NSF-funded UK partners complete Phase 1 to reinvent global cyber infrastructure

LEXINGTON, Ky. (September 19, 2022) — The NSF-funded FABRIC project, launched in 2020 with a $3 million grant, has completed Phase 1 of its work to establish a breakthrough network testbed cyber infrastructure to reinvent the way big data is processed generated, stored, analyzed and transmitted worldwide.

The team recently announced the successful installation of all Phase 1 sites after overcoming supply chain delays and other challenges due to COVID-19. With the necessary hardware, software, storage and fiber optic connections, the FABRIC system is available for early adopters to set up and test novel large-scale experiments.

“The FABRIC network is an advanced type of Internet consisting of powerful networking hardware that can be programmed to create entirely new applications not possible today,” said Jim Griffioen, professor in the University of Kentucky’s Department of Computer Science , Director of the Labor for Advanced Networking and Co-Principal Investigator (PI) in the NSF project. “Being involved in the design and deployment of FABRIC, and hosting one of the first nodes on the FABRIC network, uniquely positions UK faculty, staff and students to develop novel network applications and services for a future Internet.”

FABRIC aims to support a variety of cyber infrastructure research activities aimed at rethinking what the future Internet can do for distributed protocols, systems, cybersecurity and scientific applications. Today, affordable advanced computing and storage technologies are far more accessible and ubiquitous than when the Internet was first built, and FABRIC is using these technological advances to build an infrastructure in which the new Internet is reimagined and tested at scale can be.

“FABRIC is based on the idea that a network’s ‘intelligence’ – storage and computer-aided programmability – need not be confined to the edges, but data storage and processing can be integrated into the network, which the Internet does is not supported today,” said Ilya Baldin, FABRIC PI and director of network and research infrastructure at the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The FABRIC infrastructure includes the development sites of RENCI, UK and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as well as the manufacturing sites of Clemson University, University of California San Diego, Florida International University, University of Maryland/Mid-Atlantic Crossroads, University of Utah and University of Michigan, University of Massachusetts Amherst/Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, Great Plains Network, National Center for Supercomputing Applications at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Texas Advanced Computing Center.

The FABRIC testbed is based on the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) network and fiber optic infrastructure. “The team had a challenging task of coordinating the construction of FABRIC over ESnet’s fiber optic network while the network itself was being upgraded to ESnet6 at the same time. The teamwork within the project and collaboration with the research and education network community was very helpful in completing this phase,” said Inder Monga, Co-PI of FABRIC, Executive Director of ESnet.

FABRIC has more than 200 users testing the feasibility of new infrastructure and conducting other experiments at the production sites. The FABRIC team has developed a framework to measure the operating parameters of the plant at a very fine level. Leading this effort, the UK team designed and developed an advanced measurement framework that not only can monitor the performance of the entire network, but also uses highly accurate clocks that enable a variety of new applications. FABRIC is also designed to allow users to play an active role by providing feedback on the framework’s features that they find useful.

“FABRIC offers us the opportunity to explore ways to integrate AI-driven security algorithms into the lowest layers of network infrastructure,” said FABRIC user Phil Porras and leader of the Internet Security Group at SRI International. “We envision future networks with the intelligence to combat malicious traffic within the packet-switching hardware itself, and FABRIC has been extremely helpful in accelerating this research.”

FABRIC’s key design principles include flexibility, scalability and extensibility. In Phase 2, the FABRIC team plans to include more sites across the country and develop a high-speed link between them, allowing for ever richer experiments.

“Connecting FABRIC to national research institutions, testbeds, cloud providers and the current Internet will enable a unique environment for experimentation with real users and data,” said Griffioen. “By connecting existing facilities and infrastructure, FABRIC will encourage developers to fully envision new types of services that can be deployed in support of real-world user communities.”

FABRIC is expected to be fully operational and open to researchers in October 2023.

The research reported in this publication was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number 1935966. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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