July 15, 2008 1:30 PM PDT

The 15-petabyte network and the atom smasher

Enough information to fill multiple CDs every second is flowing across the world on a network 1,000 times faster than home broadband.

Terabytes of data are streaming through dedicated fiber-optic links between laboratories and universities globally in preparation for the world's largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, being switched on in August at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid (LCG), a super-high-bandwidth network, will channel about 15 petabytes--15 million gigabytes--of data from the LHC to about 5,000 scientists in 500 institutions every year for at least 10 years.

The particle accelerator will smash subatomic particles, protons, into each other at 99 percent of the speed of light, spraying huge amounts of energy and particles into its detectors.

The LCG will allow researchers to tap into the distributed processing power of almost 100,000 CPUs, crunching through vast amounts of data from the detectors and speeding their hunt for clues about the fundamental nature of the universe.

Rutherford Appleton Laboratories, near Oxford, England, has a 10-gigabit connection to CERN capable of 1,250 megabits per second upstream and downstream that will pipe in almost-raw data from the collider via the U.K. part of the LCG--the GridPP.

Andrew Sansum, tier one manager at RAL, said its connection with CERN is about 1,000 times faster than the download speeds on a home broadband connection.

It may be less than two decades before commercial networks catch up: "Video and other media services are going to push the speed of consumer network connections up as the demand is going to be huge," Sansum said. "We were at today's speed of about 10Mbps about 10 to 15 years ago, so you could take that as a precedent for how long it will take for the commercial networks to catch up with us today."

RAL and other "tier one" sites across the world in the LCG will shape the mass of data from the LHC into chunks that can be usefully analyzed by physicists and pass it on to hundreds of "tier two" universities and laboratories in their respective countries.

"The LHC experiment would not be possible without the power and throughput of the LCG. CERN has not got the capacity to solely process the vast amount of data on site. The tier one sites will be busy refining the data and enhancing the software that analyses it, growing the processing operations of the grid," Sansum said.

"Our role," he said, "is to make sure that those physicists are getting the most useful and relevant data. Grid technology is transforming the way that experiments are being carried out. Ten years ago these institutions were working on their own; now they work closely together."

Sansum said RAL and the GridPP are prepared for the LHC going live. "We have run it up to 250Mbps to 300Mbps each way sustained over several days so far. We are in the final shakedown at the moment and seem to be in good shape to face the challenges the LHC will throw at us," he said.

There are bound to be surprises around the corner, he acknowledged. "The biggest challenge is for the software to work out which of the 200 or so tier two sites has which data. You need to be able to move vast amounts of data from site to site, check it has all got there, flag up any problems and correct those immediately--it quickly gets immensely complicated," Sansum said.

A wide range of projects are already tapping into the vast number-crunching capabilities and fat pipes of the GridPP during its downtime, including those searching for antimalarial drugs, combating avian flu, or using an image search engine.

There are various grid projects around the world analyzing weather data, collaborating on other scientific and academic projects, but none match the scale and sustained throughput of the LCG.

Grid technology will continue to grow in use, according to Sansum, linking up diverse data, such as climate information and localized cancer rates, and offering insight and driving scientific progress forward in ways never before possible.

Nick Heath of Silicon.com reported from London.

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15 comments

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why oh why do the nerds get all the hot tech?
Imagine the countless beautiful hours one could spend on youtube...
Imagine the blazing speed as you download the biggest game as if they were nothing
ah...bliss
BUT NO,
someone wants to bash particles together, and chunk through numbers about how the smash. "I think that was a 1.1, okay were done"
Posted by htechb (2 comments )
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Simply, because the nerds are THE people who made this hot tech possible, and they are THE people who really appreciate how this tech came together and see the beauty of how it actually works.
Posted by Phoenix System (1 comment )
Link Flag
why oh why do the nerds get all the hot tech?
Imagine the countless beautiful hours one could spend on youtube...
Imagine the blazing speed as you download the biggest game as if they were nothing
ah...bliss
BUT NO,
someone wants to bash particles together, and chunk through numbers about how the smash. "I think that was a 1.1, okay were done"
Posted by htechb (2 comments )
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I know your response is tongue n cheek. But the nerds get the toys because they invent them first! While I like Al Gore, it wasn't him, it was particle physics types at CERN and places like Fermilab that started the whole world wide web thing.
Posted by wcwiii (1 comment )
Link Flag
Just imagine how crippled all this great tech will be once the ISPs in this country get a hold of it. They can't even keep up with current online content as it is. And some of these ISPs are talking about throttling back bit torrents, which does nothing but punish they're paying customers, because they can't keep up with bandwidth demands. So as usual, the U.S. will probably be behind every other developed country when it comes time to deliver this tech to the consumer.

One things for sure, 15 petabytes is pretty darn impressive!
Posted by anomalator (83 comments )
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"So as usual, the U.S. will probably be behind every other developed country when it comes time to deliver this tech to the consumer."

You should consider moving to one of those other developed countries.
Posted by lkrupp (1608 comments )
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Might not be such a bad idea since we keep sending our jobs over-seas anyways. We might have to relocate to those other developed countries in order to find decent work.

It's a shame that you can go to the store to buy an American flag only to see it was made in China. So we can't even make our own flags anymore, so how are we going to keep up with the rest of the industrialized world in terms of bandwidth?
Posted by SeizeCTRL (1333 comments )
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I read some lawmakers may be trying to change that though. At least when it comes to flags flown on federal property. <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=5373967" target="_newWindow">http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=5373967</a> I haven't really formed an opinion about it though.
Posted by Imalittleteapot (835 comments )
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I can't wait. *physicist*
Posted by Michichael (723 comments )
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1,250 Mbit/s is nothing hardly to make a big fuss about. Would I like to have access to this type of access? Yes! Is it revolutionary? No!
OC-24 is roundabout those throughputs if I am not mistaken.

What would be interesting to know is on what type of equipment and what technologies they gonna use for the storage and network needs.
Posted by Double Click (1 comment )
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Read more about it at the following site

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://gridcafe.web.cern.ch/gridcafe/index.html" target="_newWindow">http://gridcafe.web.cern.ch/gridcafe/index.html</a>
Posted by maatghandi (1 comment )
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From the Grid Cafe website:

"Imagine several million computers, including desktops, laptops, supercomputers, data vaults, and instruments such as meteorological sensors and telescopes. These computers are all over the world and belong to many different people.

Now imagine that you connect all of these computers in to a single, huge and super-powerful computer. Wow! This huge, sprawling, global computer is what many people dream "The Grid" will be."

Hey, isn't this SkyNet?
Posted by Anone_Maus (1 comment )
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SkyNet rofl.
Posted by dhena81 (8 comments )
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So a 15-petabyte network belongs to the 7th age of computing?
Posted by jef5623 (46 comments )
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this all doesnt matter for us anyway, the ISP's already said they're shutting down the web in 2012, making it the commercial behomouth they dream of. Meaning that since the middle class is disappearing no one will have the cash to pay for shiz they dont want anyways, or spend the cash searching for something good, which wouldnt exist anyways since no one had the cash to visit them and sutain their site in the first place. Then we all go to FEMA camps anyhow...
Posted by mRfung (15 comments )
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