scientists and network engineers.

According to the researchers, the achievement will help establish new ways to transport the increasingly large quantities of data that traverse continents and oceans via global networks of optical fibres. These new methods are needed for the next generation of network technology – which allows transfer rates of 40 and 100 Gbps – that will be built in the next couple of years.

"Our group and its partners are showing how massive amounts of data will be handled and transported in the future," says Harvey Newman, professor of physics and head of the high-energy physics (HEP) team.

"Having these tools in our hands allows us to engage in realisable visions others do not have. We can see a clear path to a future others cannot yet imagine with any confidence."

How the world record for data transfer was achieved

Using a 100Gbps circuit set up by Canada’s Advanced Research and Innovation Network (CANARIE) and BCNET, a non-profit, shared IT services organisation, the team was able to reach transfer rates of 98Gbps between the University of Victoria Computing Centre located in Victoria, British Columbia, and the Washington State Convention Centre in Seattle.

With a simultaneous data rate of 88Gbps in the opposite direction, the team reached a sustained two-way data rate of 186Gbps between two data centres, breaking the team’s previous peak-rate record of 119Gbps set in 2009.

In addition, partners from the University of Florida, the University of California at San Diego, Vanderbilt University, Brazil (Rio de Janeiro State University and the São Paulo State University), and Korea (Kyungpook National University and the Korean Institute for Science and Technology Information) helped with a larger demonstration, transferring massive amounts of data between the Caltech booth at the SC11 conference and other locations within the United States, as well as in Brazil and Korea.

The fast transfer rate is also crucial for dealing with the tremendous amounts of data coming from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the particle accelerator that physicists hope will help them discover new particles and better understand the nature of matter, and space and time, solving some of the biggest mysteries of the universe.

More than 100 petabytes (more than 4bn Blu-ray disks) of data have been processed, distributed and analysed using a global grid of 300 computing and storage facilities located at laboratories and universities around the world, and the data volume is expected to rise a thousand-fold as physicists crank up the collision rates and energies at the LHC.

"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," says David Foster, the deputy IT department head at CERN.

"The 100Gbps demonstration at SC11 is pushing the limits of network technology by showing that it is possible to transfer petascale particle physics data in a matter of hours to anywhere around the world," adds Randall Sobie, a research scientist at the Institute of Particle Physics in Canada and team member.

Sharing discoveries from the Large Hadron Collider

The key to discovery, the researchers say, is in picking out the rare signals that may indicate new physics discoveries from a sea of potentially overwhelming background noise caused by already understood particle interactions.

To do this, individual physicists and small groups located around the world must repeatedly access – and sometimes extract and transport – multiterabyte data sets on demand from petabyte data stores. That’s equivalent to grabbing hundreds of Blu-ray movies all at once from a pool of hundreds of thousands. The HEP team hopes that the demonstrations at SC11 will pave the way towards more effective distribution and use for discoveries of the masses of LHC data.

"By sharing our methods and tools with scientists in many fields, we hope that the research community will be well positioned to further enable their discoveries, taking full advantage of 100Gbps networks as they become available," Newman says.

"In particular, we hope that these developments will afford physicists and young students the opportunity to participate directly in the LHC’s next round of discoveries as they emerge."

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com