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A BOLD Idea for Handling ‘Big Data’

HOUSTON, Sept. 23, 2013 — A new optical network being developed at Rice University will help streamline demanding, data-intensive computations in a customized, energy-efficient way.

The new network, BOLD — short for Big Data and Optical Lightpaths-Driven Networked Systems Research Infrastructure — will use optical data-networking switches to handle the huge amounts of data generated by labs across the university. The National Science Foundation has provided a $900,000 grant for the three-year project.


Rice University computer networking researchers are taking on “big data” with a customized, energy-efficient optical network called BOLD that will be capable of feeding rivers of data to Rice’s supercomputers. Courtesy of Rice University/Photos.com.


“Advances in computing and sensing technologies have led to a similar problem across many disciplines in science and engineering today,” said BOLD principal investigator T.S. Eugene Ng, associate professor of computer science and of electrical and computer engineering at Rice. “Experiments produce mountains of data, and there is often no efficient way to process that data to make discoveries and solve problems.”

Optical data-networking switches have much higher capacity than electronic switches, which are used mostly in data centers. While optical switches are nothing new, because of subtle differences in the way electronic and optical switches operate, the two technologies are not interchangeable.

“There’s a trade-off,” Ng said. “Optical networking devices consume very little power and can support enormous data rates, but they must first be configured, for example, by moving microelectromechanical mirrors into position, to establish a circuit. Electronic switches don’t have moving parts, so they don’t have that pesky delay.”

BOLD will be a hybrid network that combines both electronic and optical switches. It will also contain optical switches without the moving parts in the form of silicon-photonic switches. These will be built in the laboratory of co-principal investigator Qianfan Xu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, who specializes in creating ultracompact optical devices on chips.

“To make use of these three types of technology, we need an intelligent layer that can analyze data flow and demand, all the way up to the application layer, and dynamically allocate network resources in the most efficient way,” Ng said.

Ng said he hopes BOLD will improve the performance of computationally intensive research at Rice for years to come.

“From a computing infrastructure perspective, the challenge goes beyond just moving data,” Ng said. “We also need to develop transformative ideas in the network control software, operating systems and applications so that they can keep up with a faster network. Above all, for this network design to be appealing to industry, it has to be energy-efficient, scalable and nonintrusive to the end user.”

For more information, visit: www.rice.edu


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