LOS ALAMOS, NM, July 24, 2003 - Quick now, who holds the land-speed record for sending data over the Internet?
If you pulled out your Guinness World Records book and said Los Alamos National Laboratory, you might earn a pint of the dark brew for which the donnybrook-deciding tome is named.
Los Alamos collaborated with researchers from the California Institute of Technology, European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Geneva, and Stanford Linear Accelerator Center to set the record that the Guinness record-keepers recently certified as official.
Using off-the-shelf personal computers, the team blasted a trillion bytes of data from California to Switzerland at an eye-popping 2.38 billion bits, or 2.38 gigabits, per second. By comparison, a typical telephone modem connection transmits data at less than 56,000 bits per second.
At that speed, computer users could send full-length DVD movies to each other from halfway across the world in less than 20 seconds, or the entire Library of Congress in 14 hours.
"What's remarkable about this achievement is that no special equipment is needed other than commodity Intel Ethernet cards that we fine-tuned," said Wu-chun Feng, who heads the RADIANT network research team at Los Alamos' Advanced Computing Laboratory. "And in a local-area network, the numbers are even better; we are running at about seven gigabits per second."
Feng estimated that within a couple of years, consumers could afford to buy the hardware, wiring infrastructure and software needed to achieve similar data speeds; all are already for sale.
Physicists using accelerators to study the building blocks of matter got involved in the Internet race because they need ultra-high-speed networks to transfer enormous sets of experimental data, which are nearing petabyte size, or 8,000 million bits. And Los Alamos for decades has been a leader in research on high-performance networking.
The team used a 10-Gigabit Ethernet card from Intel Corp., with a standard Linux software transmission control protocol, or TCP, rather than a specialized high-performance interconnect, which is impractical for general use because it doesn't permit inter-computer communication via the standard Internet Protocol.
"The great thing is that we're getting these speeds from computer to computer - the same way the average person uses the Internet - not between two routers. It's actually getting the faster transmission rates to the endpoint," Feng said.
"We'll be able to send data even faster with improved optical links over our wide-area network," Feng said. "But right now, we can't achieve a true 10 gigabits-per-second because the input/output bus in the computer can only operate at 8.5 Gbps, and software inefficiencies reduce the speed to 7.2 Gbps."
Transcontinental speeds up to six gigabits a second already could be attained using upgraded PCs, he added. The record-setting PCs used Intel Xeon processors at 2.2 gigahertz with a 400-megahertz front-side bus and two-way interleaved memory. Significant upgrades to processor and bus speed already are commercially available, as is four-way interleaved memory.
"While average network speeds double every year, processor speeds are doubling only every 18 months. These trends mark the beginning of a revolution in the way we do computing," Feng said.
Speeds of 2.38 to six gigabits-per-second over a wide-area network that spans halfway across the world represent more bandwidth over a single stream than is traditionally found in a cluster of computers in a local-area network, he said.
"The network, once viewed as an obstacle for virtual collaborations and distributed computing across the nation in form of computational grids, can now start to be viewed instead as a catalyst," Feng added. "Compute and storage nodes distributed around the world will simply become depots for dropping off information for computation or storage, and the network will become the basis for tomorrow's computational grids and virtual supercomputers."
Since 1955, the Guinness Book of Records has settled countless arguments in bars, libraries and even nuclear laboratories by collecting and confirming world record data with what the brewery calls "comprehensiveness and authenticity," selling more than 94 million copies in the process, making it the world's best-selling copyright book. The official certification of the Internet speed record is available online.
Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by the University of California for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy and works in partnership with NNSA's Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories to support NNSA in its mission.
Los Alamos enhances global security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health and national security concerns.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.