Campus News

UGA activates local branch of national computer network

Earlier this month UGA announced the activation of a local branch of the Southern Light Rail, a high-speed fiber-optic link that connects the university to other research universities in Georgia and across the United States.

SLR provides high-speed communications directly with Georgia State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, which houses the Atlanta node of the National LambdaRail, a nationwide fiber-optic network dedicated to research.

“High-performance computing and high-speed network infrastructure will soon be required to win highly competitive research grants in almost any discipline,” says Gordhan L. Patel, vice president for research and associate provost. “The new network brings UGA’s research information technology infrastructure up to par with some of the leading research ­universities.”

Lambda rails can carry data at a rate of 40 gigabits per second, and they represent the next generation of network technology for collaborative research among major universities, research centers and industry nationwide.

“These networks are dedicated to research so they are not competing with commodity Internet traffic for bandwidth,” says Barbara White, chief information officer and associate provost. “The administration has really supported UGA’s efforts in research computing, and the result is that we have multiplied our network and computing capacity in support of our researchers very effectively in a relatively short time.”

UGA computer specialists have begun orienting faculty on the high-performance research network for such applications as remote control of expensive instruments; pervasive environmental sensing networks; massive simulations in physics, chemistry, biology and environmental sciences; and sharing of huge biological databases.

The network will provide UGA scientists with access to supercomputers like the one being built at Oak Ridge National Laboratories and will reduce the time and cost of conducting experiments. For example, linking to instruments at Argonne National Laboratory will enable UGA X‑ray crystallographer Bi‑Cheng Wang and his research team to remotely control experiments located at Argonne. Wang conducts high-resolution structural analysis of protein molecules. His findings contribute to a better understanding of biological processes that may lead to new drug designs. Presently, a two-day experiment costs Wang’s lab thousands of dollars and requires as many as seven workers; with the new technology, he could run the same experiment with only one or two workers at much less expense.

Until recently, UGA computing resources operated at a maximum rate of 100 megabits per second. With the activation of this link, that rate will expand immediately by a factor of 100, with capacity to spare for further upgrades.

The UGA network connection is backed up by recently acquired supercomputers, a high-­performance storage network and a grid computing network through the Research Computing Center. Grid technology harvests underutilized resources within a network by breaking a large computational problem into small chunks, which are sent to computers that may be sitting in offices and laboratories in an idle state. Those computers work on their part of the problem and send the result back to a central computer, which re-assembles the results.

Cable installation for SLR was funded through grants from the Georgia Research Alliance and the UGA Research Foundation, which has invested approximately $5 million in UGA’s research computing infrastructure in less than two years.

The Office of Information Technology at the University System of Georgia helped coordinate the cable installation from Athens to Atlanta.

A suite of secure research network services will be available to researchers in the public and private sectors on a fee-for-­service basis. Plans are under way to connect Georgia’s six research universities to SLR and to provide access to schools and research centers in Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.