Information, Technology & Consulting

On the Fast Track to Discoveries: Dartmouth's Science DMZ

Elizabeth Kelsey, editor of Interface

Adaptive evolution. Space weather patterns. Complex systems. Dartmouth researchers carry out important work in fields including biology, physics, and computer science. In such a fast-paced intellectual environment, scientists need information technology that can keep up with their research. Dartmouth’s new high-speed research network, the Science DMZ, will now quickly transfer the large files associated with the field.

Usually, when we think of a DMZ, a demilitarized zone, we see images in our mind’s eye of neutral territory between nations or military powers, free of weaponry. But in the case of a Science DMZ, we have a computer network free of the campus security tools that slow down data transfer. Dartmouth’s new network will have fast-data switches designed to move large data, and will be free of other campus traffic that congests the information highway.

In January 2014 faculty from Dartmouth’s Biological Sciences, Mathematics and Physics departments, as well as ITS staff, won a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to implement the new network at Dartmouth. The team included Professor of Biological Sciences Mark McPeek, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Dan Rockmore, Professor of Physics Mary Hudson, Director of Network Services Frank Archambeault, and Interim Director of Research Computing Susan Schwarz.

“The Science DMZ will allow Dartmouth to consolidate our high-performance computing assets onto one network to make computing more streamlined and efficient,” says McPeek, who serves as a principal investigator on the NSF grant. “It also opens up opportunities for building greater links between these assets and makes storage and computing more efficient on these machines.”

Instead of the different computing clusters and storage systems that currently act as silos on Dartmouth’s Enterprise Network (the main campus network to which Dartmouth’s laptops, desktops, and wireless networks are connected), the Science DMZ will be an entirely new network that consolidates all systems to operate at high speed. Based in the Berry machine room, the DMZ will run parallel to the main campus network to reach science buildings. Once there, new, faster network switches will reach research equipment, computers, and devices that collect and distribute scientists’ data.

Last April, ITS engineers began building the network’s core and data center switching infrastructure in the Berry Data Center, which will link to academic buildings. Network Services is currently installing a Data Transfer Node (DTN), whose purpose is to send and recover data from off campus, and is optimized for fast transfers.

Because of these changes, the Science DMZ will be able to route into campus without having to pass through packet inspection tools, which are used for security level inspection of data, but can slow down high-speed data transfers. “This becomes very critical when you’re trying to move terabytes of data in a short amount of time,” Archambeault says.  His team is working closely with the ITS Cyber Security group to provide the required high level of security while maintaining fast data transfer.

In the next phase of the project, ITS Research Computing staff will contact faculty to determine who will need to use the Science DMZ.  Archambeault: “For example, in Psychology and Brain Sciences, there’s an MRI device that scans brain waves and collects large amounts of data—that’s a great candidate to be put on the high speed research network because scientists have to transfer that data, either to Discovery [a high-performance shared computing resource] to run application codes that analyze the data, or to a colleague at another university.”

According to McPeek, the faster-paced work being done on the Science DMZ will see broader impacts—at Dartmouth and beyond. “It should open up the opportunities for using these high performance clusters to a wider array of applications and users,” he says. And those include projects on clean energy, climate change, neuroscience, and ecology—areas where society needs solutions as fast as possible.

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