Experience Article in View From the Edge Magazine

The world of research and discovery continues to rapidly evolve, with advances in technology leading the way. Edge has moved aggressively to stay abreast of the latest trends that are shaping the research, networking, and computing industries, while providing access to optimal technology solutions and services. To keep pushing this mission forward, Edge has developed EdgeDiscovery, a scientific and research network framework. “The landscape for research has changed significantly over the past several years,” says Dr. Edward Chapel, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Edge. “As one among the thirty-eight research and education networks in the U.S., Edge was once very heavily focused on enterprise computing and transactional network services. Over the last five years, the models for research and the needs of the research community have changed dramatically. This trend is a direct outgrowth of the tsunami of information and data that is now available. The Edge discovery framework is designed to advance research and discovery by providing educators and researchers with shared access to the abundance of data, software, and hardware assets available locally, regionally and internationally.”

The EdgeDiscovery Journey

Edge continues to develop EdgeDiscovery, fine-tuning the design based on the resources most essential to researchers’ success. “Edge endeavors to serve our research community by proactively engaging to understand requirements for access to advanced computing resources and adapting our network design to align with these requirements,” says Dr. Forough Ghahramani, Associate Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Sponsored Programs, Edge. “Edge works with the research computing community of member institutions to identify their unique needs and goals. The vision of EdgeDiscovery is to provide access to shared advanced computing technology resources, as well as access to training and expertise required by the research community.”

Bruce Tyrrell, Edge’s Associate Vice President for Programs & Services, says from a network perspective, Edge has carefully considered the resources that are needed as EdgeDiscovery is developed and deployed. “We’ve identified where our network infrastructure already supports the requirements of EdgeDiscovery, and then beyond that, we will work with our member community to identify the needs and requirements for those other components that do not currently exist.” For example, software-defined networking (SDN) components are not currently available, but may be in the future. “SDN is an approach to network management that allows you to control the traffic in your network,” explains Jim Stankiewicz, Associate Vice President and Principal Network Architect, Edge. “You have the ability to define paths and instead of the network making the decision, you tell the network the decision you want and traffic is routed based on that input.”

In a fast-paced world of big data, analytics, and increasing compute power, Edge is broadening its focus to include research models that are multidisciplinary, multi-vertical, regional, and collaborative. “The EdgeDiscovery journey has had multiple parts,” shares Chapel. “Edge began working collaboratively with Rutgers University and, more recently, with Princeton University to create New Jersey-based facilities that enable access to a high performing national and international research network. We also wanted to create a shared services research platform on the Edge backbone that would provide access to exclusive tools and support. Many practicing researchers are underserved and lack the support they need; we strive to work with our research community to fill this gap by providing access to the required research support resources.”

Many institutions in New Jersey are creating and modernizing science programs and expanding the availability of STEM opportunities. “The students today who are the researchers of tomorrow need to use the actual scientific and analytic tools they’ll be expected to have mastery of when they hit the workplace or go on to graduate school,” says Chapel. Ghahramani adds, “The 3rd tier of EdgeDiscovery is a curriculum support infrastructure that provides students with access to research and research resources that are available across our member organizations in a virtual laboratory type environment for preparing the next generation of researchers. Working with our member institutions, funding agencies and industry partners, EdgeDiscovery can help to provide test beds for graduate and undergraduate curriculums.”

Building a Platform as a Service

The foundation of EdgeDiscovery is Edge’s optical network, where some of the wavelengths from the spectrum have been dedicated to the new research network platform. “Specifically, Edge is dedicating research segment waves to proof of concept and test-bed initiatives such as the Eastern Research Network (ERN) and the National Research Platform which are both projects that seek to facilitate end-to-end data and compute resources sharing at scale and enable large federations of heterogeneous national-regional-state networks to greatly improve performance across regions and the nation,” explains Stankiewicz. “The NRP platform is part of a very large national cluster with petabytes of storage available. We have also deployed a group of perfsonar servers in a mesh across our backbone that can help determine network-related problems within not only the Enterprise, but also within the research network.”

Chapel says the journey over the last two years has included increasing engagement with the broader community on certain collaborations, including the Eastern Research Network Proof of Concept. “We’ve been on many calls working to put together research stacks that talk to one another, interact with one another, and meet the requirements of the research communities in specific domain science areas.”

Collaboration within the education and research community continues to grow in importance, spurring the need for access to data, high speed communication, data management capabilities, and key knowledge. “With technology changing and the needs of the researchers evolving, the beauty of EdgeDiscovery is access to available advanced computing resources and based on the needs of the researchers, there is flexibility to scale back or scale up resources, share with other institutions, and stay current with emerging technology. Edge will continue to evolve based on new technologies and the changing needs of the research community, to ensure researchers have access to the latest and greatest,” says Ghahramani.

The new models of shared research platforms have begun to address important challenges, including utilization and sustainability, and have helped optimize research technology investment. “The new research models are able to break down the infrastructure into discreet research jobs,” explains Chapel. “These models go out, do their compute at these end points, and then all come back together through orchestration—making optimal use of all this research investment. This fundamental transformation of research is what EdgeDiscovery plans to participate in and facilitate for all of our members.”

“Edge endeavors to serve our research community by proactively engaging to understand requirements for access to advanced computing resources and adapting our network design to align with these requirements.”

Dr. Forough Ghahramani
Edge, Associate Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Sponsored Programs

Access to Emerging Technology

Advances in research networking and computing will likely keep accelerating to keep pace with the needs and expectations of the modern world. “Going forward, I believe we’ll see a focus on automation through software defined networking for the research community,” says Chapel. “The lines between corporate, healthcare, and pure academic research and tech transfer will begin to blur, due to universal access to high performance networking and leading edge research tools.” Ghahramani adds that the research network will play a significant role as the focus shifts to technology, expertise, and service access provided through these networks.

“Edge serves as a gateway to provide access to high performance emerging technology that’s highly scalable and flexible to the evolving needs of researchers available through local, regional, and national research platforms,” says Ghahramani. EdgeDiscovery has set aside address space dedicated specifically to research, segmented away from Edge’s existing transactional network. “The address space is allocated to build out infrastructure, preventing that space from being routable on the Internet,” explains Stankiewicz. “We are making efforts to keep EdgeDiscovery from being advertised on the Internet to help with the overall scope of security.”

An important goal of EdgeDiscovery is to enable innovation by bringing together leading edge technology with the needs of the research community, both within the region and beyond. “Edge is taking proven assets, both in the way of innovative technical tools and network resources, and leveraging them to expand into an area of research networking that we haven’t been highly involved in before,” says Tyrrell. “The expertise that we’ve acquired through the appointment of our production infrastructure has provided the opportunity to be highly successful in deploying a research network that can offer significant value to our connected members.” Ghahramani adds that Edge is in a unique position to facilitate access to multi-institutional shared resources.

Edge wants to give member institutions access to research computing capacity and support capabilities without the heavy investment and difficult work of sustaining a research computing support environment. “If you are directly connected to the Edge backbone and you’re investing in scalable connectivity through your circuits, you can throttle your research connectivity up and down in a most dynamic way,” says Chapel. “As the EdgeDiscovery platform matures, all of our research and education stakeholders will be able to participate in research optimization technologies that orchestrate the scheduling and containerization of large workloads, such that they are broken up into multiple smaller tasks that run in facilities distributed over the wide area and are then reassembled.” The aim of EdgeDiscovery is to connect all of our members to participate in these transformative research capabilities.