Bandwidth on Demand Will Only Get You So Far

This spring ESnet achieved something akin to global presence, figuratively with our network, and in-person at conferences as we traded ideas with the technical community, such as the limitations of bandwidth on demand, and how to compose services that are easy for end users to understand and use. In May Steve Cotter, Bill Johnston, and Inder Monga were invited speakers at the TERENA Networking Conference in Prague.

Bill described ESnet’s experience with bandwidth on demandand reviewed new OSCARS collaborative research projects.

Inder Monga followed with a presentation on “Network Service Interface: Concepts and Architecture,”  that discussed the motivation, concepts and architecture in the upcoming Open Grid Forum standard that has the promise to enable researchers simple abstract constructs to dynamically create and manage their communication infrastructure to serve their science. During the talk he explained some of the differentiating attributes of the protocol: Recursive and flexible request and response framework, abstraction of physical topology into a service layer representation—and declared that composable services are the next logical step in network design. The key to dealing with complex infrastructure is to abstract it into objects the users can understand, but that is just the beginning. A composable services model contains essential elements like abstracted technical requirements in a language that all users can understand, failsafe backups, service changes that are transparent, transport efficiency and monitoring for “soft” failures. He pointed out that a Topology Service would be the next target for standardization once the Connection Service was fully specified.

Steve Cotter talked about meeting user expectations in “Fighting a Culture of ‘Bad is Good Enough,” asserting that bandwidth on demand on its own is inadequate to meet the growing needs of science. In ESnet’s surveys scientists report that while the technology is often there, they don’t know how to access it or how to make it work. The result is that poor network performance is often the norm at various sites and scientists are left to fend for themselves without technical assistance. Frustrated, many simply give up attempting to send data via the network and instead use ‘sneakernet’. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Cotter cited the LHC as one example of investment of time and commitment to do networking right. “For us as a community to succeed, we need to provide intuitive services to researchers, and documentation and assistance to make it easy for them.” said Cotter, before he launched into a run-down of new ESnet tools and ventures.

Now that OSCARS version 0.6 is code-complete, ESnet is taking offers to help test the code. ESnet is also working with its sites to build secure, dedicated enclaves on the perimeters of networks, dubbed Science DMZs, which are fully instrumented with perfSONAR.  Separating the campus science traffic from converged network services like VOIP makes it easier to debug and improves performance across the WAN. To make it easier to test and troubleshoot infrastructure, ESnet has created a community knowledge base, that regularly receives more than 2500 hits a week.  ESnet is also developing a multi-function web portal called MyESnet that it will launch at ESCC/Joint Techs in a few weeks. MyESnet will have lots of tools and new features for the scientist and networker, including:  traffic flow visualizations, high-level information about ‘site health’, the ESnet maintenance calendar, a discussion forum and idea repository, as well as one-stop shop where users will be able to log in with Shibboleth or OpenID, initiate perfSONAR tests, and open trouble tickets.

Going beyond just bandwidth on demand
Three weeks later at the NORDUnet conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, Inder Monga discussed the ins and outs of developing composable network services on demand. Given new developments in network virtualization, co-scheduling, cloud services and 100G bandwidth, the network is playing an ever larger role in providing scientists new services.

Incidentally, Inder used high-speed networking to accomplish the enviable feat of being two places at once without violating any laws of physics. Upon landing in Iceland, Inder promptly presented a talk on green networking from Iceland for the conference on Green and Sustainable ICT in Delhi, India.

Designing “greener” networks is one of ESnet’s key priorities, and something you will be hearing more about from ESnet in the future.