RENCI spearheads $20 million project to test a reimagined Internet

12 Days of Broadband - Day 10The Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) is one of North Carolina’s hidden gems that develops and deploys advanced technologies to enable research discoveries and practical innovations. Through the North Carolina Research and Education Network, MCNC provides high-speed and reliable connectivity for RENCI to other high-performance research networks, and therefore a worldwide community of researchers.

RENCI partners with researchers, government, and industry to engage and solve the problems that affect North Carolina, our nation, and the world. An institute of UNC Chapel Hill, RENCI was launched in 2004 as a collaboration that also involved Duke University and NC State University.

Researchers at RENCI and its partners currently are working to build a platform called FABRIC, to provide a nationwide testbed for reimagining how data can be stored, computed and moved through shared infrastructure. Funded by the National Science Foundation, FABRIC will allow scientists to explore what a new Internet could look like at scale, and help determine the architecture of the future. View complete NSF grant abstract here.

Today’s Internet was not designed for the massive data sets, machine learning tools, advanced sensors and Internet of Things devices that have become central to many research and business endeavors. FABRIC aims to give computer scientists a place to test networking and cybersecurity solutions that can better capitalize on these tools and potentially extend the Internet’s benefits to people in remote or underserved areas.

“The Internet has been a great enabler for many science disciplines and in people’s everyday lives, but it is showing its age and limitations, especially when it comes to processing large amounts of data. If computer scientists were to start over today, knowing what they now know, the Internet might be designed in a different way,” said Ilya Baldin, Director of Network Research and Infrastructure at RENCI.

“FABRIC represents large-scale network infrastructure where the Internet can be reimagined, and a variety of ideas can be tried out and compared,” he added. “If FABRIC allows the research community to come up with ideas on how to reimagine the Internet based on a new set of architectural tradeoffs, then everybody wins – researchers and citizens alike.”

Check out Baldin’s presentation from the 2019 NSF Campus Cyberinfrastructure and Cybersecurity Innovation for Cyberinfrastructure PI Workshop co-located with The Quilt's 2019 Fall Member Meeting in September in Minneapolis, Minn.

The core FABRIC team includes the University of Kentucky, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), Clemson University, and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Contributors from the University of Kentucky and ESnet will be instrumental in designing and deploying the platform’s hardware and developing new software. Clemson and Illinois Institute of Technology researchers will work with a wide variety of user communities – including those focused on security, distributed architectures, scientific applications and data transfer protocols – to ensure FABRIC can serve their needs. In addition, researchers from many other universities will help test the platform and integrate their computing infrastructure and scientific instruments into FABRIC.

The construction phase of the project is expected to last four years, with the first year dedicated to software development, finalizing technical designs, and prototyping. Subsequent years will focus on rolling out the platform’s hardware to participating sites across the nation and connecting it to major national computing facilities. Ultimately, experimenter communities will be able to attach new instruments or hardware resources to FABRIC’s uniquely extensible design, allowing the infrastructure to grow and adapt to changing research needs over time.

RENCI’s mission to develop and deploy advanced technologies to enable research discoveries and practical innovations continues to be achieved using NCREN. Changing business conditions today place significant demands on conventional network architectures that many believe are not flexible enough to accommodate those demands. The work RENCI is doing provides a new way to transform traditional network backbones into service-delivery platforms. Learn more about the connectivity and services MCNC provides to RENCI in this Case Study.

FABRIC is a unique, national research infrastructure to enable cutting-edge and exploratory research at-scale in networking, cybersecurity, distributed computing and storage systems, machine learning, and science applications. It is an “everywhere programmable” nationwide instrument comprised of novel extensible network elements equipped with large amounts of compute and storage, interconnected by high-speed, dedicated optical links. It will connect a number of specialized testbeds (5G/IoT PAWR, NSF Clouds) and high-performance computing facilities to create a rich fabric for a wide variety of experimental activities.

RENCI is in the process of finalizing facility designs, deployment plans, and acceptance procedures for FABRIC. They plan to begin hardware prototyping and software implementation in January 2020.