Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Executive Summary

The Gigabit Testbed Initiative was a major effort by approximately forty organizations representing universities, telecommunication carriers, industry and national laboratories, and computer companies to create a set of very high-speed network testbeds and to explore their application to scientific research. This effort, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), was coordinated and led by the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) working closely with each of the many participating organizations and with the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government was also a participating organization insofar as testbeds were established within several Government laboratories to explore the concepts and technologies emerging from the Initiative.

Five Testbeds, named Aurora, Blanca, Casa, Nectar and Vistanet, were established and used over a period of several years to explore advanced networking issues, to investigate architectural alternatives for gigabit networks, and to carry out a wide range of experimental applications in areas such as weather modeling, chemical dynamics, radiation oncology, and geophysics data exploration. The five testbeds were geographically distributed across the United States as shown in the figure below.

The Gigabit Testbeds:

At the time the project started in 1990 there were significant barriers to achieving high performance networking, which was falling significantly behind advances in high performance computing. One of the major barriers was the absence of wide-area transmission facilities which could support gigabit research, and the lack of marketplace motivation for carriers to provide such facilities. The testbed initiative specifically targeted this problem through the creation of a multi-dimensional research project involving carriers, applications researchers, and network technologists. A second (and related) barrier was the lack of commercially available high speed network equipment operating at rates of 622 Mbps or higher. Fortunately, several companies were beginning to develop such equipment and the testbed initiative helped to accelerate its deployment.

A key decision in the effort, therefore, was to make use of experimental technologies that were appropriate for gigabit networking. The emphasis was placed on fundamental systems issues involved with the development of a technology base for gigabit networking rather than on test and evaluation of individual technologies. ATM, SONET and HIPPI were three of the technologies used in the program. As a result, the impetus for industry to get these technologies to market was greatly heightened. Many of the networks that subsequently emerged, such as the NSF-sponsored vBNS and the DOD-sponsored DREN, can be attributed to the success of the gigabit testbed program.

The U.S. Government funded this effort with a total of approximately $20M over a period of approximately five years, with these funds used by CNRI primarily to fund university research efforts. Major contributions of transmission facilities and equipment were donated at no cost to the project by the carriers and computer companies, who also directly funded participating researchers in some cases. The total value of industry contributions to the effort was estimated to be perhaps 10 or 20 times greater than the Government funding. The coordinating role of a lead organization, played by CNRI, was essential in helping to bridge the many gaps between the individual research projects, industry, government agencies and potential user communities. At the time this effort began, there did not appear to be a clearly visible path to make this kind of progress happen.

Initiative Impacts

In addition to the many technical contributions resulting from the testbeds, a number of non-technical results have had major impacts for both education and industry.

First and foremost was a new model for network research provided by the testbed initiative. The bringing together of network and application researchers, integration of the computer science and telecommunications communities, academia-industry-government research teams, and government-leveraged industry funding, all part of a single, orchestrated project spanning the country, provided a new level of research collaboration not previously seen in this field. The Initiative created a community of high performance networking researchers that crossed academic/industry/government boundaries.

The coupling of application and networking technology research from project inception was a major step forward for both new technology development and applications progress. Having applications researchers involved from the start of the project allowed networking researchers to obtain early feedback on their network designs from a user's perspective, and allowed network performance to be evaluated using actual user traffic. Similarly, application researchers learned how network performance impacted their distributed application designs through early deployment of prototype software. Perhaps most significantly, researchers could directly investigate networked application concepts without first waiting for the new networks to become operational, opening them to new possibilities after decades of constrained bandwidth.

The collaboration of computer network researchers, who came primarily from the field of computer science, and the carrier telecommunications community provided another important dimension of integration. The development of computer communications networks and carrier-operated networks have historically proceeded along two separate paths with relatively little cross-fertilization. The testbeds allowed each community to work closely with the other, allowing each to better appreciate the other's problems and solutions and leading to new concepts of integrated networking and computing.

From a research perspective, the testbed initiative created close collaborations among investigators from academia, government research laboratories, and industrial research laboratories. Participating universities included Arizona, UCBerkeley, Caltech, Carnegie-Mellon, Illinois, MIT, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; national laboratories included Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and JPL, and the NSF-sponsored National Center for Supercomputer Applications, Pittsburgh Supercomputer Center, and San Diego Supercomputer Center, while industry research laboratories included IBM Research, Bellcore, GTE Laboratories, AT&T Bell Laboratories, BellSouth Research, and MCNC. The collaborations also included facilities planners and engineers from the participating carriers, which included Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, AT&T, GTE, MCI, NYNEX, Pacific Bell and US West.

Another important dimension of the testbed model was its funding structure, in which government funding was used to leverage a much larger investment by industry. A major industry contribution was made by the carriers in the form of SONET and other transmission facilities within each testbed at gigabit or near-gigabit rates. The value of this contribution cannot be overestimated, since not only were such services otherwise non-existent at the time the project began, but they would have been unaffordable to the research community if they had existed under normal tariff conditions. By creating an opportunity for the carriers to learn about potential applications of high speed networks while at the same time benefiting from collaboration with the government-funded researchers in network technology experiments, the carriers were, in turn, willing to provide new high-speed wide-area experimental transmission facilities and equipment and to fund the participation of their researchers and engineers.

The Initiative resulted in significant technology transfer to the commercial sector. As a direct result of their participation in the project, two researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University founded a local-area ATM switch startup company, FORE Systems. This was the first such local ATM company formed, and provided a major stimulus for the emergence of high speed local area networking products. It also introduced to the marketplace the integration of advanced networking concepts with advanced computing architectures used within their switch.

Other technology transfers included software developed to distribute and control networked applications, the HIPPI measurement device (known as Hilda) developed by MCNC as part of the Vistanet effort, and the HIPPI-SONET wide-area gateway developed by LANL for the Casa testbed. In addition, new high speed networking products were developed by industry in direct response to the needs of the testbeds, for example HIPPI fiber optic extenders and high speed user-side SONET equipment. Major technology transfers also occurred through the migration of students who had worked in the testbeds to industry to implement their work in company products.

At the system level, the testbeds led directly to the formation of three statewide high speed initiatives undertaken by carriers participating in the testbeds. The North Carolina Information Highway (NCIH) was formed by BellSouth and GTE as a result of their Vistanet testbed involvement to provide an ATM/SONET network throughout the state. Similarly, the NYNET experimental network was formed in New York state by NYNEX as a result of their Aurora testbed involvement, and the California Research and Education Network (CalREN) was created by Pacific Bell following their Casa testbed participation.

The testbed initiative also led to the early use of gigabit networking technology by the defense and intelligence communities for experimental networks and global-scale systems, which have become the foundation for a new generation of operational systems. More recently, the U.S. Government has begun to take steps to help create a national level wide-area Gigabit networking capability for the research community.

The key technical areas addressed in the initiative are categorized for this report as transmission, switching, interworking, host I/O, network management, and applications and support tools. In each case, various approaches were analyzed and many were tested in detail. A condensed summary of the key investigations and findings is given at the end of the executive summary and elaborated on more fully in the report.

Future Directions

Among the barriers most often cited to the widespread deployment of very high-speed networks, those often cited are costs of the technology (particularly the cost of its deployment over large geographic areas), the regulated nature of the industry, and lack of market forces for applications that could make use of it and sustain its advance. Moreover, most people find it difficult to invest their own time or resources in a new technology until it becomes sufficiently mature that they can try it out and visualize what they might do with it and when they might use it.

A recent National Research Council report [1] includes a summary of the major advances in the computing and communications fields from the beginning of time-sharing through scalable parallel computing, just prior to when the gigabit testbeds described in this report were producing their early results. Using that report's model, the gigabit testbeds would be characterized as being in the early conceptual and experimental development and application phase. The first technologies were emerging and people were attempting to understand what could be done with them, long before there was an understanding of what it would take to engineer and deploy the technologies on a national scale to enable new applications not yet conceived.

The Gigabit Testbed Initiative produced a demonstration of what could be done in a variety of application areas, and it motivated people in the research community, industrial sector, and government to provide a foundation for follow-on activities. Within the Federal government, the testbed initiative was a stimulus for the following events:

· The HPCCIT report on Information and Communication Futures identified high performance networking as a Strategic Focus.

· The National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Computing and Communications held a two day workshop which produced a recommendation for major upgrades to networking among the HPC Centers to improve their effectiveness, and to establish a multi-gigabit national scale testbed for pursuing more advanced networking and applications work.

· The first generation of scalable networking technologies emerged based on scalable computing technologies.

· The DoD HPC Modernization program initiated a major upgrade in networking facilities for their HPC sites.

· The Advanced Technology Demonstration gigabit testbed in the Washington DC area was implemented.

· The defense and intelligence communities began to experiment with higher performance networks and applications.

· The NSF Metacenter and vBNS projects were initiated.

· The all-optical networking technology program began to produce results with the potential for 1000x increase in transmission capacity.

To initiate the next phase of gigabit research and build on the results of the testbeds, CNRI proposed that the Government continue to fund research on gigabit networks using an integrated experimental national gigabit testbed involving multiple carriers, with gigabit backbone links provided over secondary (i.e., backup) channels by the carriers at no cost and switches and access lines paid for by the Government and participating sites. However, costs for access lines proved to be excessive, and at the time the Government was also unable to justify the funding needed for a national gigabit network capability -- instead, several efforts were undertaken by the Government to provide lower speed networks.

In the not-too-distant future, we expect the costs for accessing a national gigabit network on a continuing basis will be more affordable and the need for it will be more evident, particularly its potential for stimulating the exploration of new applications. The results of the gigabit testbed initiative have clearly had a major impact on breaking down the barriers to putting high performance networking on the same kind of growth curve as high performance computing, thus enabling a new generation of national and global-scale high performance systems which integrate networking and computing.

Investigations and Findings

Four distinct end-to-end network layer architectures were explored in the project. These were a result both of architecture component choices made by researchers after the work was underway and of the a priori testbed formation process. The architectures were (1) seamless WAN-LAN ATM and (2) seamless WAN-LAN PTM, both used in the Aurora testbed, (3) heterogeneous wide-area ATM/local-area networks, used in the Blanca, Nectar and Vistanet testbeds, and (4) wide-area HIPPI/SONET via local switching, used in the Casa testbed.

The following summaries present highlights of the technology and applications investigations. It should be noted that while some efforts are specific to their architectural contexts, in many cases, the results can be applied to other architectures including architectures not considered in the initiative.


· OC-48 SONET links were installed in four testbeds over distances of up to 2000 km, accelerating vendor development and carrier deployment of high speed SONET equipment, establishing multiple-vendor SONET interconnects, enabling discovery and resolution of standards implementation compatibility problems, and providing experience with SONET error rates in an operational environment

· Testbed researchers developed a prototype OC-12c SONET cross-connect switch and investigated interoperation with carrier SONET equipment, and developed OC-3c, OC-12, and OC-12c SONET interfaces for hosts, gateways and switches; these activities provided important feedback to SONET chip developers

· Techniques for carrying variable-length packets directly over SONET were developed for use with HIPPI and other PTM technologies, with both layered and tightly coupled approaches explored

· An all-optical transmission system - the first carrier deployment of this technology - was installed and used to interconnect ATM switches over a 300 mile distance using optical amplifier repeaters

· HIPPI technology was used for many local host links and for metropolitan area links through the use of HIPPI extenders and optical fiber; other local link technologies included Glink and Orbit

· Several wide-area striping approaches were investigated as a means of deriving 622 Mbps and higher bandwidths from 155 Mbps ATM or SONET channels; configurations included end-to-end ATM over SONET, LAN-WAN HIPPI over ATM/SONET, and LAN-WAN HIPPI and other variable-length PDUs directly over SONET

· A detailed study of striping over general ATM networks concluded that cell-based striping should be used. This capability can be introduced at LAN-WAN connection points in conjunction with destination host cell re-ordering and an ATM-layer synchronization scheme


· Prototype high speed ATM switches were developed (or made available) by industry and deployed for experiments in several of the testbeds, supporting 622 Mbps end-to-end switched links using both 155 Mbps striping and single-port 622 Mbps operation

· The first telco central office broadband ATM switch was installed and used for testbed experiments, using OC-12c links to customer premises equipment and OC-48 trunking

· Wide-area variable-length PTM switching was developed and deployed in the testbeds using both IBM's Planet technology and HIPPI switches in conjunction with collocated wide-area gateways

· Both ATM and PTM technologies were developed and deployed for both local and desk area networking (DAN) experiments, along with the use of commercial HIPPI and ATM switches, which became available as a result of testbed-related work

· A TDMA technique was developed and applied to tandem HIPPI switches to demonstrate packet-based quality-of-service operation in HIPPI circuit-oriented switching environments, and a study of preemptive switching of variable length packets indicated a ten-fold reduction in processing requirements was possible relative to processor-based cell switching


· Three different designs were implemented to interwork HIPPI with wide-area ATM networks over both SONET and all-optical transmission infrastructures; explorations included the use of 4x155 Mbps striping and non-striped 622 Mbps access, local HIPPI termination and wide-area HIPPI bridging; resulting transfer rates ranged from 370 to 450 Mbps

· A HIPPI-SONET gateway was implemented which allowed transfer of full 800 Mbps HIPPI rates across striped 155 Mbps wide-area SONET links; capabilities included variable bandwidth allocation of up to 1.2 Gbps and optional use of forward error correction, with a transfer rate of 790 Mbps obtained for HIPPI traffic (prior to host protocol processing)

· Seamless ATM DAN-LAN-WAN interworking was explored through implementation of interface devices which provided physical layer interfacing between 500 Mbps DAN Glink transmission, LAN ATM switch ports, and a wide-area striped 155 Mbps ATM/SONET network.

Host I/O

· Several different testbed investigations demonstrated the feasibility of direct cell-based ATM host connections for workstation-class computers; this work established the basis for subsequent development of high speed ATM host interface chipsets by industry and provided an understanding of changes required to workstation I/O architectures for gigabit networking

· Variable-length PTM host interfacing was investigated for several different types of computers, including workstations and supercomputers; in addition to vendor-developed HIPPI interfaces, specially developed HIPPI and general PTM interfaces were used to explore the distribution of high speed functionality between internal host architectures and I/O interface devices

· TCP/IP investigations concluded that hardware checksumming and data-copying minimization were required by most testbed host architectures to realize transport rates of a few hundred Mbps or higher; full outboard protocol processing was explored for specialized host hardware architectures or as a workaround for existing software bottlenecks

· A 500 Mbps TCP/IP rate was achieved over a 1000-mile HIPPI/SONET link using Cray supercomputers, and a 516 Mbps rate measured for UDP/IP workstation-based transport over ATM/SONET. Based on other workstation measurements, it was concluded that, with a 4x processing power increase (relative to the circa 1993 DEC Alpha processor used), a 622 Mbps TCP/IP rate could be achieved using internal host protocol processing and a hardware checksum while leaving 75% of the host processor available for application processing

· Measurements comparing the XTP transport protocol with TCP/IP were made using optimized software implementations on a vector Cray computer; the results showed TCP/IP provided greater throughput when no errors were present, but that XTP performed better at high error rates due to its use of a selective acknowledgment mechanism

· Presentation layer data conversions required by applications distributed over different supercomputers were found to be a major processing bottleneck; by exploiting vector processing capabilities, revisions to existing floating point conversion software resulted in a fifty-fold increase in peak transfer rates

· Experiments with commercial large-scale parallel processing architectures showed processor interconnection performance to be a major impediment to gigabit I/O at the application level; an investigation of data distribution strategies led to use of a reshuffling algorithm to remap the distribution within the processor array for efficient I/O

· Work on distributed shared memory (DSM) for wide-area gigabit networks resulted in several latency-hiding strategies for dealing with large propagation delays, with relaxed cache synchronization resulting in significant performance improvements

Network Management

· In different quality-of-service investigations, a real-time end-to-end protocol suite was developed and successfully demonstrated using video streams over HIPPI and other networks, and a `broker' approach was developed for end-to-end/network quality-of-service negotiations in conjunction with operating system scheduling for strict real-time constraints

· An evaluation of processing requirements for wide-area quality-of-service queuing in ATM switches, using a variation of the "weighted fair queuing" algorithm, found that a factor of 8 increase in processing speed was needed to achieve 622 Mbps port speeds relative to the i960/33MHz processor used for the experiments

· Congestion/flow control simulation modeling was carried out using testbed application traffic, with the results showing rapid ATM switch congestion variations and high cell loss rates; also, a speedup mechanism was developed for lost packet recovery in high delay-bandwidth product networks using TCP's end-to-end packet window protocol

· An end-to-end time window approach using switch monitoring and feedback to provide high speed wide-area network congestion control was developed, and performance was consistent with simulation-based predictions

· A control and monitoring subsystem was developed for real-time traffic measurement and characterization using carrier-based 622 Mbps ATM equipment; the subsystem was used to capture medical application traffic statistics revealing that ATM cell traffic can be more bursty than expected, dictating larger amounts of internal switch buffering than initially thought necessary for satisfactory performance

· A data generation and capture device for 800 Mbps HIPPI link traffic measurement and characterization was developed and commercialized, and was used for network debugging and traffic analysis; more generally, many network equipment problems were revealed through the use of real application traffic during testbed debugging phases

Applications and Support Tools

· Investigations using quantum chemical dynamics modeling, global climate modeling, and chemical process optimization modeling applications identified pipelining techniques and quantified speedup gains and network bandwidth requirements for distributed heterogeneous metacomputing using MIMD MPP, SIMD MPP, and vector machine architectures

· Most of the applications that were tested realized significant speedups when run on multiple machines over a very high speed network; however, a superlinear speedup of 3.3 was achieved using two dissimilar machines for a chemical dynamics application; other important benefits of distributed metacomputing such as large software program collaboration-at-a-distance were also demonstrated, and major advances made in understanding how to partition application software

· Homogeneous distributed computing was investigated for large combinatorial problems through development of a software system which allows rapid prototyping and execution of custom solutions on a network of workstations, with experiments providing a quantification of how network bandwidth impacts problem solution time

· Several distributed applications involving human interaction in conjunction with large computational modeling were investigated; these included medical radiation therapy planning, exploration of large geophysical datasets, and remote visualization of severe thunderstorm modeling

· The radiation therapy planning experiments successfully demonstrated the value of integrating high performance networking and computing for real-world applications; other interactive investigations similarly resulted in new levels of visualization capability, provided new techniques for distributed application communications and control, and provided important knowledge about host-related problems which can prevent gigabit speed operation

· A number of software tools were developed to support distributed application programming and execution in heterogeneous environments; these included systems for dynamic load balancing and checkpointing, program parallelization, communications and runtime control, collaborative visualization, and near-realtime data acquisition for monitoring progress and for analyzing results.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page