18:00 PM

Ohio State leads project to develop "Science DMZ" on the Internet

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A $1 million federal grant will fund the construction of a unique computer network devoted to helping scientists collaborate over the Internet with minimal interference from security measures.

Headquartered at Ohio State University, the two-year project is charged with creating a safe and resilient network architecture dubbed the “Science DMZ” – a play on the term “demilitarized zone.” In this case, instead of being a neutral area between warring nations, the DMZ will be a sub-network on the Internet where institutions normally protected by firewalls will be able to freely and safely share information with each other.

Caroline Whitacre

Since its inception, the Internet has sped the pace of scientific discovery, but the necessary firewalls that protect institutions from malicious online activity can hinder data sharing among research partners, said Caroline Whitacre, vice president for research at Ohio State and principal investigator of the project.

“We need the Internet to effectively collaborate with colleagues around the world, but using it poses a challenge,” Whitacre said.

“Researchers haven’t been able to widely adopt networking advances, mainly due to limitations in the traditional cyberinfrastructure equipment, policies, and engineering practices that are already in place on university campuses for our protection.”

For example, the Internet2 consortium provides a high-speed connection between campuses, but it can’t quickly pass information through a university’s local firewalls. At this point, dataflow slows, and a bottleneck forms.

“We hope that reducing or removing the bottlenecks will encourage much more research and more collaboration across regional, national and international networks,” Whitacre added.

A research team comprised of members from Ohio State, the University of Missouri and the Ohio Technology Consortium’s Research and Innovation Center will use the grant from the National Science Foundation to determine solutions to this problem, by creating an experimental research network – a prototype for scientific collaborations around the world to follow.

Partners in the project will identify the software, hardware, methods, and protocols that will allow scientists to securely move data past local firewalls. The project will provide the flexibility required by researchers, while keeping the infrastructure integrity necessary for the smooth functioning of campus networks, according to Kathleen Starkoff, chief information officer for Ohio State.

As part of the NSF project, investigators will create and document the role of a “Performance Engineer on campus,” who will augment the system and network engineers and serve as the primary “keeper” and “help-desk” of the Science DMZ equipment. This position also will be a liaison to researchers and their collaborators to optimally configure wide-area cyberinfrastructures.

The project will involve participation by numerous scientists, from academic disciplines such as physics, psychology, mechanical engineering, geography, chemistry, materials science and engineering, bioinformatics and agriculture. Engineers and other staff, from areas like supercomputing, computational science, networking and cyber-security, also will be heavily involved.

“The project team will be integrating relevant advanced networking technologies, such as communications protocols, measurement tools, and transport services, and will allow for 100 gigabit-per-second (Gpbs) connectivity, said Prasad Calyam, research director for networking and virtualization for the Ohio Technology Consortium’s Research and Innovation Center and a co-PI on the project.

In addition to the campus network at Ohio State, the project will leverage the soon-to-be-lit 100-Gbps statewide network being deployed by the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet), as well as the computational and storage resources of the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), according to Pankaj Shah, executive director of OARnet and OSC. Both organizations are members of OH-TECH, the technology division of the Ohio Board of Regents.

OARnet engineers will align the Science DMZ-related activities between various Ohio institutions and Internet2’s newly announced Innovation Platform, which will provide a nationwide 100-Gbps backbone for research and education. The platform will be employed to test the integration of Ohio State’s cyberinfrastructure and Science DMZ with the cyberinfrastructure at the University of Missouri.

Other Ohio State co-investigators on the project include: Dhabaleswar Panda, professor of computer science and engineering; Umit Catalyurek, professor of biomedical informatics; and Datta Gaitonde, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

The researchers will publish best practices and develop open-source software applications for handling researcher application flows in production networks across a diverse array of science and engineering disciplines and for multiple university campuses – thus creating a roadmap for other scientific collaborations to follow in the future.


Contact: Beth Haas, Ohio State Office of Research, (614) 688-4725; Haas.23@osu.edu