Research and Education Networks (RENs) play an important role in helping to expand the horizons of science and research and create an essential collaboration network that fosters a strong sense of community among their members. Providing a valuable resource to institutions both large and small, RENs have the quality and flexibility to adapt to demanding projects, advanced experiments, and new technology without tying up other networks. Most importantly, a REN can help simplify multi-campus collaborations and partnerships that can help propel research initiatives forward. One such example is the partnership between Edge and Rutgers University to provide a high performance optical fiber network segmented specifically for research that supports a variety of drivers in both scientific and applied research.
Positioned to Support Research
The Office of Advanced Research Computing (OARC) at Rutgers University is the institution’s centralized research computing and data support group. Along with researchers gaining access to essential computing, storage, networking, and data-handling capabilities, students are exposed to valuable training and educational opportunities. With high-performance computing being central to Rutgers’ research mission, the OARC has continued to build a centralized advanced cyberinfrastructure and act as a university-wide resource for research computing and data needs, effective research computing training, and essential workforce development. In 2016, Dr. James Barr von Oehsen became the Associate Vice President for Advanced Research Computing and his strategic leadership helps to further advance the University’s research and scholarly achievements through next-generation computing, networking, and data science.
After starting his new role at Rutgers, Dr. von Oehsen began meeting with Edge and the telecommunications group at the University to determine the future vision of networking that would be needed to support research. During these early conversations, the group found that there was much about research that they needed to learn and the enterprise networking at Rutgers was not set up to run experiments related to network research and to support data transfers coming from large-scale research instruments. At the time, Edge had been serving more of the enterprise side of networking, so the beginning of the journey was a bit of a struggle. Specifically, while doing a data transfers both on campus and off-site, the entire Rutgers enterprise network was slowed down.
Moving forward, Rutgers applied for grants with the National Science Foundation (NSF) that were focused on upgrading networks. This step began to change the conversations between the internal Rutgers networking group and Edge. The focus became more network centric and through this learning process, Edge is now doing things that would not have been possible back in 2016. “With Edge wanting to transition from supporting only education over to also include research and the founding of OARC, everything aligned. We’ve all evolved and grown over the years and are in a much better position to support network research and research in general,” shares Dr. von Oehsen. The current 100G network is in the process of upping to 400G, with Edge giving Rutgers access to their racks. Rutgers is putting their own equipment into Edge racks, sharing resources, splitting costs, and accomplishing things that would not have been possible even a few years ago. Now positioned to better support research, Edge is gaining a national reputation within the research and education community.
“We’ve built a very good working relationship with the Rutgers team over the years and have trust in one another. Because of this partnership, we are able to tackle problems and find solutions more successfully. Most importantly, we have defined roles and transparency, where Edge is open about what we’re doing on the network side—perhaps adding connectivity or where we would like to expand—because this allows Rutgers to plan on their side more effectively.”
— Jim Stankiewicz
Associate Vice President and Principal Network Architect
Building a Strong Partnership
Enabling two-thirds of Rutgers’ research transport connectivity, Edge built 100G connectivity from the University’s New Brunswick campus to Camden, New Jersey; 100G service from Camden to Newark using an alternate path in Edge’s backbone; and also built 100G service from the Newark location to 32 Avenue, the Americas location. “The connectivity all rides Edge’s optical Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) transport network; offering a completely independent infrastructure than how Rutgers operates its existing network today,” says Jim Stankiewicz, Associate Vice President and Principal Network Architect, Edge.
As the principal architect, Stankiewicz works with both the research and telecom groups at Rutgers, providing support for advanced connectivity and network-related needs. “Edge wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for Rutgers and their partnership. Edge has monthly meetings with both research and telecom teams where we discuss connectivity issues, brainstorm new ideas, and determine how we can help them facilitate connectivity to other research networks that their research teams think could be beneficial. I also have ad hoc conversations with team members about connectivity to certain areas within the footprint of Edge services. We’ve built a very good working relationship with the Rutgers team over the years and have trust in one another. Because of this partnership, we are able to tackle problems and find solutions more successfully. Most importantly, we have defined roles and transparency, where Edge is open about what we’re doing on the network side—perhaps adding connectivity or where we would like to expand—because this allows Rutgers to plan on their side more effectively.”
With Rutgers’ diverse needs, Edge aims to utilize their team’s skills to help them through any connectivity issues, while also taking note of ways to improve the network. “Our collaboration with Rutgers is very rewarding and allows us to tackle some complex problems,” says Stankiewicz. “We may have to make some modifications to our network to accommodate needs in certain areas or deliver specific services to their guest wireless services, like for their new esports initiative. All of these projects are unique in their requirements. We not only deliver optical transport services, but we also deliver packet network services to them. Having the capabilities to deliver services to Rutgers over our two distinct network infrastructures is a really good feeling.”
Becoming a Recognized Research Network
When von Oehsen began further building OARC and expanding advanced research computing at the University, he had to determine how to widen the scope to include multiple disciplines. Often when people think about research computing, they think of traditional science, like physics, chemistry, and engineering, that use high performance computing to run their models and simulations. OARC set out to support research across the entire University and find a way to support research areas like computer engineering and computer science. To accomplish this, Rutgers created a testbed where computer scientists and computer engineers could experiment with new edge devices, networks, switches, and gear; building out something that was separate from the production level environment where researchers from computer science and engineering communities could come in and run experiments.
With a $1 million NSF grant, Rutgers built the Rutgers University Next-Generation Edge Testbed (RU-NET); a testbed for computer scientists to experiment with advanced networking and edge devices. The University purchased servers and experimental switches that allowed researchers to work with artificial intelligence or in whichever area they were interested in exploring. Researchers could build testbeds, experiment, collect data, and not worry about breaking production level systems. “Now, through our work with Edge, we have a full-blown research network that is connecting with many different national testbeds and international services—turning our research network into a major player both nationally and across the globe,” says Dr. von Oehsen.
“Rutgers decided to put all research computing in one basket, with compute clusters in a central location, allowing researchers to connect remotely to share resources. This initiative allows for seamless collaboration across departments and throughout the research community. Any good project starts with a great idea, and I was able to tap into my existing working relationship with Jim, who I worked with in my previous role. This project became the paradigm for ‘if you build it, they will come.’ We built the network and now we have multiple departments within Rutgers looking to take advantage of connectivity to our compute cluster and collaboration opportunities in this country and beyond.”
— Jeremy Schafer
Senior Automation Engineer
Bridging Research and Technology
Wanting to have a more direct effect on what is happening in the research world and explore innovative technology, Jeremy Schafer, Senior Automation Engineer at Rutgers University, joined the OARC team, expanding the scope of the work he was doing within the Telecommunications Division at Rutgers. “Jeremy owns the entire experimental networking piece that we’re working on and between him and Jim Stankiewicz, we have a very impressive research network,” says Dr. von Oehsen. “Jeremy is such an asset to the team and is always open to exploring new ideas. He works directly with the researchers, and they respond to him because he has the technical know-how to understand their needs and what they’re trying to say.”
Upon moving into his new role around two and a half years ago, Schafer was tasked with expanding the network and adding more locations, which has quickly expanded in a short timeframe. “Rutgers decided to put all research computing in one basket, with compute clusters in a central location, allowing researchers to connect remotely to share resources,” says Schafer. “This initiative allows for seamless collaboration across departments and throughout the research community. Any good project starts with a great idea, and I was able to tap into my existing working relationship with Jim, who I worked with in my previous role. This project became the paradigm for ‘if you build it, they will come.’ We built the network and now we have multiple departments within Rutgers looking to take advantage of connectivity to our compute cluster and collaboration opportunities in this country and beyond.”
Schafer says working together is essential to accomplishing anything in the research space and he depends on the ongoing conversations he has with Jim Stankiewicz and Dr. von Oehsen. “Collaboration is key to getting things done in today’s world, especially with growing industry trends like AI and machine learning. If Dr. von Oehsen brings up an idea, I’m able to discuss possible solutions with Jim and we can get an idea flushed and implemented.”
In working with both the research and technical sides of the house, Schafer believes any role within IT, whether the person is networking based or computer based, should be a translator, helping to bridge the two areas. “My role is to act as a liaison between each team and ask, what is your business process, what is your research process, and what do you wish to accomplish? Then I translate those needs into a tangible task that we can do via computer network resources. Technology changes every six months, and you must keep pace with the trends. Being closer to the bleeding edges of this rapidly changing, fluid industry is very fun and rewarding, and forces you to learn and grow quickly.”
Advocates for Research and Innovation
To develop a relationship with a REN and have a strong partnership that can accomplish the research goals at an institution, including a member on the team who understands research is essential. “Having a person like Edge’s Dr. Forough Ghahramani, Associate Vice President for Research, Innovation and Sponsored Programs, who has a finger on the pulse of the research going on within the community is crucial,” says Dr. von Oehsen. “Knowing what smaller schools are doing and making connections with other institutions allows us to be much more productive in pursuing grants together.” Additionally, Forough is having conversations with other RENs and is the facilitator for helping other RENs work more closely together. At the university level, having a central office similar to OARC that is interested in being an advocate for all research can also be hugely helpful. This allows institutions to better understand the needs of their researchers and be more successful at obtaining grant funding.
The group also encourages institutions to step outside the bounds of how things are normally done and not be afraid to break things. In the long run, the mistakes are what lead to solutions. In terms of structure, OARC reports to the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the Vice President of Research, acting as a bridge between the technical services that the University is putting in place and the research side of the institution. OARC translates the conversations between these two sides and explains in such a way that each stakeholder group understands the importance of each mission. “Forough does that within Edge and my group accomplishes that at Rutgers,” explains Dr. von Oehsen. “Having these two groups aligned allows us to seize important opportunities and accomplish what we set out to do.” Further adds Dr. Ghahramani, “The strength of EdgeDiscovery comes from our partnerships and the increased combined value we can bring to the research community. Trust and transparency are critical to building and sustaining the relationships that power the discovery efforts. Results of the strategic partnership between Edge and Rutgers are not only mutually beneficial to our respective organizations, but also bring significant value by enabling access to resources for the broader research and education community. Leveraging this successful partnership model between a REN and an academic institution, we are working on developing similar partnerships with other member institutions.“
Going forward, OARC is looking to further leverage the relationships Edge is building with smaller institutions and align those partnerships to work in tandem toward common goals. In the group’s discussions of how to democratize resources in the future, Forough loops in people from smaller colleges and universities into the conversation. “We’re learning from Edge, just as much as they are learning from us,” says Dr. von Oehsen. “By forming these collaborations, we understand how to better develop solutions that not only support research on our campuses, but also allow access to education communities that do not have access to these resources. The RENs become the bridge that can bring these communities together.”
Engage with the EdgeDiscovery community today to explore research collaboration opportunities for your institution. Learn more at njedge.net/research.