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WVU Research Corp. wins $487,000 National Science Foundation grant

West Virginia University Research Corp. has won a nearly $487,000 cyberinfrastructure grant from the National Science Foundation for significant upgrades to high-speed, high-volume Internet connections that will benefit University researchers and their work.

The networking grant will help create a science DMZ, or demilitarized zone, which is essentially a secure “express lane” subnetwork for research data traffic within the University’s larger network.

The upgrades in speed and creation of the DMZ will give Information Technology Services the ability to separate research traffic from other Internet traffic, guarantee high-speed Internet2 access for WVU researchers, and facilitate data exchanges with off-campus collaborators. The upgrades also provide WVU researchers with greater access to off-campus resources such as national scientific supercomputing centers.

“This is exciting because it’s giving us the opportunity to provide the infrastructure that the faculty needs,” said Chief Information Officer and Associate Provost John Campbell. “The demand continually grows as the nature of research has become more computational. We’re moving more and more data sets.”

The grant, from the NSF’s Campus Cyberinfrastructure program, will be managed as a collaborative effort of the WVURC, WVU Information Technology Services and the High Performance Computing Center. The award builds on previous investments in a high-performance campus network backbone and will help create high-performance end-to-end connectivity between the campus core and critical scientific and engineering research labs and assets.

More than $91,000 of the award will go toward the development and deployment of a Data Transfer Node, a high-performance data transfer “depot” that will enhance the ability of WVU researchers to move large science data sets.

The connections to the science DMZ will, initially, enable high-performance science data flows to and from: the Neuroscience lab in the Health Sciences Center; the High Performance Computing (HPC) center in the Chemistry Research Lab annex of Clark Hall; the Astrophysics HPC at White Hall; the Life Sciences Genomics Lab, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Lab at Allen Hall; the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank; and WVU’s off-campus Internet2 connection.

Earl Scime, Interim Associate Vice President for Research and principal investigator on the project, said it’s not unusual for astrophysics and neuroscience researchers to work with files that are many, many gigabytes of data, or even a Terabyte.

“Without these improvements, we simply can’t move that kind of data,” he said.

The larger the file, the longer it takes to download. A Terabyte (or 1,000 Gigabytes) of data is roughly equivalent to 300 hours of high-quality video or 1,000 copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Ten Terabytes could hold the printed collection of the Library of Congress.

Researchers at Green Bank have been forced to put their data on hard drives and physically transport them to Morgantown because the high-speed network between the observatory and WVU didn’t extend to the physics department.
“It’s not making that final leg of the journey,” Scime said. “If it takes 10 hours to download, it’s faster to drive. This will upgrade the final leg of the journey for these very data-intensive research groups.”

In addition to the Data Transfer node, equipment costs to be covered under the grant are:

  • equipment upgrades to the network core
  • network upgrades in the Life Sciences building that will enable the genomics core facilities to connect to the science DMZ
  • network upgrades at White Hall that will facilitate very large scale data flows between the astrophysics lab and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory
  • upgrades to the network connection to the STEM Education Lab
  • extending the reach of the 10 Gb core to the Neuroscience Lab at the Health Sciences Center.

Besides Campbell and Scime, the other co-principal investigators on the project are Assistant Director of Networking Steve Belcher and Don McLaughlin, Research Associate in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

The creation of the DMZ and the underlying core network upgrades lay the foundation for improved data research flows for other WVU lab and scientific facilities in the future. However, Belcher said no additional facilities will be added until the initial upgrades are complete. That should occur by May 2015.

WVURC was created as a not-for-profit corporation in 1985 to foster and support research at West Virginia University, and to provide evaluation, development, patenting, management, and marketing services for inventions of the faculty, staff and students.

The WVURC receives and administers funds awarded by external agencies for research and other activities and is responsible for helping protect intellectual property through patents, copyrights and licensing agreements for start up companies based on University research.