11 December 2003 Sydney Lightwave--Funding has been approved for the Southern Cross Trans-Pacific Optical Research Testbed (SX TransPORT), which is expected to fundamentally change the way that Australian scientists and researchers participate in global research initiatives.
SX TransPORT will provide dual 10-Gbit/sec capacity circuits, sponsored by Southern Cross, connecting Australia's Academic and Research Network (AARNet) to the advanced Research and Educations Networks in North America, as part of a bundle of services, for approved non-commercial scientific, research and educational use. Schematic diagrams of the new infrastructure and interconnections to other global research and education networks are shown at: www.aarnet.edu.au/news/pacific10gbs.jpg and www.aarnet.edu.au/news/international.jpg.
The initiative results from a partnership between Southern Cross and AARNet to suppport new, effective ways for Australia's research community to participate in and contribute to global science programs. The Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr. Brendan Nelson MP approved funding of $16.4 million as a contribution by the Australian Government towards the total cost of the project of $44.8 million.
The initiative will reduce the cost of use of very high bandwidth for Australian researchers, effectively removing the economic barriers to Australia's participation in the global research and education economy.
The launch of SX TransPORT would enable Australia to participate in global e-science projects which require huge amounts of capacity and which had previously not been economically feasible. "The way that collaborative scientific research is conducted progressively changed with the evolution of the Internet," says George McLaughlin, director of International Developments, AARNet. "It has changed more fundamentally in recent times with the development of grid computing, specialized remote instruments, virtual collaborative environments, and vast globally distributed, constantly updated datastores. Many research projects are now entirely reliant on using this global cyber-infrastructure. High capacity research networks are what makes it all work."
SX TransPORT is expected to facilitate research in astronomy, an area where Australia is a global leader. Australia is one of the nations likely to host major internationally-funded next-generation radiotelescopes, SKA (Square Kilometre Array) and LOFAR (Low Frequency Array). These telescopes will be able to peer back into the earliest days of the universe, and answer fundamental questions about how the first stars and galaxies came into being. But the scientific and technological benefits from hosting these telescopes, plus the hundreds of millions of dollars of international investment in them, will only come to Australia if overseas researchers can access these telescopes at gigabit speeds.
"This new capacity means that researchers anywhere in the world could access these telescopes in Australia just as if they were in their own backyard," says Professor Ray Norris of CSIRO's Australia Telescope. "It makes Australia a much more attractive place to locate a major international facility."
There are many other examples of the benefits this nfrastructure will bring, such as Australian applicants for a music degree at Indiana University being able to audition remotely at extremely high fidelity from an Australian capital city; Australian participation in state of the art multi-center global developments in weather and earthquake predication, and in sensing and anticipating consequences of changes in the world's oceans. Access to the SX TransPORT facility will be managed by AARNet, which is also providing many of the terrestrial networks and terminating equipment components. The involvement at the U.S. end is being coordinated by the University of Hawaii, which has a special relationship with AARNet spanning several years including a direct connection via the Southern Cross Cable Network since 2001.
David Lassner, chief information officer at the University of Hawaii, says, "Since none of the advanced U.S. national networking initiatives actually reach Hawaii, our obstacles to participation in the emerging cyberinfrastructure for modern research are actually more like those faced in Australia than the 48 mainland states." Among the key scientific resources in Hawaii that will be made available to the global research community via SX TransPORT are the world's premier astronomical observatories on Mauna Kea.
One of the SX TransPORT 10-Gbit/sec circuits will connect through Hawaii and terminate in the U.S. at Hillsboro in Oregon. Arrangements are currently being made to interconnect with the new Pacific Lambda Rail initiative to transit to the Pacific Wave advanced exchange point in Seattle where SX TransPORT will interconnect with Internet2's Abilene, with National Lambda Rail and CANARIE's CANet4 (both of which use switched optical lightpaths), as well as other national and international research and education networks. The second 10-Gbit/sec circuit will terminate at San Luis Obispo in California and arrangements are being made to transit from there to the Los Angeles advanced exchange point where again interconnections will be made to Abilene, National Lambda Rail, TransPAC and other national and international research and education networks.
"SX TransPORT will create an immense opportunity for Australian researchers and its impact could have far reaching implications for Australia's future both socially and economically," says Ross Pfeffer, director, Asia-Pacific, Southern Cross. "This is a fundamental development in ensuring that Australia fully participates in global scientific and academic research and Southern Cross, in partnership with AARNet and with the support of Minister Nelson and the Australian government, is pleased to be able to make its contribution available to the research community of Australia.
He continues, "SX Transport offers unprecedented capacity that will be solely and exclusively available for not for profit use in accordance with an Acceptable Use policy that has been agreed by AARNet and Southern Cross." AARNet's rights to use the capacity as outlined in the Southern Cross sponsorship agreement will commence within six months of the sponsorship's start date on December 31, 2003 and will last for an initial period of five years.
Approved organizations will enter into agreements with AARNet to use SX TransPORT under the direction of an advisory board. The board will have representation from Southern Cross, AARNet, Internet2, the Australian Research Council and another authorized institution still under discussion.