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ANI Prototype Network: Phase I

"Only connect!" urged author E.M. Forster, "Only connect."

Engineers supported by the Department of Energy's Office of Science are doing their best to take a page from the author of Howards End by building a network that connects at incredible speeds; a network, which was recently demonstrated for the first time at the Super Computing 2011 (SC11) conference in Seattle.

Built by DOE's Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), the new prototype network called the Advanced Networking Initiative (ANI) transmits at about 100 Gigabits per second (Gbps), which is about 10 times faster than most commercial Internet providers, and approximately 50,000 times faster than scientists (or anyone else) can send information via their iPhones. That won't make for conversations that are 50,000 times faster than normal (get Siri-ous!), but the new network will allow scientists to share, analyze and visualize complex information quicker than ever before. What's more, it will give them the chance to pull information from specialized research centers, and then analyze it using Office of Science supercomputers, which are some of the most powerful in the world. In turn, that will provide greater insight into great scientific and societal challenges, whether developing a better understanding of the most basic building blocks of matter or investigating the genetic causes of diseases and searching for more effective treatments.

The 100 Gbps network—which was funded with $62 million from the 2009 economic stimulus law—is an upgrade to ESnet, which is managed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and allows thousands of DOE researchers to work with colleagues and partners all around the world.

However, the ultrafast new network promises to be much more than a simple upgrade. It will begin by connecting the Office of Science's three supercomputing centers at Argonne, Lawrence Berkeley, and Oak Ridge National Laboratories. By the end of next year, the new network will connect all of DOE's Office of Science national research sites and will extend these ultra-high speed connections between DOE labs and facilities all over the world.

The flood of new information this network will release may make today's vast Internet flows seem like mere trickles. But the need for new capacity, for greater connectivity, is real. Today's complex scientific experiments produce vast amounts of information. And ANI's faster connections will mean new perspectives, new opportunities to pan golden nuggets of insight from rushing streams of information.

What's more, the new network will keep the Office of Science on the cutting edge of connections capability, and thereby keep the country on the leading edge of innovation. That's essential, not simply for scientific discovery, but for economic prosperity; for the greatness of America as a whole.

That's the promise of the 100 Gbps network. It's one that's becoming a reality thanks to the Office of Science and its commitment to following E.M. Forrester's call, "Only connect!"

For more information on DOE's Office of Science, please go to:

Charles Rousseaux is a Senior Writer in the Office of Science.