International network operations center means researchers have greater opportunities
Like puzzle pieces strewn across a floor, global network circuits can present a disconnected picture. Together, however, individual circuits can form a cohesive, streamlined whole when connected by experts at the Indiana University Global Research Network Operations Center (IU GlobalNOC).
The National Science Foundation's International Research Network Connections (IRNC) program funds high-speed data circuits between the US and other areas of the world. These circuits need central oversight and standard management so that researchers can share large volumes of data at high speeds.
In 2015, the IU GlobalNOC stepped forward to run the IRNC Network Operations Center (IRNC NOC). By overseeing this patchwork of networks, the IRNC NOC provides a unified view of circuit reliability and effectiveness.
"Science is increasingly collaborative and global," said Dave Jent, IU associate vice president for networks. "But a big misconception people have with networks is that there's just this big infrastructure out there that's tightly coordinated."
Before the IRNC NOC it was difficult for the NSF to obtain key metrics on each circuit. They were all operated by different organizations with different standards. Now these independent circuits benefit from a higher vantage point.
When data traverses several independently operated infrastructures, researchers are not sure who to work with on a performance issue. So a portion of the IRNC NOC is dedicated to what's called the Performance Engagement Team (PET).
The PET provides a single point of contact to troubleshoot any performance issues with data transfers. After determining the networks involved, the team helps the individual operators resolve issues.
"Both domestic and international networking is a mesh of different networks, run by independent operators," said Luke Fowler, director, GlobalNOC software and systems. "It works well because there's an element of trust in the system, but that doesn't mean everything operates smoothly all the time."
IU's GlobalNOC has an extensive 20-year rolodex. Long-term relationships mean knowing the right people to call based on a researcher's data path. Some networks have highly trained staff and performance monitoring; some don't. Resolving issues often requires a lot of coordination.
"We're just getting started and scratching the surface of what's possible," said Fowler. "We're already monitoring many of the IRNC projects, but we need to complete the circuit and make sure researchers know we're available to help."
One year from its inception, the IRNC NOC has established a new form of network monitoring. By filling the remaining gaps, they'll be in a position to deliver consolidated – meaning truly global – reports.
"In many ways, it's a lot like putting a puzzle together," said Jent. "You know these two pieces go together, and those two pieces go together, but you don't know how to join them in the middle. That's what we're focused on solving."