New Internet line lets UF research speed go from jalopy to Ferrari

Published: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 6:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 6:46 p.m.

Connecting a half-inch fiber-optic cable to a high-powered network has expanded computing power 10-fold at the University of Florida, UF's director of Research Computing said Friday.

Erik Deumens said UF on Wednesday launched a 100-Gigabits-per-second (Gbps) connection to the Internet2 Innovation Platform, a research collaborator that fosters technological cooperation. UF is only the fourth place in the nation to do so and makes scientific research and collaboration more accessible for a school that aspires to be a top-10 public university.

The announcement was made Thursday after ensuring there wasn't a faulty connection.

"It's an incredibly delicate technology," Deumens said.

For about six months now, University of Florida Information Technology has been working to make this connection a reality.

The university became acutely aware of how important it was to be connected to a strong, high-speed network over the summer, Deumens said.

Once physicists discovered the Higgs boson particle, nationwide collaboration skyrocketed. Researchers started streamlining huge data packages from network to network and began rapidly filling up available storage space.

At the time, Gainesville researchers were sending and receiving enormous chunks of data, Deumens said. The overflow had started to approach network capacity, and they knew they couldn't sustain multiple projects on a 10-Gbps connection.

"This upgrade gives us the headroom to keep supporting that research at the levels it needs, while taking on support of new research projects," he said.

The project cost $2.4 million, according to a news release. In order to connect, Deumens said the university had to feed the fiber-optic cable through a network switch, a large box "about half the size of a refrigerator" that costs roughly $400,000.

"It's not something you can just attach to your cellphone," he joked.

The Internet2 Innovation Platform has select connection sites across the country, and there's a network switch for each one. UF connects through a hub in Jacksonville.

The new network speed is strictly devoted to research and education purposes, Deumens said.

Because it will make data transfer from one research laboratory to another quick and easy, even internationally, top officials and researchers say the development is exciting.

"Having the capacity to move data at 100 Gbps is a watershed moment in UF's research environment," said Elias Eldayrie, UF's vice president and CIO.

Deumens equated the possibilities to a highway.

"Think of 13th Street, U.S. 441," he said. "It goes north to Alachua and south to Ocala, and it's a 4-lane highway. "We used to be connected at 10-Gbps, and now we're at 100-Gbps. That is 10 times the amount. So now imagine U.S. 441 with 40 lanes of traffic, cars going up and down 20 lanes of traffic both ways. That's what the new speed does for us."

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