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NSF grant brings faster network connections to IU regional campuses

Big data researchers to see 10x faster connectivity to central services, supercomputers

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—A National Science Foundation grant to be shared among Indiana University regional campuses will advance research efforts across the state and support new and innovative science and technology instruction.

The two-year, $450,468 grant will fund new infrastructure to allow faculty and students at IU Northwest, IU South Bend, IU Kokomo, IU East, IU Southeast and Indiana University–Purdue University Columbus to take advantage of recent bandwidth upgrades to the I-Light network, Indiana’s high-performance research and education network.

I-Light is managed by the IU Global Research Network Operations Center and connects member sites to state, national, and international research and education networks.

The grant will be used to defray the costs of upgrading each IU regional campus Internet connection from 1 gigabit per second to 10 gigabits per second provided by I-Light. These vital connections give the regional campuses access to IU’s central services, including IU’s high performance computing resources such as the Big Red II supercomputer.

"Big data research projects are severely hampered by the low bandwidth that currently connects the regionals to IU computing resources, to collaborators outside of IU and to national computational resources. And our undergraduate research students are having a less fulfilling experience due to the slow turnaround of data or the limits on data set sizes that can be studied," said Carol Wood, principal investigator on the grant and IU Northwest executive director of information technology and director of technical services.

Additional project co-PIs on this project are Dipika Gupta at IU Northwest, Hitesh Kathuria at IU East, Patrick Motl at IU Kokomo and Jerry Hinnefeld at IU South Bend.

"I’m excited to say that this new upgrade will allow our faculty and students to transfer data sets over the network as much as 10 times faster," Wood said.

This is welcome news for researchers investigating a range of issues, including geological and weather phenomena of the Indiana Dunes, computational biophysical chemistry, astrophysical calculations, parallel computing simulations, soil bacterial genome sequences (metagenomics) and HIV/AIDS research. 

Patrick Motl, IU Kokomo associate professor of physics, conducts research in computational astrophysics, simulating stellar mergers. These simulations are performed at remote, high performance computing centers around the world, taking one to three months to complete.

"The network upgrades will give me a faster connection to these facilities and the opportunity to generate results faster and more efficiently," said Motl.

Students may stand to benefit the most from the improvements. For example, the IU Southeast computer science department is rolling out new undergraduate courses on big data and analytics, information infrastructure and cloud computing that require students to transfer large volumes of data for analysis and visualization.

In addition, IUS students in the new Master of Science in Information Systems Management program will need access to high performance computing infrastructure currently available at IU Bloomington.

"The regional campuses play an essential role in offering undergraduate and graduate education to a population that may otherwise not be served by higher education," said Beth Van Gordon, IU regional chief information officer.

"The opportunity to attend a major state university with strong ties to top-notch research facilities provides this population of STEM and non-STEM students an education that includes the very important research element, better ensuring graduates are prepared for the real world," she said.