IPv6 network's telescience potential showcased in trans-Pacific telemicroscopy demonstrations

San Diego 28 July 2000Researchers from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI) demonstrated one of the first uses of the next-generation Internet Protocol in a major scientific application during the 10th Annual Internet Society Conference, INET 2000. In two sessions at this recent conference in Yokohama, Japan, the researchers conducted interactive remote control of an electron microscope over end-to-end native IPv6 high-performance networks which spanned the Pacific Ocean.


Representatives of UC San Diego's National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research (NCMIR) and the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) highlighted how telescience technologies can provide worldwide access to unique scientific instruments and enable researchers to collaborate more easily. In this case, NCMIR's 400.000-volt electron microscope in San Diego was controlled from the INET 2000 exhibition. The group's telescience activities are supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through NPACI and the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Research Resources, which supports the NCMIR.

Telemicroscopy allows researchers to collaborate at an international level in neuroscience, for instance, where serial tomography can produce a very nearly complete representation of a neuron or nerve cell, including much of the structure and substructure within at a very high resolution. Serial tomography is a tomographic reconstruction of two or more serial sections produced separately and subsequently docked together. Such tomographic computer models afford better understanding of the structure and make-up of the neuron and will lead to a better understanding of the function of nerve cells in the brain and, for example, to advances in the study of debilitating disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

"The key point about the demo is that the entire system, from the high-power microscope in San Diego to the Web browser on the workstation in Japan, used the next-generation Internet Protocol, IPv6", stated Mark Ellisman, director of NCMIR. "We are using native IPv6, not just an encapsulation under the older protocol, from one end of the demo system to the other. Our demo is one of the first uses of the IPv6 protocol in a major scientific application, and one of very few current end-to-end IPv6 systems anywhere." Collaborators on the telescience demonstrations included Dr. Ellisman and Martin Hadida of NCMIR and SDSC, Youki Kadobayashi of Osaka University, Bob Fink of the Department of Energy's ESnet, and Thomas Hutton of SDSC.

"We believe this demo will show that IPv6 works, that it is ready for release in commercial router and system products, and that it is ready for regular production deployment in ISP networks and end-user site networks and systems", ESnet's Mr. Fink stated before the demo. Events proved his prediction correct. The UC San Diego's team conducted 2 telemicroscopy sessions in Yokohama, one on Tuesday July 18 and one, two days later, as part of the conference's iGrid 2000 exhibit of live demonstrations of leading-edge research based on global networking.

The NCMIR high-power transmission electron microscope is being controlled through a Web-based operator interface. The telemicroscopy demonstration at iGrid 2000 used an IPv6-enabled version of Netscape empowered by Sun's IPv6 Socket Transition Library. In the telescience demos, microscope images and status information travelled from the NCMIR microscope by way of a Sun Microsystems IPv6-enabled Web server to SDSC, where the messages are routed onto the NSF-sponsored vBNS network.

A special IPv6 transfer point called 6TAP at the STAR TAP exchange in Chicago connects to the Asia-Pacific Advanced Network (APAN) transfer point in Tokyo via the 100 megabit per second APAN-TransPAC link. From there, the data travelled over the Japan Gigabit Network (JGN) to the Pacifico Yokohama Conference Center, where the high-speed iGrid backbone network carried the data to the Sun workstation running the demo's interactive remote-control system. Control commands travelled the same route in the opposite direction.

Internet Protocol Version 6, known as IPv6, was designed to replace IPv4, the current version used by most of the Internet. IPv6 has several advantages over the nearly 20-year-old IPv4. IPv6 vastly increases the number of available addresses, and it provides better support for auto-configuration, router discovery, security, and real time communications. Internet engineers expect IPv6 to gradually replace IPv4 over the next several years.

Mr. Fink had encouraged the UC San Diego telescience team to use the new protocol and played a key role in connecting the group with IPv6 experts. The network providers, especially Linda Winkler and others at TransPAC/STAR TAP, set up a private virtual circuit which eliminated routing concerns and paved the road from San Diego to Japan. In addition, the APAN-TransPAC link was recently upgraded from 70 to 100 megabits per second, just in time to support the demo as well as the other high-bandwidth demos which route messages through STAR TAP.

"We have been able to make this happen through the strong support of Sun Microsystems for IPv6 and for our research efforts", Dr. Ellisman commented. "In particular, Alain Durand of Sun's IPv6 team has provided hardware, software, and expertise critical to making this system a success." Sun's Solaris 8 supports IPv6 out of the box and permits easy transition from IPv4. Solaris also allows a single computer to support both IPv4 and IPv6 protocols simultaneously.

In co-ordination with the UC San Diego team's demo, Youki Kadobayashi and Hirotaro Mori of Osaka University, collaborators from the Research Center for Ultra-High Voltage Electron Microscopy (UHVEM), presented a second telemicroscopy demonstration. The UHVEM demo controlled a 3 million-volt transmission electron microscope, the world's largest and most powerful of its type, over a high-bandwidth optical network, using high-definition D1 format video. Mr. Kadobayashi and his colleagues on the Widely Integrated Distributed Environment (WIDE) project are leaders in IPv6 deployment in Japan, and were key participants in the UC San Diego demos.

iGrid 2000 was organised by the University of Illinois at Chicago and Indiana University in collaboration with the University of Tokyo and Keio University. A total of two dozen iGrid demonstrations, including two by NPACI projects, showcased the ongoing development of a high-speed International Grid for global community networking. The iGrid exhibit hosted demonstrations involving collaborations among scientists from some twenty countries. The demonstrations featured technological innovations and application advancements requiring high-speed networks, with emphasis on cutting-edge applications which involve distributed supercomputing, remote instrumentation, large data sets, collaboration, digital video, streaming media, and high-definition television.

The Solaris 8 Operating Environment is the industry's first Unix operating system to deliver IPv6 to IETF standards for deployment in mission-critical environments, such as those found in telecom companies and wireless network infrastructures, and meets the five critical requirements for Internet-based systems which are scalability, availability, manageability, security, and connectivity. The demo team's INET 2000 conference paper is available on the Web under the title "Advanced Networking for Telemicroscopy". For more historical background news on telemicroscopy, please also read the VMW article First trans-Pacific telemicroscopy demonstration between Japan and the USA.

Leslie Versweyveld

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