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Colliding Black Holes, Dancers, and Electron Microscopy Push Network Boundaries by Moving Billions of Bits in Network Bandwidth Challenge at SC2001 Conference

Contact: Jon Bashor, [email protected], 510-590-1008

November 16, 2001

Visualization courtesy of Werner Benger, AEI/ZIB.

DENVER, Colo. — For the second year in a row, a team led by high-performance computing experts from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory took top honors in a contest to move the most data across the network built around SC, the annual conference of high-performance computing and networking which concluded Nov. 16. The winning application was a live visualization of a simulation of colliding black holes.

An intercontinental collaborative performance organized by the University of Florida's Digital Worlds Institute, featuring dancers in Denver, Minneapolis and Florida accompanied by musicians in Brazil, took the prize for the "Most Courageous and Creative" effort. A team from the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the University of California at San Diego using the network to remotely operate an electron microscope was recognized for having the "Best Network-Enabled Application."

SC2001, held this week in Denver, marked the second staging of the Bandwidth Challenge in which researchers with high-bandwidth applications were invited to push the network infrastructure's multi-gigabit links to their limits with demonstrations of leading-edge computer applications. During the 2001 Network Bandwidth Challenge, teams of researchers from around the world used SCinet, the conference fiber-optic network, to demonstrate applications using huge amounts of distributed data.

For the conference, the SCinet team assembled a special network infrastructure that featured a 14.5 gigabit wide-area network connection over multiple OC-48 links to the exhibit floor and connections to most high-speed national research networks.

"The network is often overlooked in terms of its contribution to enabling scientific discovery in areas of interest to such research organizations as the Department of Energy, and to advancing communication and understanding around the world," said Walt Polansky, one of the competition judges and acting director of DOE's Mathematical, Information and Computational Sciences Division. "This Network Bandwidth Challenge shines the spotlight on the network and the people who operate and push network technologies, and provides an opportunity to demonstrate innovative applications across all disciplines."

The Network Bandwidth Challenge was held under the theme of "Veni, Vidi, Conexui Maxime," Latin for "I came, I saw, I connected to the max."

The Berkeley Lab team, which included collaborators in Illinois and Germany, created a live visualization of a simulation of colliding black holes computed in real time at supercomputing centers in Berkeley, Calif., and Champaign, Illinois. This required the integration of computational tools in many disciplines. The team achieved a sustained network performance level of 3.3 gigabits per second (3.3 billion bits of data).

Judges commented that the team's application was a useful tool for allowing scientists to view results from their data stored at distant and dispersed computing sites.

The courageous and creative winner, "Dancing Beyond Boundaries," moved about 30 million bits of data per second. The project was designed to "explore whether internationally distributed dancers, musicians, graphic artists, videographers, and choreographers can create, rehearse, and perform a new collaborative work using the Internet2, multiple network-conferencing nodes and a select number of high quality video and audio streams." Judges praised the ability of participants to adapt to a new medium, overcoming logistical, artistic and language hurdles.

The judges added a third category for the "Best Network-Enabled Application" to recognize the "Telescience Video and Data Services" project. The application, which achieved sustained performance of moving 32 megabits (millions of bits) of data over the network, sought to move data in new ways, as opposed to trying to move the most data. The group transferred a live video stream from a high-energy transmission electron microscope in San Diego to the demonstration floor in Denver. One judge noted, "This application was head and shoulders above the others in terms of using a network to integrate and deliver an effective application."

The competition was sponsored in part by Qwest Telecommunications. "Qwest is pleased to support the Network Bandwidth Challenge for the second year in a row," said Wesley Kaplow, chief technology officer for Qwest Government Systems. "The diversity of applications, from art to physics to remote control of an electron microscope, truly shows the power enabled by gigabit networks."

The SC2001 conference concluded its seven-day run on Friday, Nov. 16. Next year's SC conference will be held Nov. 16-22 in Baltimore.

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