What is the fundamental difference between the previous network and OARnet?

The previous Ohio higher education telecommunications network transmitted data over copper wire, while OARnet transmits data over optical fiber (glass) strands. Optical fiber provides the most cost-effective and scalable solution to higher education’s long-term needs for research development and collaborations, and can be customized to meet unique research requirements.

“To give you an idea of how much larger this network is compared to what we previously had, imagine a two-lane highway expanding to 32 lanes over night,” said OARnet Project Manager Denis Walsh. “We have the ability to add ‘lanes’ quickly and inexpensively in the future just by adding more equipment instead of laying new fiber. This network is built with the capacity to add 64 ‘highways’ each with 64 lanes when we need to.”
The lanes in this case are actually wavelengths of light controlled by optical cards installed in equipment on the network.

In addition to the seemingly endless optical fiber capacity is a host of equipment that makes the new network run. Distributed throughout Ohio’s statewide network are 17 network access locations called Points of Presence, or POPs. The POPs act as OARnet’s on-and off-ramps. They let data traffic on and off the network at specific locations. Traffic is then carried by local loops that serve as “last mile” connections to the final destination, such as a campus. Institutions can build, buy, or lease their local loop from telecommunications vendors.

Also installed on OARnet are highly intelligent devices called routers, which serve as the network’s “post offices.” Routers sort Internet data the same way the post office sorts mail. All data, or “mail,” has a destination address called an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Routers sort this mail based on variables such as privilege, priority, and application being used, and look at traffic on the entire network before deciding the best route. Routers get Internet mail to its destination by either the shortest or fastest path, and can re-route mail to avoid congestion points or network outages.

The previous state network had one main routing location, or “post office,” located in Columbus that sorted and routed all Internet mail. Thus, mail from Cleveland to Youngstown was diverted hundreds of miles out of the way. OARnet reduces this “hop count” by routing mail more directly to its destination, saving time and reducing network traffic.

How is industry involved with OARnet and the network?

Companies can collaborate with universities throughout Ohio to conduct research on new or next-generation products through OARnet’s extensive, reliable service within Ohio. Critical scientific and industrial research facilitated over OARnet will generate important new economic opportunities and high-paying jobs for Ohioans.

In addition to providing higher education with access to shared information and resources, the OARnet is now providing access for non-academic institutions to this unique technology initiative on a cost-recovery basis. This allows companies to evaluate emerging technologies and applications with universities across the state to develop and expand collaborations with higher education, and to strengthen Ohio’s economic attractiveness and global competitiveness.

With OARnet, Ohio can explore new experimental networking technologies and can customize networks to meet specific and unique research requirements of collaborations between Ohio’s institutions of higher education and leading industrial partners.

What are some examples of enhanced research projects via OARnet?

Examples of enhanced research projects possible via OARnet include:

  • Collaborative research statewide, nationally, and internationally
  • Remote shared resources and instrumentation
  • Enhanced distance learning applications
  • Biomedical applications such as remote robotic surgery
  • Remote medical consultation
  • Biomedical applications

What organizations qualify for connecting to the network?

Although OARnet was deployed primarily for use by Ohio’s higher education community, the OARnet Industry Principles allow for access by non-academic, private, and industrial corporations for specific scientific, educational, and economic development collaborations throughout the state. Non-academic institutions must have an education, research and development focus, or have a division within their industry or corporation that has a research, education and development division qualified to utilize the OARnet.

What types of applications does the network support?

Distributed Classroom Environments

Distributed classrooms allow a professor at one institution to teach a graduate class to students at other institutions---or multiple professors at different institutions to team teach a class with students from a still larger number of institutions. The distributed classrooms require high quality and low latency audio and video links, shared workspaces, electronic whiteboards, archive and playback of multiple streams from remote servers, and advanced audio/video technologies such as 360-degree cameras. This application requires not only 2-10 Mbps, or more, of bandwidth, but also end-to-end multicast connectivity, and very low packet loss, latency, and jitter---which was not available on the previous Internet. Remote musical training over the network that brings together Ohio’s most gifted young musicians with the world’s greatest artists and teachers enables distance coaching at the highest levels of musical performance, as well as offering the possibility of remote orchestral job auditions and performances with remote collaborators. This application requires a quality of real time audio and video that was not available before the OARnet.

Shared Instrumentation

Remote control and use of expensive laboratory equipment provides a way to share expensive research instruments and provide dramatic cost savings. Previously, astronomers had to go to a telescope on a distant mountain to do their research. Using the optical fiber network and Internet2, researchers are able to steer a remote telescope and display the high-resolution images on their local systems. The savings in travel costs alone are dramatic.

The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Medical Research Magnet located at The Ohio State University Hospital illustrates the kinds of advanced applications that are envisioned. The magnet is the largest in the world. Medical researchers throughout Ohio would greatly benefit from sharing this resource. The magnet, however, generates more than eight Gigabits (or eight billion bits) of data every second. That's the same as 1,000 books, each with 1,000 pages, every second. Which is more than seven times the carrying capacity of the old network. OARnet easily supports sharing this expensive resource. Researchers sharing advanced instrumentation in the life sciences, for example 900 MHz NMRs, between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, will need sustained access to bandwidth that will swamp the capacity previously provisioned on this route. Internet capacity will continue to increase, of course, but as scientific instrumentation reaches higher resolutions, demand for bandwidth from this single application will likely increase at a greater rate, perhaps exponentially.

Research Collaboration

Researchers at P&G Pharmaceuticals, who are using 3D imaging of molecular interactions in drug design, want to share their work with a network of researchers at universities. Further, tools and technologies developed in this research will be of acute interest in the training of the next generation of scientists, who are being educated at an array of public and private universities. The bandwidth required for extremely high value collaborations such as this will be enormous and will likely be exacerbated by the desirability of creating very high-speed grids to deal with rapidly increasing computational requirements. Video conferencing and interactive collaboration for remote medical consultation and continuing medical education requires the seamless integration of high quality, real-time video with crystal clear synchronized audio, high bandwidth medical devices (e.g. high resolution CAT scans), non-linear control of recorded high-resolution video (e.g. from an endoscope), and interactive virtual reality images (e.g. dissectible 3-D images of tissue samples). This will require both bandwidth and QoS hundreds of times better than that existing into any campus in Ohio before the OARnet.

Advanced High Performance Computing

Steering high performance computer (HPC) calculations presents similar issues. To adjust the directions of a complex computation, researchers need to see the simulation in real time. Typically these computations involve fluid dynamics, combustion, and crash simulations. For example, a professor at Bowling Green State University investigates relativistic astrophysics using compute-intensive simulations on the supercomputers at the Ohio Supercomputer Center. Through funding from the ITEC-Ohio and in collaboration with Wright State University, techniques are being developed that will allow that researcher to remotely visualize large data sets over OARnet’s optical fiber network, and more effectively “steer” the computer simulation.