ESnet’s Science DMZ Breaks Down Barriers, Speeds up Science across US


From individual universities around the country to a consortium of research institutions stretching the length of the west coast, networking teams are deploying an infrastructure architecture known as the Science DMZ to help researchers make productive use of ever-increasing data flows.

The Science DMZ traces its name to an element of network security architecture. In a security context, a DMZ or “demilitarized zone” is a portion of a site network which is specifically dedicated to external-facing services (such as web and email servers). Typically, located at the network perimeter, a DMZ has its own security policy because of its dedicated purpose – exchanging data with the outside world. A Science DMZ is specifically dedicated to external-facing high-performance science services. For example, the data servers for a large data repository would be put in a Science DMZ so that collaborating institutions could easily transfer hundreds of terabytes of data for analysis.

Eli Dart, a network engineer with the Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), first coined the term “Science DMZ” in early 2010 to describe the network configuration linking two DOE sites – the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. ESnet provides high-bandwidth connections between 40 DOE sites in the U.S. and links to collaborators around the globe. Both NERSC and ESnet are DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

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Science DMZ developer Eli Dart

Since then, the concept has been endorsed by the National Science Foundation (NSF), replicated at more than 100 universities, is being considered by several federal research organizations and is the basis for the new Pacific Research Platform, a cutting-edge research infrastructure which will link together the Science DMZs of dozens of West Coast research institutions. On July 30, 2015, the NSF announced it would fund a $5 million, five-year award to UC San Diego and UC Berkeley to support the Pacific Research Platform as a science-driven high-capacity data-centric “freeway system” on a large regional scale.

“In the R&E (Research and Education) networking space we have a close working relationship and that helps with NSF’s mission to fund research at colleges and universities,” said Kevin Thompson,program manager in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Advanced Cyber Infrastructure. “It’s been a great partnership. The Science DMZ is one of the more important network engineering events for the community to build around in a long time. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this seminal engineering program. ESnet has shown national leadership in campus networking and it’s a big reason why the NSF program has been so successful.”

Science DMZ schematic

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