ESnet6 Achieves 2021 Annual Review Milestone – the future research and education network is one step closer!

The ESnet6 2021 Annual Status Review was a great success, and the Review Committee, led by DOE, concluded that the ESnet6 Project is being managed and executed well!

Given that the project’s budget, scope, and schedule were approved in February 2020, this was the first official Annual Status Review – and what a year it has been! The 2021 Review was a major milestone, allowing the Project to formally present the project performance over the past year and, consequently, during the COVID-19 pandemic. I continue to be amazed by the entire project team, and I felt very honored to be the one to introduce the astounding progress we made during an extremely challenging year. Not only that, it was all done while operating the current ESnet5 production network at the same time.

The project execution continued at full speed while some of us started carving out time over the past several months to prepare for the Review. Pulling together all of the information required, synthesizing it into a clear and concise set of briefings and documents, and presenting it to leaders in our field is a monumental task under any circumstances, but the pandemic made this especially difficult. However, the project team, backed by strong support across LBNL (Procurement, Project Management Office, Project Management Advisory Board members, and many others) made everything appear seamless. The impressive level of teamwork did not go unnoticed and was specifically mentioned repeatedly during the Closeout session. I am grateful for and proud of, all of the members of the team who contributed to this terrific success.

The Review Committee consisted of three Subcommittees (Technical, Cost & Schedule, Project Management & Environment, Safety & Health), all charged with answering a set of questions to determine if we were on schedule, achieving scope, within budget, and performing all tasks safely. The answer to every charge question: Yes! It was an all-encompassing couple of days, but we really couldn’t have asked for a better result. In short, there were no formal recommendations, so we’ll be considering how best to implement several of the Review Committee’s extremely helpful comments as we proceed onward. Our hard work, not only on the Review itself, paid off!

With the formal Review complete for the year, we’re all back to our daily project plan of execution, while keeping the network “lights on” in the process, of course.

On the Path to ESnet6—Seeing the Light

ESnet6 Network

Three years ago, ESnet unveiled its plan to build ESnet6, its next-generation network dedicated to serving the Department of Energy (DOE) national lab complex and overseas collaborators. With a projected early finish in 2023, ESnet6 will feature an entirely new software-driven network design that enhances the ability to rapidly invent, test, and deploy new innovations. The design includes:

  • State-of-the-art optical, core and service edge equipment deployed on ESnet’s dedicated fiber optic cable backbone
  • A scalable switching core architecture coupled with a programmable services edge to facilitate high-speed data movement
  • 100–400Gbps optical channels, with up to eight times the potential capacity compared to ESnet5
  • Services that monitor and measure the network 24/7/365 to ensure it is operating at peak performance, and
  • Advanced cybersecurity capabilities to protect the network, assist its connected sites, and defend its devices in the event of a cyberattack

Later this month, ESnet staff will present an online update on ESnet6 to the ESnet Site Coordinators Committee (ESCC). Despite the challenges of deploying new equipment at over 300 distinct sites across the country and lighting up approximately 15,000 of miles of dark fiber during a pandemic, the team is making great progress, according to ESnet6 Project Director Kate Mace.

“We’ve had some delays, but our first priority is making sure the work is being done safely,” Mace said. “We have a lot of subcontractors and we are working closely with them to make sure they’re safe, they’re following local pandemic rules and they’re getting the access they need for installs.

“The bottom line is that we have a lot of pretty amazing people putting in a lot of hours and hard work to keep the project moving forward,” Mace said.

When completed in 2023, ESnet6 will provide the DOE science community with a dedicated backbone capable of carrying at least 400 Gigabits per second (Gbps), with some spans capable of carrying more than 1 Terabit per second.

The current network, known as ESnet5, comprises a series of interconnected backbone rings, each with 100Gbps or higher bandwidth. ESnet5 operates on a fiber footprint owned by and shared with Internet2. Once the switch is complete, Internet2 will take over ESnet’s share of the fiber spectrum to provide more bandwidth to the U.S. education community.

“We’re almost done with the optical layer, which is a big deal,” Mace said. “It’s been a major procurement of new optical line equipment from Infinera to light up the new optical footprint.”

Mapping the road to ESnet6 

Back in 2011, using Recovery Act funds for its Advanced Networking Initiative, ESnet secured the long-term rights to a pair of fibers on a national fiber network that had been built, but not yet used. Because there was a surplus of installed fiber cable at the time, ESnet was able to negotiate advantageous terms for the network.

As part of the ESnet6 project, ESnet and its subcontractors began installing optical equipment along the ESnet fiber footprint starting in November 2019. The optical network consists of seven large fiber rings east to west across the U.S., and smaller “metro” rings in the Chicago and San Francisco Bay areas.

At this point, Infinera has completed the installation of the equipment at all locations. The four large eastern-most rings have passed ESnet’s rigorous testing and verification process ensuring that they are configured and working as designed, and most ESnet services in these areas have been transitioned over to the new optical system.

Infinera has turned over the other three large rings and is working closely with ESnet staff to address a number of minor issues identified during testing.

ESnet and Infinera are collaborating on turning up, testing, and rolling services to the new network in the Chicago and Bay Area rings. The installation in these areas is more complex because it is re-using the ESnet5 fiber going into the DOE Laboratories.  

“The ESnet and Infinera teams have worked really well together to overcome all of the typical challenges we expected on a network build of this scale, as well as some unexpected obstacles,” said Joe Metzger, the ESnet6 Implementation Lead. 

The typical expected challenges ranged from installing thousands of perfectly clean (microscopically verified) fiber connections, to the unexpected, such as engineers driving for hours to get to a remote isolated location to install the equipment only to find the access road is drifted in with snow, or somebody changed the lock.

Most of the unexpected challenges were related to COVID-19.

“It was amazing to see how the facility providers, including the DOE Laboratories, ESnet and Infinera teams worked together to find safe, workable solutions to the COVID-19-related access constraints that we encountered during the installation,” said Metzger.  

The team expects the optical system build to be fully accepted and all services transitioned over to it by Oct. 1, completing what they are calling ESnet5.5, the first major step in the transition from ESnet5 to ESnet6.

To get to this point, ESnet’s network engineers needed extensive, hands-on training on the new Infinera equipment and built a specialized test lab at Berkeley Lab. To do this, a test lab was built at Berkeley Lab to provide hands-on training. Engineers take a weeklong session learning how to configure, operate, and troubleshoot the equipment deployed in the field.

The next major step will be the installation of new routers for the packet layer, which is expected to begin in early 2021, Mace said.

And of course, this is all being carried out while ESnet keeps its production network and services in regular operation and with the undercurrent of stress from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’ve got to keep the network running,” Mace said. “And we are hiring additional network engineers, software engineers and technical project managers.

ESnet is supported by DOE’s Office of Science.

Written by Jon Bashor