ESnet’s OSCARS Bandwidth Reservation System Wins R&D 100 Award

Widely recognized as a mark of excellence, the R&D 100 Awards are the only industry-wide competition rewarding the practical applications of science. Among the 2013 winners of this prestigious award is the latest version of OSCARS, the On-demand Secure Circuits and Reservation System, the development of which was led by ESnet. OSCARS is a software service that creates dedicated bandwidth channels for scientists who need to move massive, time-critical data sets around the world.

What makes OSCARS so useful is that it can automatically create end-to-end circuits, crossing multiple network domains. Before OSCARS, this was a time consuming process–in 2010, for example, ESnet engineers needed 10 hours of phone calls and about 100 emails over three months to do what one person can do in five minutes using OSCARS. The automation of this complex process—through a technique known as Software Defined Networking—is accelerating scientific discovery in high-energy physics and many other disciplines.

“It’s wonderful to see the innovation that’s gone into the latest version of OSCARS recognized with an R&D100 Award,” said ESnet Director Greg Bell. “This early example of Software Defined Networking is yet another example of research networks taking the lead. But OSCARS is not just an ESnet achievement. We’re grateful for collaborations with many partners over the last decade, as the project matured from a bold idea into a production software suite.”

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Why this spiking network traffic?

ESnet November 2010 Traffic

Last month was the first in which the ESnet network crossed a major threshold – over 10 petabytes of traffic! Traffic volume was 40% higher than the prior month and 10 times higher than just a little over 4 years ago. But what’s behind this dramatic increase in network utilization?  Could it be the extreme loads ESnet circuits carried for SC10, we wondered?

Breaking down the ESnet traffic highlighted a few things.  Turns out it wasn’t all that demonstration traffic sent across thousands of miles to the Supercomputing Conference in New Orleans (151.99 TB delivered), since that accounted for only slightly more than 1% of November’s ESnet-borne traffic.  We observed for the first time significant volumes of genomics data traversing the network as the Joint Genome Institute sent over 1 petabyte of data to NERSC. JGI alone accounted for about 10% of last month’s traffic volume. And as we’ve seen since it went live in March, the Large Hadron Collider continues to churn out massive datasets as it increases its luminosity, which ESnet delivers to researchers across the US.

Summary of Total ESnet Traffic, Nov. 2010

Total Bytes Delivered: 10.748 PB
Total Bytes OSCARS Delivered: 5.870 PB
Pecentage of OSCARS Delivered: 54.72%

What is is really going on is quite prosaic, but to us, exciting. We can follow the progress of distributed scientific projects such as the LHC  by tracking the proliferation of our network traffic, as the month-to-month traffic volume on ESnet correlates to the day-to-day conduct of science. Currently, Fermi and Brookhaven LHC data continue to dominate the volume of network traffic, but as we see, production and sharing of large data sets by the genomics community is picking up steam. What the stats are predicting: as science continues to become more data-intensive, the role of the network will become ever more important.


Catch ESnet roundtable discussions today at SC10, 1 and 2 p.m.

Wednesday Nov. 17 at SC10:

At 1 p.m. at Berkeley Lab booth 2448, catch ESnet’s Inder Monga’s round-table discussion on OSCARS virtual circuits. OSCARS, the acronym for On- demand Secure Circuits and Advance Reservation System, allows users to reserve guaranteed bandwidth. Many of the demos at SC10 are being carried by OSCARS virtual circuits which were developed by ESnet with DOE support. Good things to come: ESnet anticipates the rollout of OSCARS 0.6 in early 2011. Version 0.6 will offer greatly expanded capabilities and versatility, such as a modular architecture enabling easy plug and play of the various functional modules and a flexible path computation engine (PCE) workflow architecture.

Then, stick around, because next at 2 p.m.  Brian Tierney from ESnet will lead a roundtable on the research being produced from the ARRA-funded Advanced Networking Initiative (ANI) testbed.

In 2009, the DOE Office of Science awarded ESnet $62 million in recovery funds to establish ANI, a next generation 100Gbps network connecting DOE’s largest unclassified supercomputers, as well as a reconfigurable network testbed for researchers to test new networking concepts and protocols.

Brian will discuss progress on the 100Gbps network, update you on the several research projects already underway on the testbed, discuss testbed capabilities and how to get access to the testbed. He will also answer your questions on how to submit proposals for the next round of testbed network research.

In the meantime, some celeb-spotting at the LBNL booth at SC10.

Inder Monga
Brian Tierney

Depicting the early universe closer to home at SC10

Rick Wagner in front of the early universe

It’s Wednesday at 10 a.m. in the SCSD booth, and Rick Wagner is testing simulations of cosmic matter and gases streamed in from Argonne National Lab. Wagner about to run a real time volume-rendering application at Argonne. The application renders data in real time, which will stream the results across a wide area (from Argonne to New Orleans) and display it on the tiled screen in the SDSC booth. To do so, SDSC is using OSCARS, ESnet’s on-demand reservation software to schedule data movement on demand.

Aside from the sheer technical feat of rendering data in real time and streaming massive amounts of it across long distances, on-demand data scheduling enables scientists to be more versatile–easily working with the data as needed. For Wagner and his collaborators, improvements in data streaming are all about new capabilities. “We’ve never had this functionality,” said Wagner. “We want to be able to compare the data sets side by side.”

Wagner will next add in variables such as radiation, to the images depicting gasses and matter from the early moments of the universe. This kind of demo illustrates what ESnet is all about. It is our mission to link scientists to collaborators and their data. But we are always striving for improvements in functionality, so that our end users will be more effective in their research.

ESnet recognized for outstanding performance

ESnet’s Evangelos Chaniotakis and Chin Guok received Berkeley Lab’s Outstanding Performance Award for their work in promoting technical standards for international scientific networking. Their work is notable because the implementation of open-source  software development and new technical standards for network interoperability sets the stage for scientists around the world to better share research and collaborate.

Guok and Chaniotakis worked extensively within the DICE community on development of the Inter-domain Controller Protocol (IDCP). They are taking the principles and lessons gained from years of development efforts and applying them to the efforts in international standards bodies such as the Open Grid Forum (OGF), as well as consortia such as the Global Lambda Infrastructure Facility (GLIF).

So far, the IDCP has been adopted by more than a dozen Research and Education (R&E) networks around the world, including Internet2 (the leading US higher education network), GEANT (the trans-European R&E network), NORDUnet (Scandinavian R&E network) and USLHCNet (high speed trans-Atlantic network for the LHC community).

Guok and Chaniotakis have also advanced the widescale deployment of ESnet’s virtual circuits OSCARS (On Demand Secure Circuits and Reservation System). OSCARS, developed with DOE support, enables networks
to schedule and move the increasingly vast amounts of data generated by large-scale scientific collaborations. Since last year, ESnet has seen a 30% increase in the use of virtual circuits. OSCARS virtual circuits now carry over 50% of ESnet’s monthly production traffic.  The increased use of virtual circuits was a major factor enabling ESnet to easily handle a nearly 300% rise in traffic from June 2009 to May 2010.

Why are we reincarnating OSCARS?

OSCARS ESnet traffic patterns

Some recent articles on new developments in virtual circuits such as Fenius and cloud computing with Google, Internet2’s announcements of its ION service, and the recently funded DYNES proposal are all powered by OSCARS or On Demand Secure Circuits and Reservation System, a software engine developed with DOE funding. This open-source software engine provides us with the capability of building a network with highly dynamic, traffic-engineered flows that meet the research data transport needs of scientists. The current deployed release, 0.5.2, has been deployed as a production service within ESnet for the past 3 years. We are currently enhancing 0.5.3 and plan to release the software in the Q4, 2010 time frame.

In the course of running this software as a production service and interacting with scientists, network researchers, and standards community at OGF, we realized we had to redesign the software architecture to be a much more robust and extensible platform. We wanted to be able to easily add new features to the OSCARS platform that would cater to a variety of network engineers and researchers.  With this in mind, the re-architectured OSCARS is planned as release version 0.6. Like any successful product, transitioning from a deployed release to a new one involves thorny issues like backward compatibility and feature parity. Hence, the current balancing act of taking something that is quite good and proven (0.5.2), but making it even better a.k.a. 0.6.

Here are four good reasons why OSCARS 0.6 is the way to go:

1. It can meet production requirements: The modular architecture enables features to be added through the use of distinct modules. This allows specific deployment requirements to be easily integrated into the service. For example, if it is necessary to support a federated AA implementation, the AA modules can be replaced with ones that are compliant with that AA framework (e.g. Shibboleth).  Another example would be High Availability (HA). The 0.6 architecture helps provide HA on a component basis, ensuring that the critical components do not fail.

2. It provides new complex features: As end-sites and their operators become comfortable with point to point provisioning of virtual circuits, we are getting increased requests for complex feature enhancements. The OSCARS 0.5 software architecture is not especially suitable for new features like multi-point circuits and/or multi-layer provisioning. But these new feature requests increase the urgency of moving to the 0.6 release that has been designed with such enhancements in mind. Moreover, the multi-layer ARCHSTONE research project funded by DOE will use 0.6 as the base research platform.

3. Research/GENI and other testbeds: The research community is a major constituent for OSCARS and its continuing development. This community is now conducting experiments on real infrastructure testbeds like the ANI and GENI. To really leverage the power of those testbeds, the research community wants to leverage the OSCARS software base/framework, while researching/innovating on certain algorithms and testing them. OSCARS 0.6 platform’s modular architecture enables the researcher to replace any component with new algorithmic research module. For example, with the new PCE engine re-design, one can write a flexible workflow of custom PCE’s. This flexibility does not exist with the purpose-built, but monolithic architecture of the OSCARS 0.5 codebase.

4. NSI Protocol/Standards: As the European and Asian research and education communities move towards interoperability with the US, it is important to leverage a common understanding brought through via standards. The NSI protocol standardization being discussed in the OGF NSI working group (http://ogf.org/gf/group_info/view.php?group=nsi-wg) needs to be implemented by the network middleware open source community like OSCARS. We feel that the 0.6 is the right platform to upgrade to the standard NSI protocol whenever it is ready.

At ESnet, we invest considerable time in new technology development, but balance this with our operational responsibilities. We invite the community to join in developing OSCARS 0.6, which has greatly improved capabilities over OSCARS 0.5.2. With your participation in the development process, we can accelerate the 0.6 architected software to production-quality as soon as possible.  If this excites you, we welcome you to contribute to the next stage of the OSCARS open source project.

–Chin Guok

A few reasons why ESnet matters to scientists.

Keith Jackson, ESnet Guest Blogger

Recently we’ve been testing the ability to move huge amounts of scientific data in and out of commercial cloud providers like Amazon and Google. We were doing this because if you want to do scientific computation in the cloud, you need to be able to move data in and out efficiently or it will never be useful for science.

Recently we’ve been working with engineers at Google to test the performance of their cloud storage solution. We were in the midst of transferring data between Berkeley Lab servers and the Google cloud when we noticed the data wasn’t moving as fast as it should.

We tried to figure out the root of the problem. The Google folks talked to their networking people and we talked to our engineers at ESnet.

We found there was a bottleneck in the path between Berkeley and Google on the ESnet side. One path was still only 1 gigabit and was scheduled to be upgraded to 10 gigabit in the next week or so. But it limited us to no more than a gigabit per second data transfers.

Using OSCARS, not only did we find the bottleneck, but as Vangelis talked about in a prior blogpost, we were able to find a way to reroute traffic to avoid the slow link, completely bypassing the problem. ESnet was not only able to help me diagnose the problem right away, but were able to suggest and quickly deploy a solution.

In thinking about that problem, a few things occurred to me. For a scientist just concerned with getting data through the network, it is probably easier to work with ESnet than a commercial provider for several reasons.

As a research network, ESnet is completely accessible. A commercial provider would have been completely opaque because of proprietary issues and have no incentive to grant access into its network for troubleshooting by outsiders. Since serving scientists is not its main mission, its sense of urgency would be different. Moreover, a commercial network’s interfaces are not designed for the particular needs of scientists.

But ESnet exists solely to support science, and scientists. Sometimes we need to be reminded that to scientists, quite literally, the “network matters.”

See us at Joint Techs / ESCC

ESnet will be presenting at the Summer Joint Techs / ESCC meeting next week July 11-15 in Columbus, Ohio.  July 11, Joe Metzger and Brian Tierney will be giving a tutorial on “Improving End to End Bulk Data Transfer Rates” at 3 pm that focuses on the problems of moving TeraByte-scale data sets, and Jon Dugan will talk about Iperf in the Network Tools Tutorial.  July 12, at 2:40 pm, Brian Tierney will also be giving a Status Update on the DOE ANI Network Testbed.  July 13, at 10 am, ESnet’s Inder Monga will be replacing Chris Tracy on the panel “Dynamic Provisioning in Multi-Layer, Multi-Vendor Networks“, and Jon Dugan will give another presentation on ESxSNMP.  And finally, at 8:20 am on the 14th, Steve Cotter will give an ESnet Update.

Immediately following Joint Techs, the ESnet Site Coordinating Committee Meeting begins at 1 pm. The agenda is posted here:  http://indico.fnal.gov/conferenceOtherViews.py?view=standard&confId=3428 The ESnet team’s talks will outline the nuts and bolts behind 4 key areas integral to ESnet’s overall strategy:

1. Being an essential scientific resource for DOE. ESnet is making great strides in providing optimal connectivity between DOE labs as well as further developing dedicated network resources, such as our securing of dark fiber at Brookhaven. We are laying the groundwork to manage rapidly accelerating increases in DOE scientific networking traffic.  The first afternoon, Steve Cotter will give a more detailed update on ESnet’s activities at 2:10 pm and Greg Bell will lead the discussion about the ESnet implications of site reliance on cloud or externally-hosted services at 3:55 pm.

2. Knowing our users better than anyone. Steve Cotter will talk about new ways we will be reaching out to and listening to our users needs during his talk.

3. Setting a global standard for user experience.  We may not have invented the seamless user experience, but end to end data transmission is all our users care about. To that end we will be talking about our work on Graphite, URL and Weathermap.  Also, Thursday starting at 9:40 am Joe Metzger will report on the PerfSONAR Joint Interagency Demonstration Project followed by Evangelos Chaniotakis’s presentation on ESnet’s virtual circuit services status.

4. Efficiency. Helping our users optimize their networking resources in collaborations, accessing instrumentation and exascale computing needs in the most energy efficient ways possible.  Be sure not to miss Wednesday evening’s Focus Session on improving WAN network performance with Eli Dart and Joe Metzger beginning at 6:30 pm.

See you in Columbus!

The Fenius project: enabling virtual circuits around the globe

ESnet has been one of the leading research and education networks in the adoption of virtual circuit technology, which has allowed ESnet customers to sidestep traditional limitations of wide area networking and transfer data at high speed between geographically distant sites at a minimal cost. Each day, tens of terabytes of scientific data flow over ESnet’s Science Data Network between supercomputers, clusters, data storage sites, and experimental data sources like the LHC at CERN.

Essentially, virtual circuits provide an Ethernet pipeline with guaranteed bandwidth between two locations. This traffic is isolated from the rest, allowing our users to run “impolite” protocols like UDP, which would otherwise clog up their regular Internet connection. Our homegrown software code-named OSCARS, enables ESnet to easily monitor this traffic for trends and engineer its route to plan for growth and rearrange capacity according to the needs of our customers.

This is a win-win situation for both us and our customers, and we’re not alone in recognizing this. An increasing number of global research and education backbones and exchange points are deploying such services and writing their own software to manage them: Internet2 is providing the ION service (previously called DCN) based on the OSCARS platform. Across the Atlantic GEANT is developing AutoBAHN, and SURFnet is using Nortel’s DRAC. An international consortium developed Harmony under the Phosphorus project and is now starting up GEYSERS. In Japan, AIST has been developing the G-lambda suite, while Korean KISTI is in the process of coding their DynamicKL project – and there are certainly other projects out there.

Can’t we all just talk?

Now for the bad news: since there isn’t a globally accepted standard for this kind of service, the different software suites don’t quite communicate with one another. OSCARS communicates using the OSCARS application interface, DRAC uses the DRAC interface, and so forth. This, unfortunately, stymies our ambitions to automatically “stitch” virtual circuits across multiple networks. With everyone speaking a different language, this is impossible to accomplish.

A solution is to have a standard software interface; then different implementations would be able to interoperate as long as they were compliant. There is a standards effort in progress by the Open Grid Forum Network Services Interface working group, but an actual standard is probably at least several months away.

A bit of history

Several software developers made an effort to solve the interoperability issue at the GLIF meeting co-located at Joint Techs back in early 2008. After a few presentations, it became evident that all of these APIs,  stripped of their cosmetic differences and special features, looked remarkably alike in terms of the raw pieces of information they handled.  The consensus of the meeting was that there is no real reason not to have basic interoperability, even if many of the bells and whistles would be stripped. The developers then formed the GNI API task force under the umbrella of the GLIF Control Plane technical group, with the objective of duct-taping an interoperability solution together until actual standards emerged.

A mythical reference

They conceived the Fenius project, dubbed for the legendary king of Scythia, Fenius Farsaid. According to Irish folklore, after the collapse of the Tower of Babel, Fenius collected the best parts of the confused tongues of the world and invented a new language.
The Fenius Project is a fairly simple idea: it defines a bare-bones API for virtual circuit services as an interim pseudo-standard. Then developers can easily write code to automatically translate between the “standard” API and a specific software suite such as OSCARS; several translators already exist. The rest of the project is software “glue” which allows Fenius to run standalone, publishing its API as a web service, and routing incoming requests to the specific translator.

We demonstrated Fenius with good results during last year’s GLIF conference in Daejeon, Korea, as well as during Supercomputing 2009 in Portland, OR, using Fenius to provision virtual circuit services on demand across three networks – via completely different technologies, and two different software suites – from a lab in Japan to the NICT booth on the conference showfloor.

The next step for the project is to update its “standard” API according to some important lessons learned during last year’s demos, and to become the de facto external interface of production virtual circuit facilities. We plan to make an appearance at this year’s GLIF conference in Geneva, as well as in Supercomputing 2010 in New Orleans, LA. Fenius is also slated to become a component of OpenDRAC soon. http://www.opendrac.org/.

We hope that Fenius will be able to provide ESnet customers and the international research and education community wider access to the network infrastructure, and that it will enable virtual circuits to become a truly global infrastructure capability in the service of science, research, and education worldwide.

The collaboration portal across continents

When organizations are driven by the similar goal of excellence, it is amazing what can be accomplished in two days of non-stop discussions. As I try to consolidate my thoughts from meetings the past two days, the following quotation rings particularly true.

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success. ~ Henry Ford

There is still a lot of work to be done, milestones to be hit and unforeseen roadblocks to overcome before we give ourselves a pat on the back, but we are off to a good start.

For the perpetually curious, SURFnet, ESnet and NORDUnet stated their intentions to collaborate on furthering innovation in network research by working on open-source middleware to reserve and seamlessly allocate bandwidth across multiple domains  (http://www.lbl.gov/cs/Archive/news030910.html).  While our first planned meeting was delayed by volcano ash from Iceland, skies and schedules cleared enough for the Dutch to visit us at our facilities at Berkeley lab.  This week’s two day meeting of minds is a baby step taken towards an ambitious goal of open sharing of tools, knowledge, open-source software and other network-related research with the community.

Taking a Break

We did let our visitors out of the conference room for just few minutes to enjoy the beautiful, albeit faint, backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge.