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US Department of Energy National Science Bowl

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Fastest gun in the West

Shown left to right: Les Cottrell (SCS), Michael Chen (Chelsio) and Gary Buhrmaster (SCS) display their Bandwidth Challenge certificates at SC2004. (Photo courtesy of Les Cottrell)
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

SLAC partnered with CalTech, Fermilab, CERN and the University of Florida, along with groups from the UK, Brazil and Korea to defend its title as one of the fastest guns in the West--or, more accurately, the largest bandwidth, which is the computing equivalent.

In the Supercomputing 2004 Bandwidth Challenge contest, the team set a new world record for sustained bandwidth of 101 gigabits per second (Gbps). This was equivalent to downloading three DVD movies per second and was four times faster than the record of 23 Gbps that SLAC team set at Supercomputing 2003. Using roughly $400K of cutting-edge equipment loaned from companies, the SLAC team designed their part of the network before the Supercomputing 2004 convention and then set it up upon arrival in Pittsburgh, PA.

"The award in our case was given for the maximum utilization of all the bandwidth," Les Cottrell (SCS) said. "We decided to show that we could utilize high performance networks with the idea that they are very important for high energy physics."

Being able to transfer large amounts of information quickly is essential to the success of geographically dispersed collaborations in scientific communities. Currently, on a regular basis, several terabyte/day are sent inter-continentally by SLAC alone. The future needs for High Energy Physics are anticipated to grow by a factor of 10 in the next five years.

Collaboration not only was the motivation for the High Bandwidth Challenge, but was also critical to the team's success.

"An interesting thing came out of this," Cottrell said. "Normally you expect companies to be at each other's throats, but here it's very much a collaborative thing, where everyone works together to try to make it work well."

At the SLAC/FNAL booth in the conference exhibit hall, attendees watched a visual display showing the amount of information transferring to and from CERN, Florida, Fermilab, CalTech, UC San Diego and Brazil.

Congratulations to the team for the award and for accepting the challenge to expand the horizons of what is achievable.



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