Originally appeared in October 21, 2002 Knoxville News-Sentinel
Lab linking up to universities, other centers
Oak Ridge National Laboratory wants to expand its network capacity, establishing computer links with other research institutions around the nation.
Much of this will be accomplished through cooperative efforts with ORNL's university partners, particularly the core universities - Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Florida State, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State - that were part of UT-Battelle's original proposal to manage government facilities in Oak Ridge.
"We are the nation's steward in some sense, so we always have to be thinking of how to make these machines available to researchers across the nation," said Thomas Zacharia, the laboratory's associate director for computational sciences.
In mid-August, the laboratory announced that it had linked its supercomputers to the Atlanta Giga-Pop, the high-speed access point for Southern universities.
The data pipeline is hundreds of times faster than the fastest home dial-up connection.
ORNL Director Bill Madia, in keeping with the Atlanta theme, said the new computer link could download the DVD version of "Gone With the Wind" (all 222 minutes of it) in 6 seconds.
Charles Liotta, vice president of research at Georgia Tech, who manages the Atlanta Giga-Pop, wryly added, "It took only 2 seconds to do the latest Austin Powers movie."
Liotta predicted that high-speed computer connections to Oak Ridge resources would have big impacts not only on research, but education and economic development as well.
"The outcome will allow the Southeast to prosper," he said.
Len Peters, the vice provost for research at Virginia Tech, said efforts are under way to provide a similar pipeline from ORNL to the Mid-Atlantic Crossroads in Washington, D.C. That would make the Oak Ridge resources available to many other universities.
"We need these networking roots to get us down to Oak Ridge with high speed," Peters said. "Access is very important."
Ray Orbach, director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science and former chancellor of the University of California-Riverside, said economic development is based on scientific discovery, and advanced computing will play a critical role in the 21st century.
Orbach said people need to realize that "teraflops" and "petaflops" are more than just fancy lingo.
"If we are going to make scientific discovery using simulation as our vehicle, we need to be operating in this new environment," he said during a visit to ORNL.
Just as important as high-speed computing is the ability to get data back and forth between the research institutions, the DOE official said. That enables the sharing of top research tools, such as the Spallation Neutron Source under construction in Oak Ridge, he said.
The SNS, scheduled for completion in 2006, is designed for experiments to be performed remotely.
"There is not any difference between a control room in Oak Ridge and a control room in Atlanta or anywhere else in the world," Orbach said. "We will literally be able to do those experiments in real time. ... But the only way we do that is if the data is going back and forth sufficiently fast."
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