National LambdaRail Turns Six and Celebrates Calit2, Other Early Adopters

San Diego and Cypress, CA, October 1, 2009 -- To mark the sixth anniversary of its national backbone becoming operational, the National LambdaRail (NLR) this week published a special online report highlighting the network's early adopters. According to outgoing NLR CEO Tom West, those early adopters are the "research groups and institutions who very early appreciated how dedicated high-performance networks could help advance and accelerate scientific discovery and network research." West is slated to step down as CEO and board member in mid-October.

National LambdaRail network
Architecture of the National LambdaRail's high-speed, optical backbone national infrastructure.

In particular, West singled out the very first NLR user, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, and three other institutions that recently celebrated five years of using NLR bandwidth: the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) at the University of California, San Diego; its partner in the OptIPuter project, the University of Illinois at Chicago's Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL); and the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC).

Since those early days, the National LambdaRail -- which is owned by the U.S. research and education community -- has grown by leaps and bounds. Over 280 universities, colleges and research groups now participate and gain access to NLR's up-to-1,600 Gbps capacity. The infrastructure currently boasts 12,000 miles of fiber coast-to-coast, with nodes in 30 cities and easy connectivity to more than 30 regional networks.

Outgoing National LambdaRail CEO Tom West
Outgoing National LambdaRail CEO Tom West will step down in mid-October.
In July 2009, NLR also agreed to a collaboration with the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) to help researchers and institutions construct end-to-end research cyberinfrastructure platforms operating at 10 Gbps using NLR's high-speed, optical backbone national infrastructure. [Click here for more on the collaboration.]

"By completing the upgrade of the NLR backbone this past spring," said West in an open letter to the organization's members, "NLR has laid the foundation for deploying 40G and 100G circuits to serve the growing requirements of several major research intiatives."

NLR also notes that the cost of leasing dedicated bandwidth has plummeted in the five years the organization has been in existence. One circuit leased five years ago between Austin, TX and Chicago cost NLR approximately $175,000 annually; a comparable dedicated 10GE circuit today costs NLR members only $37,000. Says West: "Their savings are very significant."

Tom DeFanti
Calit2 Research Scientist Tom DeFanti is a co-founder of UIC's Electronic Visualization Laboratory.
In a profile of Calit2's and EVL's involvement in the September issue of its newsletter, NLR notes that the organizations leased a dedicated 10 Gbps circuit between Chicago and San Diego in September 2004 to support the NSF-funded OptIPuter project. "Before NLR we had no option for getting lightpaths to a broad set of points in the U.S.," said Tom DeFanti, Research Scientist, Calit2 at UC San Diego and a co-founder of EVL.  "NLR allowed UIC to connect to UC San Diego and also the University of Washington in Seattle, bringing the many international circuits that come to StarLight and the Pacific Northwest GigaPoP to Calit2.  No other country in the world has anything like NLR where researchers can procure bandwidth easily, apolitically and at a highly cost-effective price point."

As the OptIPuter project gained momentum and branched into new areas, the 3,200-mile wavelength, known as CAVEwave, because its funding came from the royalties that UIC got for the CAVE virtual reality system licensing, has been the platform making possible numerous innovations.

Maxine Brown, EVL UIC
Maxine Brown is the OptIPuter project manager and Associate Director of EVL.
"CAVEwave was first and foremost used to develop high-performance visualization middleware, new network protocols and new distributed data coupling techniques between UIC/EVL and UCSD/Calit2 as part of OptIPuter," according to Maxine Brown, EVL Associate Director.

Over the years, the CAVEwave was extended to McLean, VA to allow experiments with NASA Goddard in Maryland, an OptIPuter partner, and with the J. Craig Venter Institute, Calit2's partner in the CAMERA marine microbial metagenomics project.

SAGE, the Scalable Adaptive Graphics Environment, is a major outcome of the OptIPuter project. SAGE is cross-platform middleware that enables users worldwide to have a common operating environment, or framework, for accessing, streaming and juxtaposing high-resolution visualizations on one or more OptIPortals.  (An OptIPortal is an ultra-high-resolution tiled display wall, interconnected to other OptIPortals and data sources by optical networks.)

Jason Leigh and SAGE Visualcasting
EVL Director Jason Leigh:  SAGE Visualcasting with a  Calit2 OptIPortal
UIC and NASA Goddard used CAVEwave to develop LambdaRAM,a high-performance distributed cache that takes advantage of memory from multiple clusters interconnected by optical networks to provide applications with rapid access to both local and remote data.

CGLX, (Cross-Platform Cluster Graphic Library), an OpenGL-based graphics framework for distributed high-performance visualization systems, and CineGrid, which applies OptIPuter architectures to the needs of digital media professionals, are among the many other successes of the OptIPuter project to date.

CAVEwave enables CAMERA team members to collaborate on discovering and decoding the DNA of microbial ocean-dwelling organisms and their surrounding ecologies. CAVEwave also provides transport for High Energy Physics users in Brazil to get data from CERN, and enables radio-astronomers to move data from Aricebo Observatory in Puerto Rico to the Netherlands for real-time data correlation. This past year, another switch was installed by CENIC/NLR in Sunnyvale to enable HP Labs to get to the CAVEwave at 10Gbps for joint research.

"NLR management and engineering have made all this possible and, I have to say, exciting," according to DeFanti.

Media Contacts

Doug Ramsey, Calit2, 858-822-5825, and Kristina Scott, Scott Communications for NLR, 650-631-9330,

Related Links

National LambdaRail
NLR September 2009 Newsletter
Calit2-NLR Collaboration July 2009 News Release