High-Speed Computing at Arkansas Tech UniversityArkansas Tech University has the potential to become a major player in the area of high-speed internet and supercomputing through the development of The Arkansas Research and Education Optical Network (AREON) that is part of the National Lambda Rail high-speed, optical fiber, computing network.
Arkansas Tech could be connected to the NLR network as early as November 2008. We need to start thinking about the internet and the new capability as not just providing more speed for business as usual. We need to start focusing on what we should/can/must do with this new resource and not be confined to what we have done in the past.
A new door is opening. It is called AREON. Let’s take advantage of it.
Most of us have heard something about the Internet2 initiative which linked numerous universities in a high-speed computing network. Probably more people are familiar with the Internet2 initiative than with the National Lambda Rail which was later to arrive on the computing scene. The National Lambda Rail (NLR) was formed by 15 Internet2 members in 2003 to create a fiber optic based network that would address the Internet2 limitations that resulted from use of managed services from telecommunications companies. The NLR network motivated Internet2 to move its network services to a fiber optic network infrastructure in 2007. Recently, there has been much talk about the merger between Internet2 and the NLR. However, it does not appear the merger is imminent at this time.
The Arkansas Research and Education Optical Network (AREON)
The Arkansas Higher Education Technology and Facility Improvement Act (Act 1282 of 2005) provided general obligation bond funds to build an optical network in Arkansas that would be part of the NLR. The measure was initially turned down by Arkansas voters, but later approved when placed before the voters a second time. The name given to the initiative in Arkansas is AREON which stands for Arkansas Research and Education Optical Network. AREON’s funding includes $6.4M in General Improvement Funds and $9.5M from the general obligation bonds in 2006. These funds were intended to build AREON and connect the 11 four-year public universities. Operational funds were provided by joint agreement through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education by the presidents and chancellors of those universities by allocating about $1M a year from mineral rights leases on federal lands for fiscal years 2007, 2008, and 2009. The funds noted above with some supplement from membership service fees are expected to meet the financial requirements of AREON for those three years. AREON anticipates the need for an operational budget of $2.5M per year thereafter.
The AREON Mission
The mission of AREON is to promote, develop and apply advanced telecommunications technologies to support and enhance education, research, public service and economic development. AREON follows the national model for regional optical networks through its initial focus in supporting its research and education members. Secondary emphasis will include research collaborations from the private sector, state agencies, libraries, museums, public sector partnerships and health care organizations. Initial applications for AREON have focused on cyber infrastructure, high definition television instructional systems and geographic information systems at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. AREON’s partnership with high performance computing will empower computational science and engineering and increase the level of university research to become a more effective economic development engine for Arkansas.
Arkansas Universities’ AREON Implementation
The AREON development process has taken several years and will probably take at least one to two more years to have all 11 public 4 year universities connected. However, the good news is that Arkansas Tech and UCA, because of their proximity to the backbone fiber that makes up the NLR, are likely to be the first institutions (other than the University of Arkansas) to be connected. Arkansas Tech will not just be connected to the NLR, we will actually be a node on the NLR backbone. The plan is to have optical fiber coming to the university from two different points connecting to the backbone in such a way that if one fiber is destroyed, the other will still provide a complete connection to the NLR network.
What does this mean for Arkansas Tech?
Initially, most of the campus will only be aware of the new connection by noticing an improvement in commodity internet service (we will have more bandwidth for everyday operations). However, the potential that is opened to us is nearly unlimited. If funding through state money or through grants can be obtained, we will easily be able to up our bandwidth to 10Gb or more and we will have free time on supercomputers located on the NLR network and across the state of Arkansas. To put this into perspective, the university is currently operating with a bandwidth of approximately 90Mb with about 45Mb allocated to the student network and about 45Mb allocated to faculty and staff. Yes, you read this correctly, we are currently operating with an “Mb” bandwidth but we could be operating with a “Gb” bandwidth. The system is also scalable upward from the 10GB mentioned above.
At the present rate of implementation, there is a very good possibility that ATU will have at least one fiber with light by sometime in June of this year (2009). What we need right now and over the next few months is for our faculty and staff to be thinking differently about computing, distance learning, grants, and other possibilities that can come from access to such a resource. We need to start thinking about the internet and the new capability as not just providing more speed for business as usual. We need to start focusing on what we should/can/must do with this new resource and not be confined to what we have done in the past. That is the purpose of this new link on the Research website. Look it over, follow some of the links to see what other schools/consortiums/states are doing with NLR capabilities and begin thinking about what we can do.