High-Speed Computing at Arkansas Tech University

Arkansas 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 is currently operating with an internet bandwidth of approximately 600Mb after several years of struggling along with 90Mb. The system is also scalable upward in as much as 10Gb increments. 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. 

High-Speed Computing: Most of you 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 (NLR) 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.

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.

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 though its initial focus is 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.

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 increase 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 has recently operated with a bandwidth of approximately 90Mb with about 45Mb allocated to the student network and about 45Mb allocated to faculty and staff. Thanks to our connection to AREON, the institution is now working with 600Mb bandwidth and we have the capacity to operate with tens of Gb bandwidth if necessary.

What we need right now 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. See what other schools/consortiums/states are doing with NLR capabilities and begin thinking about what we can do.