UETN-Ciena-iCAIR win top awards at international Data Mover competition

Expertise gained in competition to make UETN faster and more robust. The winners will now document their methods in paper about practical integration. 

Map(Singapore) - The Utah Education and Telehealth Network and its partners Ciena and the International Center for Advanced Internet Research (iCAIR) at Northwestern University, won the overall first place award in the international Data Mover Challenge. The SupercomputingAsia Conference in Singapore presented the award March 2.  The UETN-Ciena-iCair team also won the best long-distance performance award. 

The Data Mover Challenge recognizes organizations that rapidly transport a large quantity of data between research institutions. UETN-Ciena-iCair won the top honor by moving two terabytes of data nearly 3,700 miles, using a fiber-optic connection at a measured speed of 62 Gbps. 

In this challenge, the team connected a data node in Saudi Arabia with a data node in Helsinki, Finland to move a data package without saving the data. In another test, between data nodes in New South Wales, Australia and Tokyo, Japan the team achieved a 25 Gbps transfer saving to storage. 

The test occurred the week of October 25- 29, 2021, but the team had a two-month window to develop the software. During the week of the tests, the team was able to make several attempts over five days of tests. Teams were allowed to refine their methods between each attempt. Each of the seven teams used the same dedicated internet connection for its tests — the data transfers did not have to compete with normal internet traffic for bandwidth.

UETN’s partners included iCair, a research organization based at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill., and Ciena, a publicly traded networking systems and software company headquartered in Hanover, MD. Together they created software that packaged the data inside a “container” for the transfer.

UETN operates a high-speed, fiber-optic network capable of transmitting 100 Gbps, but even on such a network, data is typically transmitted at sub 1 Gbps, said Jim Stewart, UETN’s chief technology officer Data transfers between research institutions can attain much greater speeds with some thoughtful tweaking and prodding. The difficulty, Stewart said, is that everyday data transfers are slowed down by the volume of traffic sharing the internet “pipe” through which data must flow.

Danial Ebling, and IT architect for UETN, led the team that wrote software for the “data transfer as a service,” said Stewart.

Joe Breen with the University of Utah’s Center for High Performance Computing acted as an adviser, helping Ebling develop a single sign-on interface.

“It was my first time working with a multinational team and I had a great experience,” said Ebling. “There was somewhat of a crunch typical of these challenges, however I’m looking forward to participating again later this year.”

Ciena contributed to the project by working on a machine learning part that could be trained on the performance of the data transfers and iCair added software modules that improved storage performance for the project.

This is the second such win for iCair. In 2020, the International Center for Advanced Internet Research (iCAIR), a research organization at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. The StarLight International/National Communications Exchange, a non-profit consortium established to enable data intensive science won the “best speed and science integration” award, but no overall winner was given among the seven teams that entered that year.

Now that the contest is over, Ebling said UETN could “package (the software) up a little better,” and offer the data transfer service to researchers at no cost. But before that happens, the winning group will work on publishing a paper on their method and its practical integration.

Stewart said that participating in the international challenge helps UETN learn how to keep its network in top shape. “The bottom line of all this is, we want to be able to make our network perform the best it possibly can for education and telehealth in Utah. We want to know that our network is performing well, and all of this comes home to us in that it teaches us better about how to run our networks, how to move data, how to make sure that the networks are up and performing properly," he explained.

UETN is planning a network upgrade incorporating 400 Gbps circuits to the internet and on the backbone. “We are driving complexity into our networks to a point where every time we do something like this, the networks get faster, and more difficult to deal with, and we have to continue to improve our skills to make it possible for us to keep up,” Stewart said. “The UETN network requires speed and reliability,” said Stewart.

About UETN. The Utah Education and Telehealth Network is Utah’s broadband provider for education and telehealth. UETN supports equity, reduces barriers and provides high-capacity circuits to schools, colleges, universities, libraries, hospitals, clinics and rural health departments. UETN serves more than 675,000 public school students, more than 202,000 college students and more than 78,000 faculty and staff in public and higher education. It also connects more than 70 hospitals, clinics and health departments. In addition, it operates public television station KUEN, also known as UEN-TV, on behalf of the Utah System of Higher Education. UETN is funded by state, federal and private grants and is based at the Eccles Broadcast Center on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City.

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