Trans-Atlantic ESnet

High-speed transatlantic network supports faster data exchange

Scientists across the United States will soon have access to new, ultra-high-speed network links spanning the Atlantic Ocean thanks to a project currently under way to extend ESnet (the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Sciences Network) to Amsterdam, Geneva and London.

The capacity of this new connection will provide U.S. scientists with enhanced access to data at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) by accelerating the exchange of data sets between institutions in the United States and computing facilities in Europe, the Fermi Research Alliance said in its announcement.

The ESnet extension will be in place before the LHC at CERN in Switzerland—currently shut down for maintenance and upgrades—is up and running again in the spring of 2015. Because the accelerator will be colliding protons at much higher energy, data output from the detectors will expand considerably—to approximately 40 petabytes of raw data per year. That compares with 20 petabytes for all of the previous lower-energy collisions produced over the three years of the LHC between 2010 and 2012.

To keep up with expanding data, major research and education networks around the world increased their backbone capacity by a factor of 10, using optical networking and digital signal processing technologies.

Until recently, however, higher-speed links were not deployed for production purposes across the Atlantic Ocean – creating a "impedance mismatch" that can harm large, intercontinental data flows, DOE said.

This network upgrade coincides with a shift in the data model for LHC science. Previously, data moved in a more predictable and hierarchical pattern strongly influenced by geographical proximity.  But network upgrades around the world have now made it possible for data to be exchanged more flexibly and dynamically.

This change enables faster science outcomes and more efficient use of storage and computational power, but it requires networks around the world to perform flawlessly together.

"Having the new infrastructure in place will meet the increased need for dealing with LHC data and provide more agile access to that data in a much more dynamic fashion than LHC collaborators have had in the past," said physicist Michael Ernst of DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory, a key member of the team laying out the new and more flexible framework for exchanging data between the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid centers.

Ernst directs a computing facility at Brookhaven Lab that was originally set up as a central hub for U.S. collaborators on the LHC's ATLAS particle physics experiment.

A similar facility at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory has played this role for the LHC's U.S. collaborators on the complementary CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) particle detection experiment. These computing resources, dubbed Tier 1 centers, have direct links to the LHC at the European laboratory CERN (Tier 0). 

Under the new infrastructure, the dedicated facilities at Brookhaven and Fermilab will be able to serve data needs of the entire ATLAS and CMS collaborations throughout the world, instead of serving as hubs for data storage and distribution only among U.S.-based collaborators at Tier 2 and 3 research centers. And likewise, Tier 2 and Tier 3 research centers in the United States will have higher-speed access to Tier 1 and Tier 2 centers in Europe.

"This new infrastructure will offer LHC researchers at laboratories and universities around the world faster access to important data," said Fermilab's Lothar Bauerdick, head of software and computing for the U.S. CMS group. "As the LHC experiments continue to produce exciting results, this important upgrade will let collaborators see and analyze those results better than ever before."

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