One of the fastest moving things in our day is science. So much so that the conventional Internet is no longer fast and powerful enough. Since institutions like NASA see as an undeniable risk the fact that information travels at only a few gigabits per second, little by little its own “super-internet” network has been created, This utopian network used by eminent scientific-technological organizations such as NASA or CERN has been baptized with the name of ESnet.
We are talking about a precise, specific and closed network for researchers from all over the world, although at the beginning it was founded by the US Department of Energy (DOE). An exclusive network that, although it is not the first that exists with this same purpose, in its revealing evaluation in November 2013 it reached the dizzying transmission speed of 91 gigabits per second, a true record.
More than 20,000 kilometers of optimized fiber optics for research
Energy Sciences Network is the acronym for ESnet, and is managed and maintained by the qualified staff of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. As detailed on its website, among other users, ESnet serves more than 40 research centers, including among its ranks all the numerous supercomputers and scientific instruments of the entire American national laboratory system.
In the introduction we talked about how ESnet is a network restricted to scientific-technological use and the public does not have access to it, but that does not mean that its reach is only within US borders. This entire network is made up of an infrastructure of more than 20,000 kilometers of fiber optics that connects with more than 140 commercial and research networks throughout the world..
And we also indicated at the beginning that scientific matters have a very broad weight in the full sense of the expression. Priceless jobs like Human Genome Project or the research carried out in the Large Hadron Collider-CERN generate a colossal volume of data and a network with such a wide width is urgently necessary for such extensive information to flow from one laboratory to another, sending volumes equivalent to those of a hard disk as if sending a standard email from a weight of 25 Mb of limit will be.
Traffic on the ESnet has increased 10 times on average in every four years
It’s more, ESnet traffic has increased an average of 10 times every four years since it exists (it was born in 1986), which is an excellent sign (after all, the more traffic, it will mean an increase in research) and it is an indicator that the ESnet network has to be updated and progressed with so as to adapt to the needs of all the members who join it. The current generation is the fifth generation of the ESnet, which has been active since November 2012, built and developed from a router Alcatel-Lucent 7750 and reaching 44 times the capacity of the previous generation, according to the eminent DOE.
What about NASA?
The American space agency, or NASA, is part of the renowned organizations that use this important network, and in November 2013 they managed to transfer at 91 gigabits per second between the Goddard Center, located in Greenbelt, Maryland northwest of Whasington DC, and the SC13 supercomputer located in Denver, beating the then current speed record (being subsequently surpassed by Alcatel-Lucent and BT, with 1.4 terabits / second).
In addition, as detailed in the scientific-technological magazine Wired when echoing the matter, the theory is that ESnet supports transfers at 100 gigabits / second, but in practice transfers are lower due to distance. But even so, the network is still in operation today, which can be seen by consulting in real time, with speeds around 70 gigabits / second and higher intensity peaks in which higher speeds are delivered.
The OSCARS (On-Demand Secure Circuits and Advance Reservation System) and LHCONE (CERN) circuits are systems designed for a small number of large transfers, almost the opposite of what happens with commercial networks today, although one of the more immediate purposes of ESnet is to be the pioneer of what is going to come to these mentioned transfer circuits, as Tony Celeste (Brocade’s sales director) qualified in Wired magazine.
Increasing petabytes is the goal of all roads today
The structured ancestor of the ESnet was the revolutionary (for the time) ARPAnet, network created and designated for the United States Department of Defense. Later, another vaunted specific network was developed, the Magnetic Fusion Energy Network (in 1976), to connect the current Energy Science Research Computing Center with other laboratories in the United States.
Later (in 1980) it was added, to existing networks, the High Energy Physics Network to connect the country’s particle physics researchers and thus start building a large network devoted entirely to research. But with time and various tests they saw that it did not make sense for several networks to be created and maintained for the same purpose, finally joining them all on the ESnet.
It is interesting to see how network traffic has been increasing since it exists. The DOE estimated that by 2016 the network would have to carry 100 petabytes of traffic of data per month and although reality tells us that they have not even exceeded 70, but at the rate we are walking it would not be surprising that exceed 100 in less than two years.
So we will see if the ESnet breaks another speed record and if little by little these capabilities also reach homes and commercial networks. Meanwhile, it is comforting to know that at least part of the researchers do not see their work limited by the infrastructure of current networks, and without a doubt the best synthesis of ESnet was made by Gregory Bell, former director of ESnet, in Wired magazine: “Our vision of the world is that scientific discoveries should not be limited by geography”.