2005: The year of the DRAGON

The National Science Foundation is funding a high-speed network ring that will connect NASA and several research institutions to facilitate e-science.

NSF officials view the project as an experiment to test the optical network's ability to handle advanced research applications. Scientists "need to ship vast amounts of data," said Kevin Thompson, the NSF program manager in charge of the project.

The agency is investing $6.5 million during the next four years. The network, now under construction, will begin transmitting data next year.

The project is called DRAGON, which stands for Dynamic Resource Allocation via Generalized MultiProtocol Label Switching Optical Networks. The Mid-Atlantic Crossroads, a consortium of universities and agencies that include NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institutes of Health, is overseeing the project.

Other collaborators include the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute, George Mason University, the University of Maryland and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Haystack Observatory in Westford, Mass.

As the network ferries data between the facilities, the ongoing results will lead to improved quantity and quality of e-science applications, said Jerry Sobieski, engineering director of the Mid-Atlantic Crossroads and principal investigator for DRAGON. The project can serve in the future as a blueprint for similar efforts.

E-science applications are those that need high-throughput networks to send and receive vast amounts of data, Sobieski said. The MIT Haystack Observatory will be one early user, along with the U.S. Naval Observatory and NASA.

"These guys point these radio telescopes up in the sky, and they can measure things very, very accurately," he said. "But it requires a number of radio telescopes distributed around the globe. They each generate about one gigabit of data per second."

Sobieski expects the network to carry data at 8 gigabits/sec from radio telescopes over the next five to 10 years. "That's a hell of a lot of data, and that's just the radio

astronomers."

The network is all optical, and Movaz Networks Inc. of Atlanta is providing the architecture's foundation via its iWSS optical switch. Movaz officials see the experimental application as an opportunity to push the capabilities of the technology and find ways to refine it, said Zouheir Mansourati, the company's chief technology officer.

"You cannot necessarily come up with requirements out of the blue," he said. "By being involved in a network like this, you discover requirements you might not have thought of before."

The all-optical architecture will make DRAGON unusual, said Maria Zeppetella, an analyst at Probe Research Inc. Although several all-optical switches have been tried, they have not gained traction in any markets. Switches that can convert signals from optical to electrical and back have proven more useful.

"This is evidence primarily of the lack of traffic on backbone networks that would necessitate the use of an all-optical switch," she said. "So it was a case of too much too soon. All-optical switching could make a re-entrance in the next two-plus years, as high-speed backbone traffic grows. Of course, research networks are an entirely different matter."

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High-speed link

The National Science Foundation is funding the development of an optical network that will connect NASA and several research institutions via a high-speed connection.

Planned applications of the network, known as DRAGON, include:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Haystack Observatory will use the network to collect and correlate radio telescope data in real time.

The University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute, the University of Maryland's Visualization and Presentation Lab, and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center will integrate streaming high-definition TV, access grid nodes and interactive, remote 3-D visualizations.

Source: Movaz Networks Inc.

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