Virtual lab initiative wins California networking award

A plan for virtual labs is one of four winners in a California networking competition.

Four groundbreaking projects that focus on the innovative use and expansion of high-performance networking have been honored by the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) as recipients of the 2011 Innovations in Networking Awards.

Awards are presented annually in the categories of Educational, Gigabit/Broadband, High-Performance Research, and Experimental/Developmental Applications. The awards are given annually by CENIC to highlight exemplary innovations that leverage ultra high-bandwidth networking, particularly where those innovations have the potential to revolutionize the ways in which instruction and research are conducted, or in the case of the Gigabit award, where they further the deployment of broadband in underserved areas.

Educational Applications: Virtual Computing Lab Initiative

Begun as a pilot program at the Cal State East Bay and Northridge campuses, the Virtual Computing Lab (VCL) Initiative allows students to access the software applications their coursework demands from campus, home, or anywhere they have a browser and Internet connectivity. Furthermore, students have this access seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Complex, expensive software can run on the VCL and be accessed via an older PC or a Macintosh since the hardware in the VCL handles the processing.

Faculty use this same infrastructure for high-performance computing for activities and research. This project involved creating a shared VCL cloud (interconnected by CENIC’s CalREN network) for students and faculties at multiple CSU institutions.

Thus for all the reasons listed above, the VCL enables significant cost savings and performance increases for the CSU. Complex software need only be installed once and the lab scaled to make it available to users in many locations without duplicating effort. Also, older and legacy equipment can be used to access the Lab. In times when new budget cuts confront California’s public education every year, an application that can literally take these crises and turn them into opportunities not only to continue operations in the face of financially difficult times but to actually improve and extend an institution’s mission certainly deserves recognition.

Gigabit/Broadband Applications: The Digital 395 Project

CENIC has taken the opportunity with its Gigabit/Broadband award to recognize projects that promise to aid in closing the “digital divide” separating the most connected Californians from their fellow citizens living in un- or underserved areas which are not easily served by the market forces that have provided other areas of the state with top-quality connectivity.

This year’s winner, the California Broadband Cooperative’s Digital 395 Middle Mile Project, certainly aims to do a great deal to close that gap in the areas of the state east of the Sierras between Nevada and Barstow along Interstate 395. Much of this region is dependent on decades-old infrastructure and has limited, insufficient broadband middle-mile capabilities, leaving wide swaths of the Central Valley and eastern California underserved. Also, the relative lack of connectivity in the area leaves some sections vulnerable to isolation in case of fiber cuts or other events due to a lack of diverse fiber paths.

The Project proposes to build a new 553-mile, 10 Gb/s middle-mile fiber network that would mainly follow US Route 395 between southern and northern California. In addition to 36 municipalities, the project’s proposed service area encompasses six Indian reservations and two military bases. More than 230 community anchor institutions will be provided access to 10 Mb/s broadband connectivity, with 2.5 Gb/s and higher-capacity fiber-based services offered to the region’s last mile providers to expand or enhance service to households and businesses.

High-Performance Research Applications: Tele-Immersion for Physicians

Another strong “killer app” for advanced networks is the empowerment of medical professionals to extend their reach to one another and to their patients. UC Berkeley and UC Davis’s Tele-Immersion for Physicians promises to use advanced networks to unite medical professionals not only with one another but with their data, so that the interaction between the people can become an interaction via the data in question (imaging data, for example). This brings about faster and more productive collaborations, where doctors can both see the same data at the same time instead of having to rely on individual mental models that may not reconcile with one another. This more fluid means of connecting with colleagues and information will bring about faster and more productive collaborations, where doctors need not rely on individual mental models that may not reconcile with one another.

This project seeks to unite the Tele-Immersion Lab at UC Berkeley with the W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences (KeckCAVES) and the Institute for Data Analysis and Visualization (IDAV), both at UC Davis, and comprises three components currently under development: tele-immersion infrastructure, real-time video capturing systems, and the algorithms needed to capture, visualize, and transmit such data. Successful experiments have been performed, and a proposal has been submitted for a Tele-Immersion node at the UC Davis Medical Center Department of Sports Medicine. Funding has been received from Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the National Science Foundation.

Experimental/Developmental Applications: CineGrid@Disney Demonstration

The international collaborative digital and rich media organization CineGrid has been recognized by CENIC in the past for empowering the production, use, preservation, and exchange of very high-quality digital media over photonic networks. This year, the organization is being recognized for multiple demonstrations of remote collaboration for cinema post-production presented to an audience of nearly 100 executives at the Frank G. Wells Theatre on the Disney Studio lot in Burbank, CA.

The CineGrid@Disney Demonstration on October 13, 2010 was the result of a nine-month effort involving more than 50 participants from seven CineGrid member organizations: Disney Studios, NTT Network Innovation Laboratory, Skywalker Sound, Digital Domain, UCSD/Calit2, UIC/EVL, and Pacific Interface. The challenge was to bring together several different creative workflows, linking multiple remote locations, into a single room using very high-quality media running over high-speed networks for interactive, real-time synchronized “live” remote collaboration.

Specific use cases demonstrated included: a 4K/60p telepresence virtual conference room; critical viewing of digitally restored archival film elements at 4K and 2K resolutions, streaming from a remote server; Digital Intermediate (DI) color grading; critical viewing of 3D HD stereoscopic visual effects; collaborative audio editing and mixing; and use of SAGE OptIPortable multi-panel display wall for collaborative review of multimedia marketing materials.

The Demonstration relied on the active cooperation of five of CineGrid’s network members – CENIC/CalREN, JGN2, GEMnet, PNWGP, and StarLight – who provided 1GigE and 10GigE connectivity to the geographically separated participants; in addition, the City of Burbank provided critical last-mile connectivity at 10Gb/s from Disney to CalREN, the CineGrid hub in the Los Angeles region.

California’s education and research communities leverage their networking resources under CENIC in order to obtain cost-effective, high-bandwidth networking to support their missions and answer the needs of their faculty, staff, and students. CENIC designs, implements, and operates CalREN, the California Research and Education Network, a high-bandwidth, high-capacity Internet network specially designed to meet the unique requirements of these communities, and to which the vast majority of the state’s K-20 educational institutions are connected. In order to facilitate collaboration in education and research, CENIC also provides connectivity to non-California institutions and industry research organizations with which CENIC’s Associate researchers and educators are engaged.

Laura Ascione

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