Press Archive

SDSC Harnesses Very-high-speed Network (vBNS)

Published 04/26/1995

The San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) harnessed the power of a new very-high-speed network (vBNS) for the first time by distributing portions of a computation across high-performance computers located on the east and west coasts. The vBNS linked portions of a global climate model running on CRAY C90 supercomputers at SDSC and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC). This new network technology will make it possible to develop and run applications and services with very-high-bandwidth demands, allowing geographically distributed researchers to work together on more complex computational experiments than has been possible to date.

The vBNS is being implemented by MCI Communications Corp. with major support from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The vBNSwhich stands for very-high-speed Backbone Network Serviceis providing high-speed interconnection among the NSF supercomputer centers and connections to NSF-specified Network Access Points (NAPs). Following several months of testing, NSF and MCI will announce guidelines and procedures to obtain access to the vBNS.

The vBNS will provide high-bandwidth networking for research applications and will allow researchers to push the boundaries of networking research, ultimately developing technology and applications that are expected to benefit Internet users. The vBNS will only be available for meritorious high-bandwidth uses and will not be used for general Internet traffic.

The vBNS will initially operate at transmission speeds of at least 155 megabits per second (Mbps) or higher. Networks linked to the Internet currently operate at speeds of up to 45 Mbps. SDSC has already achieved a performance of 100 Mbps over the vBNS on April 8 in a test between SDSC and the Cornell Theory Center; this performance might have been higher but was limited by the speed of the FDDI protocol.

MCI is expected to participate in developing and using advanced Internet routing technologies as well as enhancing the speed at which the network operates. By the end of the five-year, $50M cooperative agreement between NSF and MCI, this technology is expected to support transmission rates in excess of 2.2 gigabits per second (2,200 Mbps).

The demonstration, which took place on April 11 at PSC, presented global climate modeling research being conducted by C. Roberto Mechosos group in the Atmospheric Science department at UCLA. It coupled the UCLA atmospheric model running on SDSCs CRAY and the GFDL ocean model running on PSCs CRAY. (The latter model was developed at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University.) These two models communicated with each other across the vBNS using the Parallel Virtual Machine application (PVM). The model results were visualized in real-time on an SGI Indy workstation at PSC using SDSC HERMES, a prototype distributed data-acquisition and application management system developed at SDSC.

The vBNS was put through its paces again at the COMDEX computer trade show in Atlanta earlier this week. During the keynote address, researchers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the National Center for Atmospheric Research used the vBNS to interact in real-time with keynote speaker Bert C. Roberts, Chairman and CEO of MCI, demonstrating how researchers around the country can work together on different aspects of complex problems.

The NSFNET backbone network, which has served the nations academic and research institutions for the last several years, is in the process of being shifted to commercial network service providers. Regular connectivity will be provided through four NSF-sponsored NAPs located in San Francisco (Pacific Bell), Chicago (Ameritech), New York (Sprint), and Washington, DC (MFS). SDSC is collaborating with Sprint to design, manage, and operate the New York NAP. Thus, SDSC is focusing on the next-generation network applications and research on the vBNS as well as developing the operational Internet architecture.

To begin experimenting with the vBNS, the NSF supercomputer centers are creating a national laboratory for applied network research ( This approach to networking research parallels the approach to computational science research in the mid-1980s when the NSF supercomputer centers were founded. This laboratory will integrate operational considerations, engineering requirements, and practical experience with applied networking research and development. The integration will emphasize further network evolution at the leading edge of applicable technology. More specifically, SDSC seeks to leverage the vBNS environment to provide a mechanism for U.S. industry, government agencies, and Internet service providers to work with experts to design and analyze network components, protocols, and distributed applications and services. This laboratory will allow these participants to perform experiments and test network designs, architectures, equipment, and applications.

The San Diego Supercomputer Center, a national laboratory for computational science and engineering, is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, administered by General Atomics, and affiliated with the University of California at San Diego. For additional information, refer to SDSCs World Wide Web server at or contact Ann Redelfs, SDSC, (619)534-5032,; Pam Small, MCI Communications Corp., (800)289-0073,; or Tim Clifford, Sprint, (703)904-2723.

For more information, contact:
Bilal Chinoy San Diego Supercomputer Center
(619)534-5077 (FAX)