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March 25, 2013

UCSD Peers Through Big Data Prism

Ian Armas Foster

Although research at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) is computationally intensive, there exists a notion that the research being done is outgrowing the university’s experimental Quartzite network.

Enter the Prism project, the school’s new initiative that aims to connect the San Diego Supercomputing Center (SDSC) to on-campus labs. “High-performance cyberinfrastructure is a strategic necessity for a research university,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla in discussing Prism. “The Prism network will enable rapid movement of ‘Big Data’ for multiple, diverse disciplines across campus, including science, engineering, medicine and the arts.”

The project will reportedly be funded by a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which UCSD-based researchers of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) will use to develop a network supporting various data-intensive use cases, such as genomics, climate science, and particle physics.

“We’ve identified a variety of big data users on this campus who need ten gigabit/s and faster bandwidth to deal with the avalanche of data coming from scientific instruments such as sequencers, microscopes and computing clusters,” said [email protected]’s principal investigator Philip Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos, who works at both Calit2 and the SCSD, noted the Prism project would likely exponentially augment UCSD’s networking capabilities.

“We’re starting at 1 Terabit/s of connected capacity through our next-generation modular switch, which is at the center of the Prism network,” Papadopoulos said. “It can carry 20 times the traffic of our current research network, and it’s 100 times the bandwidth of the main campus network.” 

Quartzite, the current networking standard at UCSD, was developed in 2007 around optical fiber paths and wavelength selective switching. Prism will be built atop the once-experimental system, which is reportedly energy inefficient and unable to support software-defined networking such as OpenFlow.

According to UCSD, once the Prism connection is complete, which will happen using an Arista Networks 7405 switch-router, the network will be three times more efficient with four times the capacity of the current Quartzite system.

“By the time Prism is built out, we will have expanded the SDSC-Calit2 link from 50 to 120Gbps, and it won’t cost very much to get it to 160Gbps,” said Papadopoulos. “Other campus labs then connect directly to the Prism core at Calit2 with dedicated links of between 20 and 80 Gigabit/s each. The structure allows a Prism-connected lab to saturate any of our external links, no matter where they land on campus.”

Among those labs is the campus’s only Open Science Grid node at UCSD’s physics department. Professor Frank Wuerthwein has his lab connected to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, which compiles a significant amount of data to be sent out around the world. With San Diego existing halfway across the world from Switzerland, building something like [email protected] would be important to continue UCSD’s relevance to the LHC.

“We want to expand the presence of OSG on this campus,” said Wuerthwein, who has signed up to use [email protected] “For the really big data we are holding – petabytes of Large Hadron Collider data, for instance – it is nice to have a network where we can transmit terabytes of data without killing the campus network in the process.”

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