UKLight, the JISC bandwidth and access project, issues call for research proposals

London 09 September 2004Particle physics, radio astronomy, computing visualisation experiments, remote viewing of high-resolution mammography images. These are just some project areas that researchers are working on which suck up computer network bandwidth. As it does so, other staff and students at institutions could be affected as the researchers unwittingly freeze up the network as they exchange and download, necessarily for the cause of advancing science, humungous quantities of data. But there need not be any reason to fret. The researchers could have hooked into UKLight, which offers a new network infrastructure and access to a global initiative funded by the JISC Committee for the Support of Research and Science Research Investment Fund.


Usually data is transferred by packet switching. In simple terms, before being transmitted it is broken down into individual packets. These are consequently transmitted across different routes, some getting held up or even lost, causing delay and disruption of networks. In contrast, UKLight, and the global initiative it links to, comprises 10 gigabit connections to Chicago, USA and Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

These enable channel switching of data. Instead of data being broken down into packets, it is transferred across dedicated channels in a continuous stream. This is all enabled by the use of fibre optic cable and through rethinking the way the data itself is sent down this cable, utilising various light spectrums. This all means that researchers have the opportunity to connect to this dedicated channel switching network and link up with collaborators across the globe, if necessary uninterrupted for hours, or even days at a go, without disrupting other staff and students.

Researchers increasingly require data communications between institutions in the Gigabit/second range and above. Examples include scientific data transport, computational science, visualisation, environmental modelling and medical applications requiring high volume remote imaging. Such applications require connections between a set of end-points which must be sustained for hours or days, and which may have stringent constraints on the levels of service required from the network. These requirements are difficult and costly to meet with traditional shared IP-based networking, and may be best addressed through the use of channel-switched networks.

In recognition of this, several leading National Network organisations across the world have created an international experimental facility to pilot this approach to research networking. UKLight is the new facility which allows the United Kingdom to join this global initiative. It is backed by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), funded via HEFCE and managed by UKERNA on behalf of the United Kingdom research community.

JISC are now looking for other projects to connect to UKLight, and has issued a call for research. The deadline for expressions of interest is noon, 8th October 2004. The call seeks expressions of interest from sites wishing to gain access to UKLight via the extended JANET development network.

With the construction of UKLight, the United Kingdom joins the "Global Lambda Infrastructure Facility" (GLIF). UKLight comprises a hub in London, located at the University of London Computing Centre, with 10 Gbit/s connections to StarLight in Chicago and NetherLight in Amsterdam. These links can be partitioned to provide dedicated switched channels, e.g. Gigabit-Ethernet channels, to collaborators in the rest of the world, provided they are themselves able to gain local access to the global infrastructure.

Access to UKLight from institutions within the United Kingdom will be provided by an extended national development network implemented within JANET. This makes use of uncommitted capacity available within the SuperJANET backbone which can be equipped to establish connections between the UKLight hub in London and the locations where the JANET Regional Networks connect to the backbone. Phase 1 of this development network is currently being commissioned and consists of connections to EastNet in Cambridge and Network North West (NNW) in Manchester. Phase 2 will extend the network to reach CLRC-RAL, YHMAN at Leeds, and C&NLMAN at Lancaster by early 2005.

A third phase of extension to the JANET development network is now being considered. In order to assess where extensions should be made, the research community is asked to submit expressions of interest for gaining access to UKLight. These expressions of interest will be used to inform the further development of the infrastructure. They are not intended to identify research proposals for any future funding opportunities. Projects using UKLight are expected to be funded through Research Council or other programmes.

Some examples of projects already starting are the following. The particle physics community has established a 1 Gbit/s Ethernet channel between the United Kingdom and Fermilab near Chicago. This will be used to give physicists direct access to raw data sets, and to allow simulated-event data produced in the United Kingdom to be transported to Fermilab.

The radio astronomy community will be using channels to The Netherlands to extend the capability of their radio-telescope very-long-baseline interferometry programme.The Reality Grid project will establish persistent connections to the Teragrid in the USA for high-performance-computing visualisation experiments. The e-Diamond project will pilot the use of high capacity channels far rapid remote-viewing of high-resolution mammography images.

Each expression of interest should be not more than two pages in length, and should identify the nature of any research proposing to use UKLight, together with the site locations and regional networks which would be involved, and estimates of the network capacities required both within the United Kingdom and to any international partners. Network operations and support staff at both site and regional network level may need to be consulted when considering the likely impact of the work being proposed.

Anyone considering submitting an expression of interest is recommended to discuss this informally with David Salmon, the UKLight Manager at UKERNA, who can provide further information about UKLight and the JANET development network infrastructures. John Graham, the UKLight Engineer at ULCC is also available to discuss these matters. Expressions of interest will be considered by a sub-group of the UKLight steering committee augmented by invited experts, and feedback will be provided in early November to all groups who have made submissions. Expressions of interest should be submitted by e-mail to Ann Lloyd at the JISC Executive, by 12 noon, Friday 8 October, 2004.

Leslie Versweyveld

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