CSC News

January 06, 2004

MCNC Demonstrates Next Generation Optical Networking Protocol

Jointly Developed Technology by MCNC and N.C. State University Enables More Efficient High-Performance Computing Applications

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (Jan. 6, 2004) – An optical network provisioning protocol to enable more efficient computing applications has been successfully demonstrated by scientists at MCNC Research & Development Institute and N.C. State University.

The demonstration of the Just-in-Time (JIT) protocol for provisioning and managing light path connections in the all-optical Advanced Technology Demonstration Network (ATDnet) in Washington, D.C., confirmed the viability of user-initiated, ultra-fast provisioning of all-optical network connections and marked the transition of the JIT protocol from the laboratory to an operational network. The light paths linked host systems at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Laboratory for Telecommunications Sciences, the Naval Research Laboratory’s Center for Computational Science and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

An overview of the JIT protocol was presented in December at the Globecom 2003 conference’s Optical Networking and Systems Symposium in San Francisco by Dan Stevenson, vice president of MCNC-RDI’s Advanced Network Research Division. JIT will provide much needed support to U.S. military and civilian researchers to solve real-world problems. In particular, the Naval Research Laboratory is interested in the protocol’s ability to quickly set up and release tens, possibly hundreds, of gigabits of bandwidth for demanding, high-performance computing applications such as immersive real-time visualization of satellite imagery, computational fluid dynamics, ocean and weather modeling, and space physics.

“JIT addresses some very challenging problems in high-performance computing,” said Dr. Hank Dardy, chief scientist for advanced computing at the Naval Research Laboratory’s Center for Computational Science. “It can take weeks to establish an optical connection through a carrier network, and minutes to do so with generalized multi-protocol label switching, the current industry standard. With JIT, we can provision optical connections between sites in a few milliseconds through our microelectromechanical switches, and in a few microseconds when we deploy faster photonic switches.”

The JIT architecture and protocols used in the ATDnet were jointly developed by researchers at MCNC and Professors Paul Franzon, Harry Perros and George Rouskas of North Carolina State University. The research was partially funded by NASA and supported by the Advanced Research and Development Activity, a Department of Defense research and development community for the development of information technologies that current networks, including today’s Internet, do not or cannot support.

“This is the first deployment of its kind in an operational network at greater than gigabit speeds,” Stevenson said. “JIT is especially attractive to government customers because it doesn’t necessarily care about data rate or data format, not even whether the signal is digital or analog. Also, it works with commercial, off-the-shelf equipment from multiple vendors and multiple optical switching technologies.”

Fast, real-time resource provisioning will enable the military, particle physics, and research communities to focus on problems in new ways. Stevenson said that JIT overcomes many limitations and problems inherent with the current Internet. Applications can request, use and release bandwidth when needed, without tying up an optical circuit for days.

Optical Networking Protocol
“High-speed, on-demand, application-initiated provisioning of bandwidth is also what the grid computing community is demanding,” Stevenson said. Grids connect heterogeneous computing platforms so that they operate, and appear to the user, as a single computing system. This means that computational problems can be directed to a system within the grid that will process it in the quickest and most cost effective manner. Grid computing provides users with unprecedented computing power, services and information, combing the resources of heterogeneous computing resources no matter where they are located.

“Grid resource requirements of big science applications, such as particle physics, are very dynamic,” said Stevenson. “The goal for sparse networks like ATDnet, and the recently announced National Lamda Rail, is to share grid bandwidth the same way you share computing cycles and storage in the grid. You also want to use those resources efficiently. These applications often involve computational steering and cannot afford the latency associated with electronic routers. The applications may require 300 megabits per second, but that’s only a small percentage of a 10-gigabit optical channel. JIT lets you share the remaining 97 percent of that bandwidth with others on the grid without the reduced performance inherent with electronic routing.” MCNC and the University of North Carolina 16-campus system are jointly developing a statewide grid computing network for North Carolina’s higher education community using the existing statewide North Carolina Research and Education Network, operated by MCNC. The statewide research and education grid will link computing and data resources from multiple institutions in multiple locations with the potential to vastly increase the resources available to individual institutions. When complete, North Carolina will be one of the first states in the nation to deploy a statewide grid infrastructure.

“We intend to move JIT into grid networks,” said Stevenson. “We see the grid as a widely distributed computing system, and optical networks as the backplane for that system. We’re working on several supporting technologies to make that happen, such as protocols for QoS-aware routing, network management, transport, security and authentication, and making JIT OGSI/OGSA (Open Grid Services Infrastructure/Architecture) compliant. We’re also developing JIT-aware network adaptors so that high performance grid servers and hosts can take full advantage of JIT.”

Stevenson also sees other applications. “We believe that JIT will scale to finer timescales, and will support application-initiated provisioning of bandwidth for optical burst switching where a connection is provisioned in nanoseconds and may be released after only a few milliseconds,” he said. Optical burst switching is a high performance networking technology that transports digital and analog data an order of magnitude faster than today’s digital electronic packet switched technologies.

About MCNC
MCNC is a private, independent, non-profit corporation established in 1980 to advance technology-led economic development and job creation throughout North Carolina. MCNC Research & Development Institute develops new technologies through its own initiatives and as a research partner for the U.S. government, conducting advanced and applied research across a broad technology spectrum, including microsystems, flexible electronics, sensor development, signal electronics, wireless systems, microfabrication, high-speed secure networks and grid computing. MCNC Grid Computing & Networking Services delivers advanced communications resources statewide to more than 180 public and private institutions, including universities, community colleges, K-12 schools, libraries, state government, private research institutions and commercial businesses. MCNC Ventures provides early-stage funding and assistance to entrepreneurial start-up companies. The MCNC family of companies is located in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. For more information, please visit

About North Carolina State University
North Carolina State University is a nationally recognized leader in science and technology. NC State is ranked 8th among national research universities in industry-related research, 13 among national research universities in non-federal funded research, 1st in total research expenditures in the 16-campus University of North Carolina system, 2nd in total state and local research funding among national research universities, and holds nearly 400 patents developed by its world-class faculty. For more information, please visit

NOTE: Dr. George N. Rouskas is a professor of computer science at N.C. State. His primary areas of research include network architectures and protocols, optical networks, multicast communication, and performance evaluation. Dr. Harry Perros is a professor of computer science at N.C. State. He has published extensively in the area of performance modeling of computer and communication systems, and his current research interest is in the area of optical networks. Dr. Paul D. Franzon is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at N.C. State. His research focuses on the design and construction of microsystems and nanosystems.

About the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL)
The NRL is the corporate research laboratory for the Navy and Marine Corps and conducts a broad program of scientific research, technology and advanced development directed toward maritime applications of new and improved materials, techniques, equipment, systems, and ocean, atmospheric, and space sciences and related technologies. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for 80 years and continues to meet the complex technological challenges of today’s world. For more information, please visit

Erin Hils

Scott Yates

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