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What Cascade Curtain?

A new connection on a fiber optic cable between Richland and Seattle has been lit to support the high-speed transfer of very large data sets between researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and U.S. and international science communities.

The new connection links PNNL to the Pacific Northwest Gigapop exchange point in Seattle. From there, the lab is able to join the DOE UltraScience Network as well as other national and international networks. This light-riding connection advances the ability of PNNL scientists to collaborate and share information from major research programs in homeland security, cyber security, information visualization, and human and environmental health with scientific institutions worldwide.

Among other projects, the connection's extreme speed and capacity will facilitate collaborative research into complex biological systems as part of DOE's Genomes for Energy and Environment program, which involves investigative teams at multiple scientific institutions, including other national laboratories, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Turned on and tested over the past few months and now fully integrated, the 356-mile pathway has the potential to improve the lab's data transfer rate between its Richland campus and Seattle from the previous 622 megabits via OC-12 transmission up to 200 gigabits per second.

Even at the start-up rate of about 60 gigabits per second, capacity is nearly 100 times greater than PNNL's previous connection-- enough to transmit the entire DNA sequence of a human in less than a second or a full body CAT scan in three seconds.

"From a data transmission perspective, what once took several days to transmit, now takes a few minutes," said Jerry Johnson, director of PNNL's information technology services division.

According to Dave Thurman, a researcher at PNNL's Seattle office, the fiber optic connection allows him to acquire several hundred megabytes of data in a matter of seconds. "It used to take 20 or 30 minutes," he added. "We also noticed a distinct improvement in transmission speeds with external collaborators, which is a huge benefit."

George Michaels, director of computational and information sciences at PNNL, said "this high-speed connection with other national and international research institutions gives us an on-ramp to major networks that connect the nation and the world."

An example is the access the new connection provides to the UltraScience Network. Developed by DOE's Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research, the UltraScience Network is a research test bed designed to develop, test and deploy advanced technologies with a goal of accelerating scientific discovery.

PNNL eventually expects to leverage its investment in the fiber optic connection into a regional network that connects research institutions, universities, and science and technology parks in Spokane, Pullman and Idaho with Richland and the Seattle system.

"A Northwest TeraLink will build on initiatives like SWIFT in the Tri-Cities and VPnet in Spokane, which focus on local infrastructure and connectivity," said Michaels. "Affordable, high-speed network connectivity enables Northwest institutions that are removed from a major metropolitan area to bring their innovation and creativity to solving some of our nation's greatest scientific challenges."

VPnet, or Virtual Possibilities Network, is a consortium of educational, private and public organizations that promotes education, research and development. VPnet already connects 16 organizations in the Spokane region, including Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Washington State University and PNNL. Future plans call for a Seattle link that can zip data over the Cascade curtain at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second by fall 2006.

SWIFT aims to expand and integrate broadband infrastructures in the Tri-Cities of Richland, Pasco and Kennewick, helping to spur economic development and make the region attractive for high-tech businesses.

PNNL is a DOE Office of Science laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security, the environment and life sciences by advancing the understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and computation. PNNL employs 4,100 staff, has a $700 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab's inception in 1965.


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